Finally, once you're well into the business, you'll find yourself dealing with all the little issues that come up daily, much like you do in your regular married life. And much like you promise to love, honor, cherish and forsake all others in your marriage, Miles suggests that married entrepreneurs do that in their businesses as well. "Are you willing to watch the other person's back?" asks Miles. Being loyal to your partner means you don't let employees pit one of you against the other--you must form a united front, she says. And that applies to vendors and clients as well. As much as you may be tempted to, don't treat others better than you treat your partner. Says Miles, "[Some entrepreneurs] honor their customers and clients... but they growl at their partner."
Working from home can add another layer of complications when it comes to the everyday boundaries of business life and home life. Kim and Linda O'Neill, founders of both Lone Star PC Sound, an online computer supply retailer, and The Supplies Room, an online office supply retailer, know those challenges well.
The couple wanted to get in on the dotcom boom of the late '90s, so when Kim, 49, left his job as a cable TV salesman in 1999, they started Lone Star PC Sound. They set up shop in the dining room of their two-bedroom condo in Dallas, drop-shipping inventory to customers from their suppliers. Linda, 41, also quit her job within their business's first year.
The challenge, on top of being together all the time, is balancing work and home life when it all takes place from home. "We adhere to habits and routines," says Linda. "We could work 24 hours a day, and before we had kids, we'd be up all night [working]. That's one of the areas we struggle with, and [sometimes] you have to just leave it alone and turn off the computer."
Balancing work and family, though, can sometimes mean combining work and family. The O'Neills, for example, employ Kim's 20-year-old daughter part time in the business, helping her pay her way through college. The pair also employs a nanny to help with the care of their two youngest children, ages 2 and 6. Although managing a family while running a business is tough, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. Linda notes, "I feel blessed [that we're both able] to be here all the time."
Adds Kim, "There's a big sense of pride that we've built it from scratch and it's been supporting us since 1999." The websites, which they run through Yahoo! Stores, bring in about $2.5 million in combined annual revenue.
From running a business to starting a family, each of these entrepreneurs has successfully navigated the waters of married entrepreneurship. There are challenges, but they weather them together. While experts note entrepreneurship is not for all married couples, the ones who do make it work wouldn't have it any other way. Healy sums it up this way: "In some respects, [people] say, 'I could never work with my spouse.' But in other respects, who do you trust more?"
Start at the Very Beginning
Can you start a new romance and a business with someone at the same time?
Perhaps you're not yet married and you're interested in starting a business with your new boyfriend or girlfriend. While experts are a touch wary about this--you're still just getting to know that person, after all--they do offer some tips. "Be sure to create as structured and formal arrangements as you would with any business partner," says Alicia Fortinberry of Fortinberry-Murray Consulting, a coaching business that specializes in helping people build solid relationships within a business setting. "This is especially important because you don't know each other that well, and your finances are probably separate." She and her husband and business partner, Bob Murray, point to the importance of developing trust, a clear business plan and specific job descriptions.
Proceed cautiously, says Linda Miles, co-author of The New Marriage: Transcending the Happily Ever After Myth. "Consider the infatuation factor," she says. "Set up your partnership in stages, if possible, to evolve as your relationship and level of commitment change." She likens starting a business with a new romantic partner to a connect-the-dots picture: If there are 500 dots, you might be seeing only 15 when you start, so build in safeguards. And like any good business plan, she says, "View your business and your relationship as growing machines that you learn to repair efficiently. And share a sense of humor."
Keep in mind, though, that the relationship might not last forever. "Hope for the best and plan for the worst," says Miles. "Clearly define role expectations, as well as how a partner can opt out." Set formal, legal agreements in writing detailing how the business will be divided if you break up or want to opt out of the business for any reason. Also, have a contingency plan in place in the event your new romantic partner falls short of his or her business obligations.