Balancing Act

Couple discovers the secret to mixing marriage and a homebased business.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the August 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Stephen Jaffe remembers exactly when it happened.

In 1993, the newly married accountant quit his job to run an expense-reduction business from his Framingham, Massachusetts, home. While he was building the business, his wife, Azriela, worked to support the family. One year later, things weren't working out exactly as planned.

"We were driving to a Lamaze class, and [my wife] asked me about a client I had recently visited," says Stephen. "She wanted to know when to expect payment. I said there are lots of signs I'm not going to get paid, and it's probably going to be a write-off.

"She hit the roof. She thought I should pursue it and put a lot of energy into collecting from this little business. I thought my time could be used more productively."

When the business missed its two-month and then six-month sales projections, Stephen felt Azriela's attitude change from supportive to doubtful.

"She had a way of asking a question that carried certain implications and insinuations," Stephen recalls. "She might say `How was your day?' but it really translated into `How many sales calls did you make?' '

Azriela agrees, and attributes the reaction in part to the couple's newlywed status. "We didn't have that basis of trust [yet], and I was scared about the income situation," she says. "The longer and harder it was to get the business off the ground, the more unsolicited advice I gave. I was trying to help, but it made him feel like he was under a microscope and that I was evaluating him . . . and I was."

A big issue concerning Azriela was how Stephen spent his time. She felt anxious when he was out gardening or relaxing rather than working, and yet she felt hurt that he spent so much time working. "He couldn't win either way," she admits. Eventually, the couple decided that moving Stephen to an outside office was the best solution.

Then, in 1995, the couple decided to relocate to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to enjoy a more affordable cost of living. During this transition, Stephen decided to give up his business and return to work as an accounting manager, and Azriela picked up the entrepreneurial reins. She wrote Honey, I Want to Start My Own Business: A Planning Guide for Couples (HarperBusiness), a book about their experiences. She also started writing The Entrepreneurial Couples Success Letter, a free online newsletter for small-business owners and entrepreneurial couples.

Helpful Hints

The Jaffes' experiences have helped them develop sound advice for married homebased business owners.

Create a budget. "It's important to put together a budget [for both personal and business expenses], then recast it for the next three months or even one year,' says Stephen. "Make sure your spouse understands the financial side of the business, even if he or she won't be a part of it."

Set ground rules early for how much input your spouse will have in business decisions. "If the business is funded by joint funds, it's important to know to what extent I have input into the business,' says Azriela.

Communicate. Talking to family members about the business is another key ingredient. When projections are unrealistic and need to be revamped, sit down and do it together.

"You also have to be really good to your spouse--particularly if you're not making money," laughs Stephen. "Find out the little things [he or she] appreciates, and do them. Acknowledge his or her support, and note that there may be some hardships. This is marketing, probably to your most important client, and if you scrimp on it, you're not going to make it.'

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