From Couple to Business Partners

Starting a business with your better half can reap huge rewards--and unique problems.
4 min read
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Is this a familiar experience? You and your spouse or partner return home after a long day at the office. You share a takeout dinner while recapping the day and discussing how dissatisfied you are with your jobs. Then you have a brainstorm and decide to start a business that will allow you to gain control of your financial destiny.

After all, if you love each other, shouldn't you be able to live and work together?

For many couples, this major decision is the ticket to wealth, self-actualization and happiness. For others, it can lead to severe financial and relationship stress. Such a move takes more than planning; it requires a full assessment of your personalities and your money issues to determine whether working and living side by side is right for you. Your first step should be a visit to a trusted certified financial planner.

Here are some key steps to consider:

Give yourselves a timetable to startup. You might be tempted to give notice tomorrow morning, but it's much wiser to lay out a timetable over the coming months with specific tasks, goals and objectives.

Study the viability of your business model. Talk about worst-case scenarios. Bring in trusted advisors to ask tough questions about what you're planning to do and the viability of your idea. Convincing each other you'll make it work isn't enough. You need to understand the marketplace you're walking into and the roles each of you will fill. Perhaps you will notice gaps in skill sets that will necessitate additional staff.

Draft a business plan. Even if you don't anticipate the need to seek outside financing, it is always a good idea to formalize your ideas with a business plan. Include profit and loss projections, so that you have a benchmark for evaluating your progress at a given point in time. Factor in both best- and worst-case scenarios, which could help with decisions down the road.

Determine which business structure makes sense. Depending on the nature of the business, you may wish to incorporate. However, incorporating is a bit more complicated than running a business as a sole proprietorship. Consult with an accountant and attorney who specialize in business startups to determine which structure makes sense for you. Your financial planner can help here as well.

Understand how your tax situation will change. Depending on which business structure you choose, you may need to plan for income taxes, self-employment taxes and payroll taxes. You want to make sure you have reserves set aside for these liabilities. Again, your tax professional can help you get a handle on this.

Set a spending plan for your business and personal life. A financial planner can help you establish a spending plan for supporting your business as well as your life at home. Since startups have unpredictable cash inflows, you will want to establish adequate emergency funds--both business and personal--to carry you through the startup phase.

Make sure your legal documents are in order. If you haven't had your estate planning documents updated in a while or don't have them at all, this is a great time to have them drafted. Don't forget to tell your attorney about your new business venture, which should be factored into the equation.

Plan for your kids in the business. There may be good opportunities to employ children for work commensurate with their skills.

Get your insurance in order. Before leaving your current employer, figure out the cost of insurance you'll need to incur for the entire family, including health, life, home, business, disability and, if you're over 50, long-term care coverage. These expenses may be enough to encourage one of you to stay at your old job, at least for a while to keep those benefits going while the other devotes more time to the startup.

Have an exit plan if you break up. It may be hard to imagine now, but a breakup of your relationship with no financial plan for the business can be devastating. Whether you're married or living together, a successful business is an important source of wealth. So you should have a contingency plan in the event that one of you potentially wants to buy the business or be bought out. This legal agreement would include provisions to safeguard capital investments and non-cash contributions.

Set boundaries. Couples who live and work together need to assess whether they want to keep their work and personal lives separate. Some people are comfortable discussing their personal lives at work, while others make it clear that during working hours, they are at work and won't discuss personal matters. While there is no right or wrong here, you have to do what's right for you.

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