Starting a Business With Your Spouse

Think you're married to your job now? Here are five things to consider before making your business a family affair.

learn more about Rosalind Resnick

By Rosalind Resnick Originally published Nov 23, 2004

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Starting a homebased business with your spouse can be a greatway to combine your family and business activities under one roof.But it takes some advance planning and a great deal of trust andcommunication to make it work. If your partnership turns into apower struggle, you can put both your business and marriage atrisk. But if neither one of you wants to step up and take charge,your hard-earned business may turn into a money-losing hobby.

Follow these five steps for creating a homebased business thatwill provide you and your spouse with fun and profit for many yearsto come:

1. Divide your roles and responsibilities. Even thoughboth of you may possess the skills to do the work and serve yourclients, it's important to divvy up your company's rolesand responsibilities so that you don't step on each other'stoes. In many small businesses, one partner is the "front ofthe house," handling sales and business development andpreparing proposals and job estimates. The other partner acts asthe "back of the house," handling the day-to-dayoperations and taking care of the bookkeeping, payroll and generaloffice duties. While big decisions such as investing money in a newcomputer system or hiring an employee should be made together, thiscan be an excellent way to share power and minimize arguments.

2. Develop an effective way of airing differences andresolving disputes. While good communication is essential toany marriage, it's just as important in a businessrelationship. A couple who can't compromise on minor issuessuch as what kind of printer to buy is going to have difficultyresolving the many problems that will inevitably crop up as thebusiness grows. One way to clear the air is to hold weeklymanagement meetings-on Monday morning, for example-to review thecompany's performance during the previous week and to put inplace plans for improvement. If disputes erupt during the week, youand your spouse can either address them on the spot or wait untilthe next weekly meeting. It doesn't matter which approach youchoose, as long as you and your spouse agree to it.

3. Put a child-care plan in place. Just becauseyou'll be working from home now doesn't mean that youdon't need daycare or babysitting-quite the opposite! If kidsare running through your home office demanding attention,you're not going to be able to get much work done. One optionis for you and your spouse to switch off child-careresponsibilities (every other day or mornings and afternoons) sothat the other spouse can focus on the business. Another option isto find a part-time or full-time babysitter or child-care programso you can run your business while taking breaks to read to yourchildren, help them with their homework or take them to thepark.

4. Make sure both of you have enough room to work. Whilesome people have no problem working in a noisy office with lots ofcommotion, others need quiet and privacy in order to concentrate.For example, if you're going to be on the phone pitchingclients while your spouse is writing code and troubleshootingclients' networks, you may need two separate rooms to work.While this isn't always possible in a home office with limitedspace, you can turn one room-say, the dining room-into the"sales and marketing" office while reserving the den orspare bedroom as the "tech room" where your spouse canfocus on writing software and documentation.

5. Agree on an exit strategy before you begin. Whileit's hard to think about the company's future beforeyou've even launched it, it's important to sit down withyour spouse and decide where you want the business to go. Ifyou're content with a kitchen-table business that puts food onthe table for your family and your husband wants to be the nextBill Gates and dominate every desktop, you're heading fortrouble down the road. You could also run into problems if you wantto bet the house and the kids' college fund on building thebusiness and your spouse feels uncomfortable taking even thesmallest financial risk. While it may not be necessary to have alawyer draft a formal shareholders' agreement with buyoutprovisions and the like, it's a good idea for you and yourspouse to agree on an annual budget for your business and to make alist of common goals and objectives.

If you have any doubt as to whether you and your spouse canagree on these issues, it's probably wise to sit down togetherbefore you start your business and have a frank and opendiscussion. If you've got a good relationship with your spouseand a good idea of where your business is going, you should be ableto start a successful homebased business-and build a solidfoundation for your family's future.

Rosalind Resnick is the founder and CEO of Axxess BusinessCenters Inc., a storefront consulting firm for start-ups andsmall businesses. She is a former business and computer journalistwho built her Internet marketing company, NetCreationsInc., from a two-person homebased start-up to a public companythat generated $58 million in annual sales.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author,not of All answers are intended to be general innature, without regard to specific geographical areas orcircumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting anappropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

Rosalind Resnick

Rosalind Resnick is a New York-based freelance writer, entrepreneur, investor and author of The Vest Pocket Consultant's Secrets of Small Business Success.

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