February 8, 2012
Should you venture into business with your Valentine?
You may have promised to love each other in sickness and health, for rich or for poor, but what does it take to be partners in love and in business?
Lots of couples take the plunge: According to a U.S. Census Bureau survey of business owners, 1.4 million of the nation's 27.1 million non-farm businesses are jointly owned and equally operated by spouses.
Co-preneurs have some pretty powerful stuff going for them: a joint passion for their business, service or product; an equal commitment to their venture because it is so tied to the success of their family; and the benefit of really knowing their partner.
Rosy picture, right? But what happens, really?
Well, I can tell you that it does sometimes involve a warm feeling of partnership. Other times, it's miserable fighting over a stack of spreadsheets.
When my husband and I started an e-commerce business, we had a rude awakening. While offering flexibility for our family and (a lot) of extra time together, being partners in love and business also tested our relationship. Turns out that if you wouldn't yell at an office peer while standing in your bathrobe wielding a stapler, you probably shouldn't do it to your partner, either.
Important tip: Always act professional. You will (hopefully) be married a long time, and some things are hard to take back.
"When you're in it together, you're really in it together," says Jenny Klock, who co-owns and operates picnic, a Phinney Ridge food and wine boutique, with her husband, Anson.
They decided to launch picnic after restaurant jobs and culinary school left them with opposite schedules, "passing like ships in the night," Klock says.
The couple never looked back, but there have been challenges along the way. You have to resist the urge to talk about work all the time -- on the ski lift, for example, Klock says.
Another important tip: Save time for fun and for romance, separate from work.
Joan McCoy, who started Seattle-based littleonebooks.com for ages birth to 5 with her husband, Barney Cohen, says she wasn't prepared for the intensity of working alongside her spouse. Both had previous careers in management.
"I wanted to be in charge and he wanted to be in charge," she says. "We'd get stuck and we couldn't make a decision."
McCoy recommends any couple going into business together set up separate work spaces (she and Cohen each have an office in different parts of their home) and schedule regular meetings to discuss business.
Another important tip: Divide tasks based on strengths and skills.
Once they found a system, McCoy says being co-preneurs got easier. On the upside, she says, "our level of commitment is really there. Our only agenda is to be successful."
So how do you decide whether jumping into business with the love of your life is smart, or marital suicide?
I recommend making decisions together, such as:
- How are you going to deal with money?
- How will you divide the work to match your skills?
- What will your schedules be?
- What is the mission of your business? You must agree on this! Write a business plan together.
- How much financial and career risk are you willing to take?
- What are your goals for the next five, 10, 15 years?
Ultimately, there is probably no one in the world I would trust more in business than my spouse. Despite a learning curve, I would jump into business with him again in a heartbeat. I know he has as much on the line as I do, he'll work as hard as me, and he will always back me up.
And, though I probably shouldn't, I get to conduct strategy sessions in my bathrobe. Stapler not included.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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