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Start Your Business Entrepreneurs

4 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Business with a Spouse

4 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Business with a Spouse
Credit: lsantilli/Shutterstock

Working with your spouse might seem like a dream come true. You get to spend most of your days together, combining your skills and interests to earn a profit. What more could you want?

It's all fine and well until the honeymoon period is over – there are complexities with this type of arrangement, and many couples don't consider them until it's too late. Starting a business with anyone is a risk, but you could be entering dangerous territory when you're involving a romantic partner.

You want to be certain that you're both on the same page. Here are four questions to ask yourselves before embarking. [See Related Story: 6 Business Ideas for Couples]

If you think you and your spouse will be working side by side and sharing responsibilities, think again. When Randy and Angie Stocklin, the husband-and-wife team behind e-commerce company One Click Ventures, started their business, Angie thought she'd be working on common tasks with her husband, she said. She quickly learned that their different strengths meant they were better suited to have separate responsibilities.

"Our varied strengths and divided responsibilities made us a stronger team, because it allowed us to become experts and excel at different areas of the business," Angie Stocklin said. "We didn't have competing strengths and therefore quickly learned to rely on the other person to carry their portion of the responsibility."

You might share the same strengths and weaknesses, forcing you to look elsewhere for another set of hands. Regardless, if you're willing to sort through your skills, identify common ground and recognizegaps that need to be filled, you can make it work.

"There are a lot of things that need to get done running a business," said Kim and Ryan Desmond, co-founders of CodingNomads. "If you have the same skill sets, you may need additional external help and have a hard time deciding on who does what. But if you have different skill sets you could make a great team, and be self-sufficient on getting something off the ground."

Don't quit because you think you and your partner are "too similar." Split up work in a way that makes the most sense, and focus on interests as well as talents. There are enough tasks to go around, and you can always add to the team.

Communication is one of the most important parts of every relationship, personal or professional. If you're lacking in that department, you should rethink starting a business together.

The Desmonds noted that partners are likely to disagree, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Disagreements breed creative thinking and innovation, so long as couples are willing to both speak and listen.

"Couples going into business together need to have solid communication and conflict resolution abilities," they said. "This helps ensure that work disagreements won't cause fights, which will negatively impact the business and even worse, your relationship."

Richard Woods, president of Albany Woodworks, Inc., added that without their solid communication, he and his wife Judith Woods, who serves as office manager, wouldn't have been able to make such difficult yet necessary business decisions.

"By communication, I do not mean always agreeing on everything. It is vital to be able to have a difference of opinions and … work through those differences to come to a solution that is best for the company," he said. "Strong communication also helps establish each individual's role in the company, dividing and conquering to allow the business to run smoothly and successfully."

Woods added that couples must have mutual trust and respect for each other. This allows each person to hold individual authority.

Any entrepreneur knows how time-consuming running a business can be. When you're working with your significant other, it can be even more challenging to find the time to devote to personal activities, such as side hobbies and spending time with family members and friends. But doing so is important to the health of your personal relationship.

"It's hard to separate work and home life," said Mike McEwan, who co-founded daily deals website Jane.com with his wife Megan. "We have found the best way to balance this is by putting our marriage and relationship first. We check in with each other a lot. It's not always easy, but I find it best when I put Megan's needs and concerns above whatever is happening at Jane."

You also shouldn't feel pressured to always be "on call." Set up designated business hours that work for both of you, and make an effort to work only within that allotted time. Additionally, you both should have your own hobbies outside of work, so you don't feel like you're losing (or sharing) your identities.

"I think it is very important to … have outside hobbies to allow both of you to step away from the business, physically and mentally," said Woods. "I think this works wonders because it allows the relationship to each other and the business to stay fresh and in a creative space."

Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle choice. A couple who wants to go into business together needs to realize what this entails and prepare to devote themselves to it.

"Some spouses are more independent than others, and need more alone time than others," said the Desmonds. "Starting a business means not just living together, but working together. Make sure this intensive time works with your personality types, and that spending too much time together won't cause a rift in your personal life or business."

Meg Schmitz, a FranChoice Chicago franchise consultant who mentors couples looking to get into business together, said it's important to truly know yourself and your spouse before taking the plunge into entrepreneurship as partners. In her consulting work, she includes the spouse at the start of the business investigation and covers each of their interests and concerns about financial investment, impact of the business on lifestyle, management skills and preferences, their children's ages (if applicable), and long-term financial goals.

"Some couples work very well together, and know and respect their boundaries and complimentary skills," Schmitz said. "Others work together, not necessarily happily, and are at odds about aspects of running the business. If you have a good marriage, put that first."

You might have to learn as you go, and that's alright, as long as you know what you're getting yourself into, and that there are risks in doing so. But most of all, enjoy the endeavor – you're doing what you love, with a person you love.

Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Purch B2B staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.