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How to Successfully Run a Business with Your Spouse

Updated on November 27, 2012

According to Forbes, there are nearly ten million family-owned businesses in the US, and married couples run about one third of those. Being a successful entrepreneur requires a suite of well-defined business skills and more if your spouse is also your business partner. You must have clearly defined roles, mutual respect and excellent communication skills in order for you have both a productive working relationship and a successful marriage.

It is estimated that 50 percent of all new businesses fail in the first year and nearly 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Don't be a negative statistic--follow these tips to ensure your business and your relationship thrive.

Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities

Likely, the very traits that make your marriage work will also make your business work. Split up the responsibilities to best suit your personalities, strengths and previous experiences. Skill sets such as finance and operations are complimentary to marketing and sales. Together, make sure to clearly define the job descriptions and set goals that align with your business strategy. You must both be in consent of roles and responsibilities and trust one another to perform the mutually assigned tasks.

Every business should have a strategic plan
Every business should have a strategic plan | Source

Get Tax Advice

When running a business with your spouse, be sure to seek counsel from a tax attorney to understand potential financial implications. For example, there is a heavy self-employment tax levied on small businesses run by married couples. Its best to understand these tax rules before you start your business.

Develop and Follow a Business Plan

Every business should have a strategic business plan. Before you start a business or take over one, invest the time to conduct research on your market and your product offering. Set realistic goals for projected revenue and growth and define what it will take to achieve those goals. Have short and long term goals such as, Design and Develop Website (short term) and Grow Market Share by 5% (long term). Mark dates on the calendar when the plan will be reviewed each quarter and make adjustments as necessary.

Part of the business plan should include developing a capital and an operational budget. Capital expenditures include spending on long term assets such as property and equipment. Operational expenses are the day-to-day costs of running the business. Projected revenue and expenses need to be addressed and agreed upon as part of your strategic business planning. If an expense falls out of the plan, both business partners should discuss it. Finances are one of the biggest sources of conflict in a marriage and in the workplace so it is imperative that they are discussed openly and not hidden.

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Example of a Failed Marriage but a Successful Business

A very prominent Fortune 500 company, Cisco, was founded in 1984 by the married couple Len Bosack and Sandy Lerner. Though the company has grown exponentially on a global basis, the couple no longer remains married.

Show Respect and Communicate Effectively

Communication and respect for one another go hand-in-hand in business and marriage.

Spouses running a business together must communicate in a positive, constructive manner. Plans will change and conflicts will arise. Make sure you talk to one another. Do not let anger build up during the day and spill over into home life.

Mutual respect is imperative. Make big decisions together, not behind the other's back. Respect each other enough to listen to each other's point of view. Trust each other to follow through on commitments. Also, respect each other's workplace. If sharing space, be careful not to constantly interrupt one another. Do not yell from upstairs to downstairs when you need to discuss something. Have a set time where you will discuss issues at hand. This will allow you both to be more productive. If you need to collaborate, set aside time for brainstorming sessions.

Entrepreneurial Couples Should Approach Business in a Thoughtful Manner

Estee and Joseph Lauter: Success in Business and Marriage

The famous cosmetics company, Estee Lauder, is an interesting example of a business run by a husband and wife. Founded and initially run by Estee Lauder, the business initially soared, but her marriage did not. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, in Estee Lauter's autobiography she commented that she neglected her husband and family by paying too much attention to building her business. In 1985 she said, "I did not know how to be Mrs. Joseph Lauder and Estée Lauder at the same time." The couple divorced and remarried three years later. This time, Joseph joined Estee in her business and the couple remained successful business and marriage partners.

Real Estate Marriage Partners Share Advice

Keep Your Marriage Strong

Above all else, make a choice, a conscious decision to put your marriage first. Set clear boundaries between what is discussed at home and work--there has to be a separation. When at home, treat your spouse like a husband or wife, not a business associate. Make time for date nights!

Together for Life
Together for Life | Source


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    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Janis, your point of setting "end times" for the business day to end and the home life to take over is so important. I also like your idea of making sure to have individual friends and interests other than your spouse.

      SimeyC- I do think you have to make a decision to make your marriage work. Working with your spouse has many benefits, but it is not always easy. You have to know up front that you are both committed to the marriage first. Thank you both for your thoughts.

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 5 years ago from NJ, USA

      Tons of useful info - probably the most important thing you note is that you have to put your marriage first!

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      KevinTimothy-congrats! If you have made it through the first five years in business together you have already beat the odds. I agree that keeping boundaries is difficult and the lines can get fuzzy if your work place is in your home too.

      EuriNinila, there are so many benefits to working with a spouse. Who knows you better?

      Thank you both for your comments.

    • Janis Goad profile image

      Janis Goad 5 years ago

      I think it takes even more discipline and strict boundaries if you are business partners with your spouse, to make sure you have "end times" for the business day, so you are not always at work. I think it is important for each partner to structure separate time with their other friends and interests, to keep in touch with their individual personhood.

      For me, I think combining business and marriage with the same partner would be very difficult.

      Interesting hub, with lots of things to think about, especially these days when people are looking for ways to develop entrepreneurial businesses in such a climate of employment uncertainty.

    • EuroNinila profile image

      Fotinoula Gypsyy 5 years ago from NYC BABY

      Great hub! A lot of my family members have businesses with their spouses and they seem to be doing just fine. I think that's the best way to do it!

    • KevinTimothy profile image

      Kevin J Timothy 5 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

      This is very helpful. My wife and I have been in business together for about 5 years now and it does put additional strain on the marriage. Takes a lot of discipline to constantly recognize the boundaries and stay within them. Pride destroys everything and businesses aren't exempt.