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Husbands, Wives and Business

It can be a real challenge having to deal with a partner in business. It can be even tougher when that partner is your spouse. The result can be pure craziness or business bliss — depending on whether you take the time to carefully structure your business relationship. Still, husband/wife teams have proven to be a winning combination for millions of small businesses. During the 1980s, the number of businesses run by married couples increased more than 90 percent, according to the Small Business Administration. These weren't just mom & pop shops, either. In 1995, a full one third of the fastest growing private companies on the Inc. 500 list were owned and operated by husband and wife teams.

There are distinct drawbacks
Companies can be torn apart if the unique relationship between husband and wife partnerships takes an ugly turn. The most obvious: Misunderstandings can bring marital troubles from home into the business, eventually resulting in failure and the loss of jobs and money. Worse, the business can (in fact, generally does) become a pawn in divorce settlements. That's because it's often the single greatest asset in the marriage. In this respect, working together can be a detriment to both the business and to the marriage.

And distinct benefits
Still, the benefits can far outweigh the potential disadvantages. Couples who know how to work closely together share a unique dedication and loyalty to their business's success. And, let's face it, it's also fun to be able to work shoulder to shoulder every day with your life partner in a common purpose. That's why, best of all, husbands and wives who are successful in business together tend to enjoy peace and harmony in their personal lives as well. If you're part of a husband and wife business partnership, here are a few suggestions to help ensure that both the business and the marriage continue to prosper:

Divvy up responsibilities
. Maintain clear and separate areas of responsibility. If necessary, write down job descriptions. Then leave each other alone to do his or her job. Perhaps she heads up marketing and sales, while he focuses on product development. Division of labor is crucial for maintaining the working relationship. Otherwise you will literally be stepping all over each other. It will only be a matter of time before problems develop, resentments build. Sure, you love to be together, but too much of a good thing can make you miserable and drive you apart.

Keep your personal lives out of the conference room
. Conduct yourselves professionally at all times while on 'company time.' Public displays of affection, personal conversations, or other signs of intimacy can embarrass or alienate other workers. Worse, they can disrupt the smooth flow of business. It should be possible for strangers to walk into your company and, based on your actions and conduct towards one another, not know that you have a relationship outside the business.

Keep business out of the bedroom
, or anywhere else in the house, for that matter. Many spouse teams are so busy all day that they don't have much time to talk about business. So, they take half an hour or so after hours to catch up, unwind together, and make the transition from business partners to marriage partners. Then they put business away for the day. The idea is to strike a healthy balance between your business life and your personal life.

Get away with each other
. Plan work-free vacations and get-away weekends so you don't ever forget that you're much more than business partners.

Get away from each other
. It's unrealistic to believe that you can be side by side 24 hours a day and still maintain a healthy outlook and attitude. Develop outside interests in things that belong strictly to you.

Capitalize on the benefits of being in business together
. Maybe one of you works just 20 hours a week or splits hours between home and the office or shop. The point is that you have the luxury or setting your own hours and planning your own schedules. Reminder: Make sure all schedule changes are part of a well thought-out plan. Otherwise, work days run the risk of becoming too casual.

Protect your partner's investment in you
. If you die or become disabled, how will your partner continue? Your needs are unique, unlike those for other business owners. Develop contingency plans to protect you both in the event of death, divorce, or planned retirement. Meet with your attorney to develop written contingency plans.

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Husbands, Wives and Business

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