Monday, April 13, 2009

Co-Preneur Advice

Q: What's the best way to partner up with my spouse? I'm starting a real estate company and I want my husband, who will soon get his real estate license, to be a part of it. Would it be best, financially, to work as a team with him doing sales and me doing listings or have him as an assistant? How should we define our business roles?

A: Co-preneurship is one of my favorite topics. I find the combination of entrepreneurship and the marriage relationship fascinating. And, I am a co-preneur myself.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2002 Economic Census more than 3.6 million businesses in the U.S. are run by co-preneurs, husband-wife entrepreneurial teams. Certainly, no single model fits all of them. Some are part of a revolution that is pioneering a new model of marital and business equality. For others, their business is an extension of a traditional marriage where mom is behind the scenes and dad runs the show. The recent growth in co-preneurship has been attributed to a wide variety of causes, everything from new franchise availability to the high cost of child care.

For many co-preneurial couples no part of life is separate from the others; your financial, spiritual, professional and family lives are intertwined. As such, copreneurs face some unusual challenges, and reap some magnificent rewards.

As a result of both my work with co-preneurs and my personal experience as one - building my own business ( with my husband, David - I have come to see that there are no easy answers. What works for some will be disaster for others. However, some key concepts are essential to making co-preneurship work. Here are my top six tips for working with your spouse.

1. Be patient. It’s necessary to learn to work together. So, when you start a new business, be prepared for a learning curve. It takes time to establish the right working relationship and pace. So whatever you decide today may not be what you are following tomorrow. Starting your new venture will involve trial and error. So don't get discouraged.

2. Find and define your shared vision and values. Shared vision and values are necessary for success. It’s important that co-preneurs agree on the purpose of their business; is it a way of life or a way to earn an income? You will be making business decisions based on your priorities and values.

3. Divide the work. The more distinction you have in your tasks and job descriptions, the better. For many couples, dividing tasks according to ability, not gender stereotypes, is difficult. But this is what often works best. As with all business partnerships, co-preneurship will work best if you and your husband possess different skill sets. Your husband is a very unusual man if he is willing to be called your "assistant." That is a loaded title that raises a red flag. If this is the route that you decide to go I think he should be called the "administrator" or the CFO instead.

4. Communicate. Find out how your husband really feels. Have you considered how this endeavor will effect your marriage? Take about it. Write about it.

5. Fight fair. Hear each other out. Keep all arguments focused on the current dispute instead of reverting back to old hurts and squabbles. And, when you disagree, give yourselves a cooling-off period before making the final decision.

6. Put the saver, not the spender, in charge of money, finances and budgets. The spender may go kicking and screaming, but this is almost always the best business policy.

Co-preneurship can destroy a marriage. So, before you take the plunge, honestly assess your situation. If you regularly struggle with control issues in your marriage, running a business together is not a great idea.

Remember, there is no getting away from your co-worker when you are married to him. You already know whether you and your husband operate as a team or as two individuals who happen to share a space and a future.