Honey, let's start a business. Many first time entrepreneurs also happen to be married couples, and for reasons of economy and convenience, the home is the ideal launching pad. Here are seven rules of engagement that can help your mom-and-pop business succeed and your relationship thrive.
1. Never discuss business in the bedroom. When your business partner is also your spouse, you must create safe spaces where business is not spoken. Stick to this rule even when you get an idea so hot you don't think it can wait until the next day, or you feel a decision must be addressed immediately. Get up and get out into another part of your living space.
2. Have a business plan, but prepare to make changes in it as your enterprise grows and evolves. If nothing else, a plan helps clarify your vision and keeps you on track. Without one, you run the risk of reacting to whatever comes along. A business plan helps you distinguish between what furthers your goals and what distracts from them. The mom-and-pop business, like the bigger ones, needs to get the forest/trees perspective right.
3. Let the talents/interests/tendencies of each partner determine the division of labor and try to stick to it. For example, if one of you is creative or gifted in sales and marketing, give him or her plenty of space to express those talents. At the same time, acknowledge the partner who is stronger in behind-the-scenes activities like strategic planning or budgeting. Agree to delegate any essential tasks neither one wishes to handle, e. g. administrative duties to a virtual assistant, or shipping/handling to a bright highschool student.
4. Impose a structure on your work day, keeping it confined within the hours of business you agree upon. Although you may be around each other 24/7, schedule meetings for specific purposes, take notes as you would in any work setting, and put all follow up tasks on a calendar. In fact, unless you are that rare person with a photographic memory, write everything down. A structure, like the division of labor, helps you to avoid duplicating effort and minimizes the chances of important tasks falling through the cracks.
5. Difficult as it can be, you need to create periods of time where you don't discuss business at all. This is tough when the business itself is fun and/or fast-paced. Just remember that achieving a good work/life balance is important for its own sake, and your relationship - and perhaps your business as well - will be the better for it. Take an exercise break together or apart. Learn to enjoy being together in silence, reading, meditating, gardening.
5. Avoid criticizing each other, however constructive or well-intended it may seem to you, and focus on what works well and what you can do better, individually and as a team. Practice communication skills you'd use on a client on each other. Make requests of each other, rather than complaining.
6. Agree to consult on and make all the big decisions together, hiring professional help, e. g. accounting or legal, when it is needed. Let the smaller decisions be made by the one chiefly responsible, then stand by that decision. Of course, this is rarely so cut and dried, but it helps to have the intention and trust each other to follow through.
7. Above all, have fun. Learn to laugh at your mistakes. If you're like many people, you have had work that wasn't always satisfying or fulfilling. This is an opportunity to create a work enviroment that WORKS for you, with the person you know better than any co-worker or employee, by your side. Enjoy the journey together and celebrate accomplishments and victories, big and small.
Marika Stone is co-founder of http://www.2young2retire.com , the website of retirement alternatives, and co-author of Too Young to Retire: 101 Ways to Start the Rest of Your Life (Plume 2004). She has been a journalist, teacher of writing, public relations executive, and small business owner.