Should My Spouse And I Start A Business?

Azriela Jaffe
©2000 All Rights Reserved

The following question, that came to me this morning, is one of the most common that I receive: "What are some of the better home business ideas for a couple who love working and being around each other?"

Typically, the question comes from one spouse in a marriage that has been discussing a change in lifestyle. Perhaps they have both been working outside of the home and between work and kids, they are tired of seeing each other for a few hours on the weekend and before dropping off to sleep. Maybe one works out of the house and the other is a full-time parent, and as the children grow up, they start thinking about working together, from home, so that both parents can be around for the kids after school.

Sometimes, the main breadwinner has just lost a job, and rather than going back out into the workforce, the couple contemplates starting a business from home. I've heard from couples who have a sudden need to work from home due to a disability or need to care for a sick family member.

When a couple enjoys being around each other, and has been dreaming for quite some time about the ability to work together, this is a very different family dynamic than a couple who isn't so sure that working together, especially at home, will be a good thing for their marriage.

I will answer the question with the assumption that this writer is sure that working with his or her spouse at home is ideal for their marriage and family. Now, how to decide what to do.

I am always troubled by this question. I worry about the couple who goes to franchising tradeshows, answers business opportunity advertisements, gets recruited into multilevel marketing organizations, or spontaneously plunks down their savings into something that they hear is "hot" on the market right now. It's not that these business choices couldn't work. They could be just perfect. It's the criteria for choosing about which I am concerned.

Choose a business that has market potential, but do so after determining the answer to other, more significant questions instead. Questions like the following:

1. What intrigues one or both of you? What has occupied your time, interest, and mind, for some time now? What subject could you imagine learning for hours a day, and to which would you be willing to devote most of your waking time?

2. What kind of positive contribution do you most want to make to the world? What do you value? Who do you want to help? With whom do you enjoy being?

3. How much financial investment do you have, and how much money do you want to risk? How much cash flow do you need to pay your bills? Are you willing to make lifestyle sacrifices to enable you to work together from home? Can you handle the "all eggs in one basket" syndrome?

4. Do you want a business that will integrate well with children? One that can stand frequent interruptions, or can be done intermittently throughout the day, or one that will grow into something into which could bring adult children into?

5. What kind of home office space do you have now, or could you create? Will it enable employees to come to your home? How much room do you have for equipment? Will clients come to your home? Will you be sharing a computer? If so, plan carefully how computer centered your new business will be. Too much time sharing one computer can be very difficult for couples.

6. What kind of business will take advantage of both of your skills? Is there a natural choice that builds on one or both of your previous careers? Something that will enable you to begin quickly attracting paying clients? A business that doesn't much interest one spouse, and doesn't really need their skills, is a recipe for trouble in a couple-owned business.

7. What kinds of hours do you want to work? Do you want a 24-hour, internet related business, or one with more standard day-time operation? Do you want a seven day a week kind of business, or one with no weekend work?

8. Do either of you have business training, or would a franchise or something with direction be a better alternative? Do you want a business with lots of smaller clients and quick turn around time, or one that serves a smaller number of higher paying clients, with a longer sales cycle? Is one of you a skilled salesperson, or do you need to choose a business that will not require either of you to be doing a certain kind of sales that each of you finds troubling? What is on your "no matter what, I won't do this. . . list?"

9. When you talk with people who are working in businesses that interest you, what do they tell you about the challenges, as well as the joys, of such a business? NEVER plunk your savings down into a business opportunity if the only information you have is from the person who is trying to sell you the deal. That's how people get suckered.

10. How much side by side contact do you want? Some home businesses, depending on how they are structured, give each spouse in the relationship autonomy and physical space from one another. Other businesses place you in each other's company all day long. What's your preference?

Starting a business from home with your spouse is a high risk, high reward opportunity, for your marriage and your finances. Tame your enthusiasm with thorough research of your alternatives. When the right opportunity shows up, you'll both recognize it. Wait until the moment, as anxious as you might be to move forward, when your exhilaration and conviction about a business idea is mutual.

Azriela Jaffe is the founder of "Anchored Dreams" (www.isquare.cim/crlink), and author of several books including Honey,I Want to Start my Own Business, A Planning Guide for Couples ( Harper Business 1996), and Let's Go Into Business Together, Eight Secrets for Successful Business Partnering (Avon Books 1998) and Starting from No, Ten Strategies to Overcome Your Fear of Rejection and Succeed in Business (Dearborn, April 1999), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beating Debt (MacMillan, 2000) (

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