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Entrepreneurship Puts a New Spin on Family Planning

When one half of a couple starts a new business, both are in for a change. But there are ways to make it work.

October 14, 1998|AZRIELA JAFFE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lisa, a 45-year-old client of mine, raged about her shattered dreams and failing marriage.

"When my husband, Roy, was laid off from his sales manager position, he took his severance pay and most of our savings and bought, with a friend, an almost bankrupt company that manufactures chairs. Roy doesn't know anything about chairs--or running a business. I told him it was a big mistake, but he wouldn't listen to me.

"I was right--it's been a fiasco since we signed the papers 18 months ago. We lost the house and moved from a beautiful neighborhood with a huge garden to a three-bedroom apartment on the opposite end of town. I'm too humiliated to socialize with my old friends, and our kids had to switch schools."

Lisa's voice also reveals her despair: "The worst part is I'm losing Roy. He spends more time with his business partner than with me. We never make love anymore, and we can't discuss the business without arguing. He doesn't appreciate how much I'm sacrificing--all he cares about is his damn business. I'm afraid we're going to end up divorced."

Roy views their circumstances very differently.

"I'm doing what it takes to turn a profit. My partner and I knew the business would require a lot of sweat equity, but Lisa expects miracles. She doesn't understand anything about the business, but she's still on my case about how to run it. She complains I'm not affectionate anymore--but how can I be? Whenever I see her she's angry and unhappy, so I've lost any desire. Who wants to make love with someone who complains all the time? I wish she'd just trust me to do what it takes to make this business work."

Lisa and Roy learned this basic principle the hard way: There is no such thing as "my" business when you are married. Married couples should approach the decision to buy a business as a team and be prepared for the sacrifices required. Though Roy put together a business plan, what Lisa and Roy really needed was a family plan as well. A family plan addresses the issues that must be considered and resolved when your business will alter your family's life.

These are some of the questions Lisa and Roy should have answered together before deciding on the buyout:

* Financial: How much cash will we invest before the business becomes profitable? How much credit card debt are we willing to take on? How are we going to pay the bills until the business is profitable? Will we risk losing the house? When do we draw the line and shut the business down if it's not profitable?

* Business: Since Roy used joint savings to capitalize the business, does that grant Lisa decision-making power in the company? How will they resolve conflict if Lisa disagrees with some of Roy's decisions, but she doesn't have any formal authority? How can Roy assuage Lisa's worries by giving her enough details about the business to acquire a long-term perspective?

* Personal Sacrifice: How many hours will Roy put into the business before he misses out on too much with his wife and kids? How strong is their marital commitment--enough to withstand the pressures of a turn-around venture? What sacrifices are each unwilling to make for the sake of business success--even if it means the company doesn't survive?

* Children: Their boys, ages 9 and 11, miss their dad, and resent the move across town and lack of money for games, new clothes and after-school activities. How can Roy and Lisa shield their kids from some of the pressure? How can Roy create enough "quality time" with his boys to stay connected?

Most couples underestimate the impact on their marriage and family when a spouse decides to go into business. Whether the venture is immediately successful, or struggling to survive, the pressure on relationships, finances and family time can break down even the most committed families.

The good news: Entrepreneurs can develop an approach to starting and running a business that protects their marriage and family. A thriving business and a rewarding marriage and family life are not mutually exclusive--but no one would ever suggest that achieving both at the same time is easy.

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Here are some tips for customizing your family plan:

Though every entrepreneurial couple must answer the same basic questions about how limited financial and personal resources will be allocated, no two family plans are identical. Depending on the model of combining self-employment and marriage that you choose, some issues will demand more attention than others.

* Full partners in the same business: You'll need to clarify how business decisions will be made, what roles and responsibilities you'll take in the business and at home and how to keep the romance alive when you are together 24 hours a day.

* Dual entrepreneurs with separate businesses: You'll struggle with which business has priority over scarce family resources. Who baby-sits while the other works over the weekend? How will you coordinate travel and work schedules? With the demands of two businesses, intimate time together will be scarce.

* Supportive spouse: If one of you is working a straight job and/or taking care of the kids and the other is running a company, you and your spouse will spend most of the day in radically different universes. How will you ensure that you don't drift apart?

Family planning for entrepreneurship is a fluid process. The questions you ask yourself will change over your marriage, and as your business grows.

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Azriela Jaffe can be reached by e-mail at jaffe@lancnews.infi.net, or visit her Web site at http://www.isquare.com/crlink.htm.

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