Building a Business with Your Loved One Can Work (If You Build It Carefully)

James O'Brien

Love and marriage, does it go together for business owners?

The answer is, it can — but it takes a careful couple to make a romantic partnership into a robust and resilient enterprise.

Loved ones need to confirm that their reasons for starting a business together are solid, and that those reasons are also backed by sound practical and legal preparations. Let’s look at the elements of successfully starting a romantic-business partnership, turning to small-business owners who’ve successfully done so themselves.

Falling in Love with Your Business Idea (for the Right Reasons)

Craig Wolfe and his partner set their in-love hearts on creating a chocolate company together.

“Chocolate is about love and passion,” said Wolfe, referring to the couple’s melted chocolate treats at Cocoa Canard. “If you are both very close and kindred spirits, the creative sparks between you will infuse the business, especially if it’s a food business. I know it’s strange, but food businesses and chocolate business are tailor made for couples!”

That’s the kind of passion that fuels a fundamentally tight bond. But you also need to know that you can count on your romantic partner through the thick and thin of running your new shop.

“There is no one I’d rather have next to me on this journey than my wife,” said Lenny Verkhoglaz, co-owner of Executive Care, a home healthcare business.

“Opening and operating your own business is full of excitement, fear, and nerves,” he continued. “Having your special someone with you through it all makes everything easier and more enjoyable.”

That’s a strong argument, in and of itself. Next, we look at how to put all this heartfelt sentiment into a sensible plan.

Don’t Let Romance Blind You

When it comes to starting a new business, all the good reasons in the world are only the precursor to a contract that makes good practical and legal sense. As you prepare for your grand opening, pay attention to the following legal steps along the way.

  • Build a plan that defines contributions. A written operational agreement that describes each partners’ roles and responsibilities allows you to navigate tough questions about ownership, and who has what kind of say, in the future. This is particularly important in terms of incorporation and the division of stocks, in years to come.
  • Set revenue targets and benchmarks. Within your written contract together, have agreed-upon timeframes for reaching business goals that are important to you both. This not only creates metrics for success, it helps clarify misunderstandings during tougher times.
  • Create a buy-sell agreement. Plan for success, but outline what happens if the partnership dissolves, or you both decide to bring the business to an end. Conversations such as these are almost always more productive before the intrusion of business-related stress and disappointment.
  • Delineate family matters. Make it part of your documented plan what happens if your partnership expands. If you have kids, are they allowed to work within the business, and how are they to be included over time? What about other family members — in-laws, siblings, and the like. Define the rules that apply to family so that everyone feels you’ve treated them fairly and with care.

Wolfe offered one more piece of advice: “don’t let business consume your life or be the center of all your time together.”

Remember that romantic partners in business should also have some fun while working together on a passion. Just make certain you’ve the bottom-line agreements in place, and protect the heart of the relationship that wants the enterprise to grow.


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