Mixing Love and Small Business Could Be a Recipe for Disaster

Making the decision to become your own boss, is as much a lifestyle choice as it is a career decision.  Starting and growing a business requires a major commitment of time and resources in order to succeed.  Because the business consumes so much of your life, it's not uncommon for entrepreneurs to involve a spouse, domestic partner, significant other or love interest in their business endeavors … giving the phrase married to your work an entirely new meaning.  But combing love and business can be a formula for disaster if you aren’t careful.

If you choose to literally put your heart into work, here are six tips for protecting your livelihood from rocky relationship matters.

No. 1: It’s Business

Should you decide to go into business with your spouse or significant other, don’t let your relationship influence your business decisions.  Treat the arrangement just as you would with any other potential partner.  Determine how much interest each of you will own in the business, and execute what is known as a buy/sell agreement.  A buy/sell agreement is like a prenuptial agreement for your business.  It outlines what will happen if the two of you choose to go your separate ways.

No. 2: Define Roles

Establish areas of responsibility for each of you.  Leverage each other’s strengths, and determine a decision-making process.  There will be some decisions that will require both of you to be involved, but when it comes to day-to-day operational issues, you should each have the authority to make decisions independently of the other.

No. 3: Shared Vision

Before you jump into a new business together, make sure you have a shared vision of what you want the business to become.  Discuss any disagreements about the strategic direction of the business in the beginning.  Also make certain you share the same core values. A disagreement regarding the vision and/or values of your business after several years of operations could easily lead to disaster.

No. 4: Leave Emotional Baggage at Home and Work at the Office

Because you’ll be working together as well as living together, you should establish boundaries.  Your personal baggage needs to stay at home, and you need to agree to turn work off at some point so you can enjoy a personal life together.  Some couples who work together find unique “off-work” activities, such as taking a ballroom dancing class, as a good way to switch gears.

No. 5: Sense of Humor

Having a good sense of humor is a critical element for success when you work with your spouse or significant other.  Unfortunately, we all say things to our loved ones that we wouldn’t say to another business associate.  Watch your tongue and be willing to lighten up and laugh when things get too intense.

No. 6: Third Party Decision-Maker

Regardless of how well you plan your business relationship, inevitability there are going to be times when you simply can’t agree and the business is put at risk.  Before you reach that point, choose a third-party decision-maker.   It should be someone you both respect, but who isn’t closer to one of you than the other.

It might be your CPA, attorney or financial advisor.  But agree to abide by whatever decision he or she ultimately makes in order to keep your business healthy and moving in the right direction.

This opinion column was written by New York Times bestselling author and small business consultant Susan Solovic .