Co-preneurs, or couples in business together, get very little attention in the study of business ownership. This lack of attention largely comes from the myth that they are small in number and the businesses they run are small in size.
The reality, though, finds that co-preneurs are a substantial part of the business community. Research has found that nearly one-third of family businesses are owned by co-preneurs.
While this may still seem small, you must realize that one in 10 households operates one or more family businesses. This translates to 12.2 million family businesses and more than 4 million co-preneurs.
Going into business with your spouse seems like a utopian opportunity. Such couples have the chance to blend their work and family dimensions. The perception is the situation allows for greater control over both systems, and means that family values and time can be fully integrated with business needs.
The bottom line is that the arrangement can blur the boundaries of home and office. Co-preneurs often envision stronger marriages and businesses because of the intertwining.
Before going into business together, though, couples need to ask themselves if this is the right choice for them. Adding a work relationship while maintaining a personal relationship is difficult.
Couples thinking about entering a business relationship need to consider several key areas.
First, couples need to have solid communications. And saying you will establish that is not nearly as strong as already having it in place. Plus, the ability to communicate with your spouse about difficult issues must work in both systems, the family and the business. Co-preneurs also need to be able to handle issues that bridge the two systems.
The second discussion a couple should have is to clarify roles and responsibilities in the proposed business, as well as how existing roles and responsibilities in the family might change.
What also is important in developing a co-preneurial business is agreement on business values and direction. You probably have similar family values, but business values may differ. You also need to agree on what the business will be, how each would like it to grow, and even whether the business operates from home or somewhere else.
You need a similar discussion around how comfortable each person is with risk and what each person may be willing to give up or change to make the business successful.
Going into business together can offer great opportunities. However, it also can add additional stress to a relationship. Make no assumptions about what it can do for a relationship. Instead, have some long conversations before you make the move.
Co-preneurs can have the best of both worlds. Just remember: Making that happen takes work!
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Tracy Brown says
Hi Glenn – I bookmarked this post because I really wanted to read what you had to say on this topic.
I’m a co-preneur. (I’d never heard of that term until reading your post.) It DOES take a lot of work. My partner (Gordon) and I have worked full-time together for two years now. I’m glad we made the decision to form our partnership, but it’s not always easy.
One of the most obvious problems is separating “work life” and “home life.” You can’t – in my experience, anyway. Because of this, we had to learn pretty quickly how to handle disagreements “at work” so we didn’t take them “home” at the end of the day. Some days we’re better at it than others.
About a year or so ago, we decided to nix separate offices and moved into one space. (Yikes!) Ironically, it was one of the best choices we’ve made. While I can’t explain why it works, I can tell you that we’re nicer to one another when we disagree on a decision related to our company. It’s also easier to get things done when we’re sharing a client project.
The other challenge we have is stopping work. Since I’m almost always with my business partner, it’s difficult not to talk shop when we’re driving to the grocery store, having dinner, heading out for some weekend activity, etc. There are stretches when it seems as though we are always talking about projects or strategies. But, we do respect each other when one says: Enough! I’m not talking about work right now.
While co-preneurship is not for everyone, if people can handle the points you listed above (good, honest communication; agreement in business direction; understanding roles and responsibilities), the experience can be very rewarding. I’m glad Gordon and I made the choice to work together. As successes happen, they’re even sweeter because we share them.
(Glenn, if you ever decide to gather more information regarding co-preneurship and couples, I’d love to volunteer to be a part of your research! My direct email address should be included in the site’s CMS with this comment. Thank you!)
Glenn Muske says
Appreciate your comments. The term copreneur has been around since the 80’s but you don’t hear it mentioned often nor is this a business segment that receives a great deal of press. I like your comment about separating home and work life. They do get all pushed together and both families and the business tend to use some or all resources interchangeably. Copreneurs my colleague and I have found different ways to separate the two. But I suspect what works for one couple probably wouldn’t work for others. Glad you are pleased with your choice. Hope it continues. Down the road we may take you up on your offer to talk to you about your copreneurial experience.