Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Work together, stay together?: For some entrepreneurial couples, starting a business together can provide the best of both worlds, but it doesn't come easily.

Many couples have found that running a business together provides more time together and with their family, for better or for worse.
Starting a business has become "very popular for family-oriented individuals," according to Lori Kiser-Block, the president of FranChoice, a franchise consulting firm.
In fact, about 25 percent of all businesses are family-owned, according to the Census Bureau's latest survey of business owners, with more and more budding entrepreneurs choosing to ditch the corporate grind to be closer to their loved ones.
"We always worked really well together," said Michele Evanger. She and her husband, Jim, met in college and got their entrepreneurial start as undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin when they teamed up to sell pots and pans door-to-door. "That's when we first identified that we could work well together," they say.
The Evangers, now both 40, decided to take another crack at it when they co-founded an interior design firm called Designs of the Interior (DOTI) in 1998.
But starting their own firm proved more difficult than they imagined. Michele admits that it took about six months for the husband-and-wife team to get acclimated to their new business relationship.
"The challenge was that Michele was good at so many things that were unique to this industry and I was good at business in general," Jim said.
Over time, the duo learned to draw boundaries and distinctions between their individual responsibilities.
"The first thing I would say is design your own job description, really know what you are going to do on a daily basis so you don't step all over each other," the Evangers say.
It took even longer, they say, to learn that it's OK to be accountable to each other and manage each other.
"If you are a couple in business together, the one thing you can't do is leave it at the office," Jim says. "There's no getting around that, if you aren't comfortable with that, don't go into business together."
Now the Evangers, who have been married more than 10 years, say that their different attitudes toward the business complement each other. They have since franchised their DOTI stores, and 21 out of the 30 locations are owned by couples.
A family affair
Greg and Janae Nezerka also quit their day jobs to open a house-painting services franchise called CertaPro Painters in Kansas City about a year ago.
They wanted a business they could run together and one of their kids could help with as well but quickly found out that their joint venture was going to be harder than they had anticipated.
Even after 19 years of marriage, the Nezerkas agree that learning how to work together was the hardest part.
"We pretty much started doing everything together and it seemed like we were getting nothing done," they say.
After several months, the couple learned to define their roles within the business and divide up tasks between them. Greg is president of the company and handles production and sales, while Janae fulfills the roles of vice president, head of marketing and office assistant on a day-to-day basis.
The Nezerkas say establishing a division of labor quickly was paramount, but flexibility was also key. Often, they have to be willing to adapt their roles to fit different situations at work.
Now Greg says working together has brought his family closer, and they've even added their son, D. J., and daughter, Jenni, to the payroll.
"I hope our kids will become entrepreneurs too," Janae says.


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