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Work, Wedlock & Co.

(Page 2 of 2)

"We both have different work styles, and it's been a big breakthrough accepting them," Mr. Oltmanns says. He, for example, doesn't like daily to-do lists; his wife lives by her day planner.

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At first, each was so bothered by the other's style that they'd snoop through the other's desk to see who was working on what.

But they adjusted and now start each month by discussing an agenda for the next few weeks.

Other couples have less success.

USC's Dr. Ehringer, for example, used to run a real estate company with her husband. But after three years, she got out.

"When I agreed with him, everything was fine. But when I had a different opinion, it didn't make him happy," she says. "He was from a generation [with] no experience in sharing control."

While they've given up on being business partners, they haven't given up on being entrepreneurs. She now runs a successful fine-dining restaurant.

Another key is complementary skills.

For the Thomasons, it was an easy match. The two had worked together for a large health-care company in Charleston - he in accounting and she in marketing. "I tell people I married my weakness," jokes Mrs. Thomason, and from their different strengths came separate responsibilities in the business.

A Wonderful Wedding actually grew out of a disc-jockey franchise they bought eight years ago when they were engaged.

Most of the business was wedding receptions, and most of those clients knew little about planning one. So they started a "how to" magazine for brides. Linda wrote the articles. Ken sold the ads.

The magazine was a success, and they now plan weddings and stage two bridal trade shows a year.

For them, and many others, one of the biggest challenges has been when to stop working - keeping the business from consuming their lives.

"It's relatively easy to start a business," says Ehringer. "But it's very difficult to grow a business and to sustain that success."

When the Thomasons started A Wonderful Wedding, for example, they worked all the time. Taking a vacation was unheard of.

But when their son, now 3, arrived, they realized they needed a work life and a personal life. One big step: moving their business into an office downtown - and leaving it there at day's end.

They end each day with a short briefing session to catch up on the day's events.

"We symbolically try to wipe out feet before we leave the office each night," says Mrs. Thomason.

They're also trying to take more vacations - 10 days this August, for example, to attend a family reunion. They also have a date night once a month - just the two of them, no business talk allowed.

Still it hasn't been easy.

"We can't say we don't talk business in the evenings, because we certainly do," Mr. Thomason says. "But we try to keep that to a minimum, especially around our three-year-old son."

Making It Work - A 'Couple' of Ideas

1. Make sure your skills complement each other.

2. Define responsibilities. The clearer the better.

3. Set boundaries between your work and personal life. Try not to take business problems home or personal problems into the office.

4. Maintain separate interests outside of the company where you each can shine on your own.

5. Have a cash reserve to keep your bills paid during the lean months - because it's likely to be lean in the beginning.

6. Establish, up front, how hard you both plan to work, how many hours you want to clock each week.

7. Start a business you both feel passionate about.

8. Establish long-term goals for the business. Do you want to grow your business and then sell it, or create a family legacy?

9. Set up an informal board of advisers, people who can offer objective guidance: your accountant, banker, another entrepreneur. They'll usually do it for free. No employees; no relatives.

10. Keep a sense of humor.

Helping it work

For more ideas, see Azriela Jaffe's two free online newsletters: "Entrepreneurial Couples Success Letter" and "The Best Ideas in Business." To receive copies, e-mail her:

Or visit her Web site: