Being clear on long-range goals is also important. If one partner wants a steady, comfortable business that will pay the family bills, while the other sees him- or herself as the next Sam Walton, there's liable to be trouble ahead. By building a graceful exit strategy into a business plan, family members who grow disenchanted can bow out without creating a rift, Daniel suggests. "What I have observed is that when a couple goes into family business together, their relationship either gets a whole lot better or a whole lot worse. It doesn't stay the same."

Says David Hurley, "The marriage has to be on a strong foundation. People have to enter a family business with all eyes open." But he adds, "If you run a successful family business, I don't think there's anything more exciting or exhilarating."


François de Visscher, president of the Boston-based Family Firm Institute, offers a basic checklist for people considering starting a family business:

1 If you’re unsure how your relationship will hold up to the added pressures of a business, consider seeing a marriage counselor of family therapist before making the leap. An expert may point to trouble spots you hadn’t envisioned.

2 Go over the finances in detail. If you see that savings account as potential marketing money while your spouse sees it as old-age security, there could be trouble. Also, you should ideally have enough capital on hand to sustain your business and a reasonable family lifestyle for a minimum of three years.

3 Assess your risk aversion. Most entrepreneurs are risk-takers, and family business partners are no exception. If you or your partner don’t feel comfortable risking your security, don’t start a business.

4 Be sure you have the support of the whole family, kids included. Starting a business requires sacrifices from everybody. Most kids will buy into your enthusiasm, even if it means less extravagant gifts under the tree, but they should feel they are part of the process.

5 Have a strategic vision and a strategic plan. Write a detailed business plan outlining your products or services, your short- and long-term goals, and your marketing plan. Show the plan to people you trust. Refer to it often as your business grows.

For more information on family business issues, visit the Family Firm Institute’s website or call (617) 789-4200.