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How is starting a business like getting married?

I have often been struck by how much business counseling and marriage counseling can be alike.  “He said he was really good at marketing and was going to handle all the sales.  We haven’t seen a worthwhile sale in months.  All he does is drive around, I GUESS making sales calls, but mostly just spending money.”  “She said she was going to keep the books and handle the personnel issues.  I didn’t know that meant a row of shoe-boxes full of receipts and employee turnover at seventy percent!  This place is a disaster!”  “Turnover is at seventy percent because we don’t have enough sales to keep anyone employed.  If you did your job, then maybe I could do mine.”

Starting a Business

He said, she said.  And so it goes.  It is estimated that fifty-five percent of all first marriages fail and approximately 56% of new businesses fail within four years.  Here are some of the reasons most often given for start-up business failures.


There seems to me, however, to be one very significant overarching reason for the similar failure rates.  Marriages and start-up businesses often have a couple of key attributes in common—not a lot of thought or knowledge about what the people are really like, the contributions they can realistically make, and not a lot of thought about what can go wrong and how it will be dealt with.

When the happy couple is at the altar for the first time, they know the statistics.  But their marriage isn’t going to fail—they’re different!  Ditto a couple of guys starting a business.  “We’re different; we see eye to eye on everything.  ‘Fifty-fifty,’ that’s us.  We’re buddies through and through, always have been!”

Until about six months later.  Guess what?  It turns out there is rarely such a thing as “fifty-fifty.”  A “hundred-a hundred,” maybe—each person doing everything they can realistically do—but not “fifty-fifty.”

Realistically thinking not only about the dream of what can go right, but the nightmare of what can go wrong is a key to success.  Realistically thinking about the talents, faults, potential contributions and character of the people involved is a key.  Realistically thinking about a laundry list of other considerations and planning and implementing accordingly is a key.  Not at the divorce lawyer’s office; in advance.  Such is the stuff of which greater success rates are made.

It is important that you sit down with your potential business partner and undertake some realistic upfront thinking and planning. This work will pay great dividends in the future.

Getting knowledgeable assistance from your experienced business attorney, relatively inexpensive before the problems arise, usually pays great dividends—in so many ways.

© Neal J. Robinson 2010.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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Neal Robinson

Neal specializes in corporation and business entity law, mergers and acquisitions, business planning and strategic analysis. His clients have ranged from start-up operations to well established organizations.

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