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How to Grow a Successful Business With Your Spouse, Best Friend or Family Member

Working with someone you’re close to can get sticky. But with the right motivation and boundaries, it can work.

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BY Young Entrepreneur Council - 23 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

By Ashley Ferraro, president of Dona Jo Fitwear.

A lot of people say bad things about starting a business with someone you know well, like your spouse or best friend. "It's a terrible idea," "It'll ruin your relationship," and "You won't like each other once you start working together," are just some of the things people say when they hear your plans.

But my husband and business partner, Raphael, and I were able to grow from a business in our apartment to a multimillion dollar company -- together. Working together and being successful has been a challenge, but we've learned a few keys along the way that have enabled our relationship to stay strong as our business has taken off:

Have the same passion

Whatever it is that gets you excited, it should overlap with whatever gets your partner excited. For example, since Raphael and I met in college when I was a swimmer and he played tennis, fitness and exercise have been a huge part of our lives. Going to the gym for one hour every day is part of our routine.

We do it without thinking about it, so starting a fitness-related company was a natural extension of something that was at the core of our day-to-day relationship. To succeed, you and your partner shouldn't just go into business to make money. You need the passion for whatever the business does or makes to drive you.

Specify and define your roles and responsibilities

While you and your partner should be excited about the business together, deciding who is in charge of what goes a long way to keeping your personal and professional relationships clear. You don't want to step on each other's toes.

For us, there was a natural division of labor. I had worked in marketing and tended to enjoy the community-building on social media, the strategizing for marketing, and the artistic design of our products. Raphael was more into the operations, numbers, reports and other, more analytical aspects of the business. We both wanted to do what we were good at and what made us happy.

We definitely seek out each other's opinions and advice, but we are each responsible for the decisions we make about the areas of the business that we are in charge of. So whether you're married or best friends, you want to play to each others' strengths by working together, but not on top of each other.

Separate your business relationship from your personal relationship

Perhaps the hardest part of working together is allowing yourselves not to work every single moment you spend together. You don't need to avoid talking about the business, but you don't want to blame each other over the business's problems. When we were working out of our apartment, that was harder to do. But moving into a separate space transformed our experience. The moment you can shut your office door and go home for the night, it all gets a lot easier.

Now, when we are in the office, we talk about the difficult business aspects and what's not going so well. Outside of the office, we focus on what we are happy about and what exciting things we are doing -- or dream of doing -- with the business. In addition to keeping our focus positive outside of business hours, we emphasize activities that we do just on a personal level, like going out to dinner or staying in to cook, watching a show together, and, of course, going to the gym every morning. We live our lives together, so we have to make sure to balance the "life" part with the "business" part.

Working with someone you are close to can be difficult. People aren't perfect, and your business is going to have some challenging moments, but you have to keep working on it. Remember that you are a team, so it's not one person's fault if something doesn't work. You are in it -- both in a business and personal regard -- together.

Ashley Ferraro is president of Dona Jo Fitwear, a fashionable activewear company, which she runs with her partner and COO, Raphael Costa.