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AZRIELA JAFFE

11.27.98  
Our Business Is a Great Success, But It's Breaking Our Backs
An entrepreneur and his wife want to get away from physical labor

This successful businessman speaks for many people who spend their days in hard physical labor:

"My wife and I have been self-employed for 12 years. We do wallpapering and painting for interior designers in our area. We are now 36. We make a reasonable living ($60,000 to $65,000 combined, each working 30 hours a week), and we have lots of time to be with our kids, ages 3 and 7. We are at the top of our industry rate, and we are getting more work now than ever (word of mouth). We will not hire others -- too many problems. We've been there more than once.

"While the business provides us time and money, we hate the physical labor. We both want to move into a different line of business and remain business partners. Neither of us wants to become an employee. We don't want to expand this business or move into the interior-design world.

"How do we make the transition from blue collar to white collar? I want to move back into the computer world (my previous job before this business). My wife wants to move into training and marketing. I also run a separate business, but it's just breakeven. And I have not gotten any new clients for the past two years. We figure we have about three years to get out. Less is better. Thanks."

Congratulations on three fronts. First, you work so well with your spouse. In my book, Honey, I Want to Start my Own Business: A Planning Guide for Couples, I have a quiz to help couples tell whether they would make good working partners. One question is: Can you work well together on household projects, such as hanging wallpaper?

Second, you built a profitable business, even though you hate the work. Imagine what you could do if you really loved it. Third, you aren't unrealistic about the time this transition may take.

As for changing, you won't get what you want without giving something up -- at least temporarily. First, order this list of benefits in terms of their importance to you:

  • Being with your spouse
  • Earning $60,000 a year income
  • Working only 30 hours a week
  • Having time with the kids
  • Avoiding the need to prospect
  • Maintaining a good reputation
  • Eliminating the need for employees
  • Doing work you are well trained for

Now, which of these priorities are you willing to give up for some others? You'll probably take an income cut. You and your wife might have to stop working together. You'll likely have to start prospecting. The hours might be longer. One or both of you might have to take a job to bring in income or learn a new profession.

The easiest transition would be a white-collar service within your industry. Be cautious about throwing away all you have built up over the past 12 years. Think creatively about ways to capitalize on your success in this industry before moving entirely away from it. Call clients who respect you, and tell them you are exploring new avenues. One of those clients might be very excited about connecting with you in another way.

You and your wife apparently have different interests at the moment. A new joint venture might not incorporate the skills and desires of both of you. You may need to run separate businesses. Alternatively, there are plenty of ventures for sale that don't demand physical labor and are ideal for couples with different strengths. How much money could you get from selling the assets of your company? Do you have any savings? Or, you may find a buyer who is willing to finance you for a while. Either way, start living frugally to build savings.

Last, is your second, unprofitable business a waiting opportunity or a distraction? Put new effort into it, or close it down.

You have proven that you can be a successful entrepreneur, and many of those skills are transferable. If you start feeling insecure about uncharted directions, ask yourself: "How many people do we know who could earn $60,000 a year hanging wallpaper every day with their spouses?" You and your wife are a select minority, I'm sure!

Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe at AZ@azriela.com. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.

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