As your business grows, it’s easy to get swept up in the ever-growing demands on your attention and time. But you don’t have to put in 12-hour days until you retire. That’s why work-life balance is so important.
Understanding the challenges of work-life balance you face as a small business owner can help you set goals and create more time for yourself.
Owning your own business is an exhilarating experience for those in search of the freedom to pursue their own dreams. You’re calling the shots when it comes to hours you work, the products or services you provide, and the direction your business takes.
But while you’re working toward success, are you stopping to take time for yourself? Maintaining a comfortable work-life balance might seem almost unattainable for new entrepreneurs. There’s so much to do and many put pressure on themselves to complete tasks no matter the cost to their personal life. It takes intentional decision-making and the right tools to build a business that leaves time for yourself. As business owners, The CoLab founders Megan Marsh and Andre Munar have spent years building and refining systems that allow them to bring balance to their work and personal lives.
“I put in 12 to 13-hour days for many years,” Andres says. “Truly to become an entrepreneur, to become a successful business owner, you have to do that at first. You can’t work an eight-hour day and build something that is profitable.”
As your business grows, it’s easy to get swept up in the ever-growing demands on your attention and time. But you don’t have to put in 12-hour days until you retire. Understanding the challenges of work-life balance you face as a small business owner can help you set goals and create more time for yourself.
A Demanding Role
The thrill of owning a small business is only matched by the pressure to keep it running. Initially, many small business owners wear multiple hats: sales representative, marketer, designer, accountant, supply chain manager—the list goes on.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by it all. Many entrepreneurs do. A 2016 survey of small business owners conducted by Bank of the West found that 62 percent of respondents said the stress of ownership is worse than what they imagined. Many owners felt as though they were always on the job. But you have to be, right? If you’re not putting in endless hours, you’re not working hard enough and the business won’t survive. It’s a line of thinking that drives many owners to work to the point of feeling burned out. In fact, 45 percent of entrepreneurs surveyed by NodeSource in 2018 admitted work-life balance was their biggest challenge.
Small business owners across the United States are spread thin trying to make their enterprise a success. They’re heading to work early, staying late, and pushing themselves mentally and physically to get their business to that next level of success. According to research from the Alternative Board, 30 percent of small business owners say they were working more than 50 hours per week, and nearly 20 percent report working 60 hours or more a week. But there’s always the weekend for relaxing right? Not quite. GetResponse surveyed more than 4,000 small business owners and found that many 91 percent of entrepreneurs aren’t taking the weekends off:
- 21 percent said they work on average 1-2 hours
- 33 percent said they work 3-5 hours;
- 24 percent said they work 6-10 hours; and
- 14 percent said they work more than 15 hours.
Going home can provide some respite from work but in a world connected by technology, small business owners are never really off the clock. Smartphones and computers provide a constant link to work. Many business functions and systems are hosted online, allowing owners to check inventory, the status of projects, and even security camera feeds from their couch. More than 90 percent of those business owners surveyed by GetResonse said they check their business-related emails, calls, and texts during their free time.
Despite the stress, uncertainty, and long hours, there is good news. Eighty-six percent of owners surveyed by Bank of the West said the sacrifices they’ve made for their businesses were worth it.
Learning to Let Go
Carving out time for yourself amid the demands of a business isn’t as simple as taking a day off.
It requires intentional decisions that position your enterprise for success while allowing you to step back and regain a work-life balance.
Being intentional is an important aspect of running a business, whether it’s guiding the decisions you make to grow it (link to Business Growth page) or helping you take a step back and analyze if spending every free moment at the office is actually helping you get ahead. Are you actively thinking about and pursuing decisions that are the best for your business or are you reacting at the moment to a problem and trying to fix it as quickly as possible? If you find yourself doing the latter, stop and take a second to really look at your actions. Then think about how you can take the energy you’ve been spending on these tasks and instead apply to create a vision of what you want your business to be.
“Maybe you’re spending the day chasing phone calls and putting out fires,” Megan says. “You don’t get ahead because you’re not being intentional. You have to be intentional and commit to what you want out of your business and your vision of what you want your business to be. Take the time to write down your goals and make a plan.”
Creating and maintaining work-life balance should be part of that vision. For many, it won’t be possible to go from working 60 hours a week to 40 hours overnight, but with time and planning, that dream can become a reality. For entrepreneurs ready to reclaim their time, that means doing three things:
- Prioritize everything. Your instinct might be to separate all of your tasks and other demands of your time into a workgroup and a personal life group but to truly achieve balance, you need to analyze them as one set. Make a list of everything that requires your time. Look at it, select the items that are the most important to you, and then cut out the rest. As an entrepreneur, you’re used to doing a lot on your own but doing everything for your business isn’t a feasible path forward. Tackle the most important tasks and create time for your personal life.
- Delegate what you’ve cut out. With your own priorities set, it’s time to delegate what is no longer on your plate to others. If you’re a one-person enterprise, that may mean bringing on an employee or contracting for the service with a firm or freelancer. As an entrepreneur, it is hard to give up control over every aspect of your business, so take the time and use the resources necessary to build a team that will support you and bolsters your business.
- Schedule away. Your planner is full of meetings, phone calls, and work sessions but doesn’t forget to schedule your personal life priorities, too. Keeping everything on the same calendar will help you track how much time you’re spending on work and how much time you can dedicate to family and friends, hobbies, charity, and travel.
Worried you won’t be able to implement the above strategies in your life and stick to them? Find an entrepreneurship coach who can help you define your work-life balance goals and reach them. Both Megan and Andre have sought advice from coaches on every aspect of their business, including establishing a work-life balance. Working with a coach brings a new set of ideas and perspectives to your entrepreneurship journey and can help shape your business in ways you may not have thought of, so it’s worth a try.
Reaping the Benefits
You’ve prioritized, delegated, and scheduled your work and home life in order to find balance. Maybe you’ve added a coach to your support system. Now what? Relaxing and enjoying your free time may be easier said than done.
One of the biggest hurdles for entrepreneurs seeking a better work-life balance to overcome is the idea that you don’t deserve to reward yourself for the work you put into your business. Another is the mindset that your business will fall apart without you there to oversee the operations. These types of thinking make stepping away for a vacation a struggle for many small business owners. A survey of small business owners conducted by OnDeck found that just over half take vacations. When they do step out of the office for that time off, 67 percent of small business owners will check in to work at least once a day.
How you build your business, your team, and your systems is vital to keeping everything running smoothly while you’re away (You can listen to The CoLab podcast episodes on teambuilding, onboarding, and business growth to learn more.).
“You need to set yourself up for success with discipline and systems that will keep your business operating as efficiently as possible,” Andres says. “You need to have a plan. And then put your plan into action and believe your business won’t burn down because you’re not working 12-hour days.”
Finding the right balance between work and home may not come easy or quickly, but can be achieved with the right tools and resources. The CoLab’s online community is full of entrepreneurs from all walks of life who can share their experiences Check out the Serving Up Success group on Facebook to connect with them and find help for reaching your ideal level of work-life balance.
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