It's an interesting question that one…
So many people start businesses so that they can have more control over their lives, do the type of work that they truly enjoy instead of being at the mercy of an employer, and ideally get more time to do other things that they find enjoyable outside of “being at work”.
But how many people actually achieve this so-called “work / life balance” and before we can answer that question, we should probably take a minute to think about what it means in the first place. After all, if we don't know what it is we're actually aiming for, then how can we decide if we've achieved it or not?
What is “work / life balance”?
Let's take a look at how work / life balance is defined by others shall we? Here's how Wikipedia defines it (and this appears to be a pretty good summary of what a wide number of websites say on the matter when you do a quick search, so I'm relatively comfortable using it here.
Work / life balance is the term used to describe the balance that an individual needs between time allocated for work and other aspects of life. Areas of life other than work–life can be, but not limited to personal interests, family and social or leisure activities.Wikipedia
By this definition it's about ensuring that you find a balance between working and living, where living means to do those things that you enjoy outside of what you “do for a living”. And let's not forget that everyone likely has a different definition of what their ideal work / life balance actually is, so it's hard to define it in simple terms.
Regardless of how we define it however, the reality is we're all striving for a life we can enjoy and look forward to (or at least I think we are). Whether that means working 20 hours a week and playing golf for the rest, or earning money while travelling the world, or even just having as much time with family as possible, we all have an idea of what we want.
But here's where it gets interesting for those of us who have chosen to start their own business, we tend to enjoy (or even love) what we do on a day-to-day basis, so much so we've taken the leap to go out and be totally responsible for our own futures (which on the face of it sounds just a little crazy).
While most people might go to a job each day that they don't “love” in order to pay their bills and ensure they can live a good life, many people (I won't say all) who start their own business, tend to do it because they love what it is they do and they want to do it “their way” and have more control over what they do or how they do it.
After all, without passion for the work, it's incredibly hard to stay motivated to build something from scratch.
Unfortunately, it's this passion for “what we do”, along with all of the other requirements of running one's business, that can mean that although we're in control of our destiny more than others might be, it can be harder to find that elusive work / life balance than when we were simply employees of another business.
Running a business comes with so much more responsibility
Looking back on that moment when you decided to go out and start your own business, did you truly understand what that meant in terms of the new responsibilities you were going to have? And in this modern world of the internet and technology, could you have ever imagined all of the things that you would need to be doing?
Unfortunately, and this is even more so if your business grows and you have employees, there is so much more to running your own business than there is to being an employee. As an employee you agree how much you'll be paid for your contribution each year, what hours you work and then you turn up and do what your paid to do.
Yes, there's aspects of the business to consider and you worry about pay rises and holidays, plus whether or not you're doing a good job, but really when it comes down to it, being an employee is actually quite simple. No, this doesn't mean that all jobs are easy, it's more the act of “having a job” that is simpler than being a business owner.
Once you're a business owner, not only do you have to do the work, you also have to:
- Generate the work in the first place, it's not just going to come to you by magic
- Ensure that suppliers or creditors are paid, employees and the tax man too
- Issue invoices, chase up payments and keep your tax affairs in order
- Make decisions about technology, websites, social media sites, email systems, software etc
- Manage customer relationships, provide support and customer service
- Look after your employees (if you have them); salaries, training, holidays, time off sick
- Keep an eye on the future, what impact could this or that technology have on your business?
And these are just the things I could think of that a small business owner might have to think about, there's probably a ton of others that vary across industries. So it's no small surprise that many business owners find themselves working far more hours than they ever did as an employee, just to stay afloat.
Not only that, when you are a business owner, especially a small business owner, you have to wear many hats in your role as “the boss”. It doesn't matter whether or not you know anything about technology, you need to worry about your website and social media profiles, know nothing about software, that's unlucky you still need to figure out what tools your business needs to survive.
And let's not get started on what you have to worry about when it comes to business finances, tax requirements and all of the red tape that comes with keeping the government off your back, that's a rabbit hole we don't need to start going down in this article.
So what can a business owner do to achieve “balance”?
Firstly, admit to yourself that you can't do it all alone!
Remove the pressure of needing to have all the answers to each and every question, or to be the one that comes up with the solution to every little problem that you'll come across. Recognise that you are the expert in your field, but when it comes to some of these other aspects of running a business, you're going to need help.
Don't get me wrong, you're going to need some knowledge about things you've probably never thought about in the past, but that's only so you can be sure that when you delegate to someone else and they do that work for you, you can ensure that you are getting the right outcome.
But the truth of the matter is, you can't wear all the hats in your business and expect everything to be done well. There is always going to be an aspect of the business where an expert is going to a better job, probably in half the time, freeing you up to get on with the things that you are truly good at an enjoy.
Even if you need to do things all on your own in the short term, you're going to need the support of others to stay motivated and committed to your business, as it's easy to get overwhelmed and give up. Finding a community of others who are in the same boat can help you avoid common pitfalls and stay motivated.
Best of all, they'll likely be able to make recommendations about how to solve any issue that arises within your business, because they will have done it themselves. And when it comes to finding suppliers to work with, one of the best ways to find someone is through a recommendation from someone you trust and already has a good relationship with them.
Next, worry less about what something costs and consider the value that it provides.
And when you're considering the value using a supplier, piece of software or consultant provides, don't just look at the bottom line of income of sales that it might bring into your business. While you want to ensure that you are getting your monies worth and there's a positive outcome, some benefits are more intangible than others.
Let's consider the act of building and maintaining your website, ensuring it's fit for purpose and generating leads through regular updates, having a lead magnet to collect prospect information and regular articles. With all of the site builder tools available, it'd be easy to take this on yourself, I mean you're an intelligent person who knows their way around a computer, so why not?
Well, it's not impossible to take on this responsibility and do it yourself. The challenge is finding the time to learn what you need to in order to do a decent job, build and maintain the website going forward, as well as solving any technical issues or other challenges that you come across along the way…
Unfortunately, this all takes time, so if you're doing work for others, when will you take on this task?
I suppose the answers relatively easy; just do it outside of the usual working hours when your clients aren't expecting you to work on their stuff. But now you're spending time on your business during those hours that you could be spending it with your family or friends, suddenly a couple of weeks go by and you're exhausted because you're doing 80 hours a week… isn't this the opposite of what you wanted?
Now consider the alternative of finding a partner to work with you to achieve your goal of a useful, usable and high quality website. This may cost you a few thousand dollars and there may be ongoing charges, but consider the hours you will save yourself to do other things you enjoy (or are more important), whether they are business related or not.
Can you put a price on having the time to spend with your family on the weekends instead of sitting in front of a computer figuring out how to get that image to look just how you want it? Or what is the cost of spending your time on your website, when you could be out prospecting for new customers or delivering for existing ones.
Sometimes even a little simple maths can make this decision easier. If you charge $100 per hour and it takes you 40 hours to design and build your website (and let's say another 10 hours a month to maintain), you're looking at $4,000 (plus $1,000 per month) of your time to get it set up and then maintaining it. And while you could do this outside of your usual ‘working hours' shouldn't you be getting extra for that?
Leverage technology to “do things once, use them over and over”
Technology has the power to make a huge difference to most businesses, especially when it comes to performing repetitive tasks or providing the answers to common customers queries. Not only that it can automate your marketing efforts and allow customers to self service, instead of constantly being on the phone to you (or your customer support team).
The rise of high speed internet has fuelled the consumption of video and other content that historically was not well supported online, so you can easily create content for your customers and then re-use it over and over again. Imagine answering your top “frequently asked question” once and then letting future customers know they can get the answer from your website.
Instead of having to personally educate every new customer about the features of your product or service, what if you created a series of instructional videos that show how your product works and the best way to get the most out of it? Alternatively, answer your most common FAQs with a quick video for each.
Granted, there is some up front effort required to create the content, however once it's done you can continue to use this over and over in the future. If you have a dedicated customer support team, then there's no reason they couldn't also create content like this (or even simple article based FAQs will help customers when they need it).
Remind yourself of what's important
There is no doubt that building a business from scratch is time consuming, hard work and exhausting, however you cannot spend the rest of your life prioritising the business over the rest of your life. Hustle all you want, but make time to do other things that you find rewarding, spend time with your family and friends, have a hobby or take up a sport… just get out and do something.
Let's face facts, nobody knows what tomorrow brings and while you may have a plan to “go hard for two years” and then spend more time with your family or travel, or whatever it is that you enjoy doing outside of work or your business, anything could happen and you should remember that.
I can't think of anything worse than putting my head down to “build my business” only to realise that I'd missed out on important moments in my kids lives. I know they would prefer to spend time with me, than never see me, especially when they are at the age where they actually want to do stuff with their Dad.
So make sure you remember there's more to life than work, even the hardest worker in the room takes some time off from time to time… and it's well deserved. There's time for work and there's time for other stuff, don't make the mistake of spending 90% of the time you have missing out on the “other stuff”, sometimes the business can wait.
Wrapping things up
Well, we started with the question of whether or not business owners can achieve a work / life balance, agreed that what this means will vary from person to person, and discussed the fact that it can be difficult a business owner to have the time to do things outside of their business, due to all the different hats they need to wear.
So, it might seem that being a business owner is a surefire way to end up with even less time than you had as an employee, making the whole work / life balance idea an impossible ideal. However, I believe it is possible for business owners to achieve this balance in their lives, especially if they are doing something they enjoy (as the less it feels like work the better).
To achieve it though, the business owner needs to take advantage of the opportunities available; find others like you to network with and learn from, focus on the value of outsourcing rather than the cost, leverage technology to save you time and money, and actively remind yourself of what's important in the long term.
Be conscious of what you are trying to achieve with your business and remember to take the time to get away from it once in a while, let's be honest… the world will keep turning and life will go on, even if you're not working on your business all day, every day… and it will continue to do so long after you're gone.
Don't miss out on the time you have.