Most of us know it’s really hard to run a small business, but a March 2015 survey of small-business owners that Constant Contact conducted in honor of National Small Business Week makes it clear just how hard it really can be. Some might even call it the hardest job in America. The data makes it clear that the biggest sacrifices you make in pursuit of small-business success are personal in nature: time with family and friends, time away from your business, vacation time. You get the idea: Work-life balance is elusive.
Time is definitely not on the side of small-business owners. In fact, more than half (56 percent) tell us they feel they can never be away from their business. That translates into long days where your work and personal lives blur into one. Factor in that just over half say they don’t have enough time to focus on themselves, 40 percent miss having more time with family and friends, and 43 percent don’t take vacations, and you have the perfect recipe for burnout.
“It can be soul-sucking if you’re not careful,” says Sherri-Lee Woycik, owner of Social Media Minder. “Ten to 12 hours a day at a computer can leave little energy to spend time with my children.”
Another dynamic of time management stems from what small-business owners view as the most difficult part of the job: 43 percent say it's having to wear so many different hats, from sales and marketing, to human resources, to payroll and accounting … and more.
Social marketing consultant Julia Campbell is a typical small-business owner. “I am a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ for my business. I do it all: client services, invoicing, PR, marketing, content creation, new business, IT specialist, and so much more," Campbell says. "The most important responsibility is keeping my clients happy, but it can be challenging if something goes wrong in another area.”
That said, some small-business owners have relinquished some aspects of their job. “I realized I couldn’t wear all the hats anymore if I wanted to scale my business," Woycik says. "I took a hard look at where I spent my time and started outsourcing functions like bookkeeping—areas that don’t bring in revenue and that someone else could do in half the time.”
The Power of Outsourcing
Outsourcing, even if you think you can’t afford it, can be the antidote to lack of personal time and the jack-of-all-trades dilemma.
You may think you couldn’t possibly afford to outsource or that you can’t leave your employees to take on major responsibilities. Who wants to let go of their baby? But sometimes you have to overcome the barriers and let go of some aspects in order to grow. When she first started outsourcing tasks, Woycik got creative and did it on a barter system. If you have employees, train them well so you can trust them to take on greater responsibilities and even run things, like when you’re away on that well-deserved vacation.
As Denise Attwood of Ganesh Himal Trading notes, “The preparation before vacations can be tough, but it forces you to be a good planner and, more importantly, a good delegator.”
Of course, it’s not always about growth. Some small-business owners want to keep their business just that: small. "Folks have always told us that you're not successful unless you're big. I disagree. One of the great things about small businesses is that they're small,” Attwood says. “We have four employees who have very livable wages, take three weeks or more of vacation every year, and love their jobs."
A Focus on Existing Customers Represents Time Well Spent
The quest for new customers represents another time-consuming activity, one that 66 percent of survey respondents cite as their top business concern. While very important, the quest may not always represent time, or money, well spent.
The constant battle for new customers can consume the majority of a small-business owner's time, which may be why the second top business concern cited in our survey is “having enough time to do everything I need to do.”
Instead of investing more time and money to find new customers, grow your business by engaging existing customers that already know the value you provide. Consider the 80/20 rule, which holds that 20 percent of your customers drive 80 percent of your business. If you focus your efforts on engaging the 20 percent by catering to their specific interests, presenting customized offers and sharing valuable insight that they find relevant to their needs, you may find your current customers are more likely to return and refer business.
As Jennifer Smiga, owner of inBLOOM Communications, says, “Businesses focus on acquisition more than customer retention, even though it can cost seven times more to acquire new customers. It's crucial to maintain good customer relations, and even more important to exceed a customer's expectations. Referral marketing is gold.”
Why Do It?
Given the considerable personal sacrifices, it’s reasonable to ask “why?” Why run a business if it could mean sacrificing time with family and friends, forgoing vacations and having less personal time? In a nutshell: passion, freedom and flexibility.
A resounding 62 percent of small-business owners surveyed say they do it so they can pursue their passion; 59 percent say it's for the freedom to control their professional life; and 50 percent say it's for the flexibility. Forty-one percent don’t want to work for anyone else.
“It’s freeing to know that I can set my path and decide what’s important to me and what my career will look like. I like having that control,” Campbell says. “I also love making my own schedule and having the flexibility to plan my work around a volunteer commitment at my daughter’s school or Red Sox opening day. I’d never trade that flexibility for a job in a big company.”
For Woycik, the best part is realizing “there are no limits. I answer to my clients but I don’t have to answer to a boss—and I don’t have to ask a boss for a raise.”
Bryan Caplan of BJC Branding sums it up: “If you want to be the master of your own destiny, then you want to be a small-business owner.”
Despite the challenges of achieving a work-life balance, many small-business owners wouldn’t have it any other way. When asked if they would choose to do it all over again, an overwhelming 84 percent said yes.
Read more articles about work-life balance.