Putting all your time, money and energy into starting or running a business may appeal to certain entrepreneurs, but it’s not for everyone, especially if you've got a family or outside interests. Business owners who don't want to sacrifice one for the other have to be creative to find some kind of balance.
"It’s more about making choices, not sacrifices," says Melissa Heisler, a Chicago stress reduction coach at It’sMyLifeInc.com. "It all starts with truly knowing and defining our values.”
Startups have an especially tough choice, and many opt to focus intensely on work at the cost of free time, at least initially. That includes startups launching in incubator or accelerator programs such as the one operated by Boomtown in Boulder, Colorado. Accelerator programs such as Boomtown give startup founders the chance to live and breathe every detail of their fledgling business for several months, but it can come with a cost.
[image-with-info caption="bottom-left" url="https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/guides/boomtown-accelerator/?linknav=us-of-Chapter4toGated" source="Lumenati" alignment="right" imageurl="https://d8a8a12b527478184df8-1fd282026c3ff4ae711d11ecc95a1d47.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com//us/small-business/openforum/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Boomtown-Chapter4-Sidebar3OPT.jpg"]Click here to learn more from Boomtown mentors, including Peter Adams, executive director of Rockies Venture Club[/image-with-info]
Sean De Clercq, 28, and Andrew Westwick, 31, co-founders of Kickfurther, a startup in Boomtown's fall 2014 class, found out the price of dedication the hard way. During their time at Boomtown, the co-founders worked together up to 14 hours a day, were roommates, and spent just about every other waking moment thinking and talking about the business, which will provide crowdfunding to help small businesses finance buying inventory. Their dedication didn’t come without sacrifice. “Both Andrew and I had girlfriends when we started the program,” De Clercq says. “Now, neither of us has a girlfriend.”
Not all startup founders are willing to give up everything for work. Co-founders of Bitsbox, a startup that sells mail-order kits that kids can use to learn to code, were both married with children and homes in Boulder when they entered Boomtown's fall 2014 class. Scott Lininger and Aidan Chopra, both 39, sacrificed to start the business by giving up good jobs at Google, their former employer. But they made time for family, too, making sure they were home for dinner and staying home to take care of a sick child. “If you become obsessed with your business it will corrupt you,” Chopra says. “It’s never even been a doubt in our minds that family comes before the business.”
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Lessons From the Front Lines
Where work-life balance is concerned, there is no right or wrong answer, just what works for you and your business.
“Everybody has a different way of working and balancing,” says Toby Krout, Boomtown’s co-founder and co-director. “It’s certainly an advantage if you can prevent burnout. There’s more information out there that backs up the notion that the more balanced people are, the more productive and creative they can be.”
Here's how other small-business owners have achieved a work-life balance that works for them.
[image-with-info caption="bottom-left" source="Lumenati" alignment="left" imageurl="https://d8a8a12b527478184df8-1fd282026c3ff4ae711d11ecc95a1d47.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com//us/small-business/openforum/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Boomtown-Chapter4-Sidebar_v2OPT.jpg"]Eric Santos and Brandon Reid of Benchmark.[/image-with-info]
1. Maintain boundaries.
Finding time for work and family can be especially tricky for business owners who are parents. Brooke Forry and her two co-founders at Curious + Company Creative, a Media, Pennsylvania print and web design company, have three children between them ranging in age from two to four-and-a-half. To carve out time for family, Forry creates professional boundaries. She makes it clear to clients that she is not available 24/7, and rarely checks email after 6 p.m. She ranks items on a daily to-do list as “must do” or “would like to do” to prioritize her workload and ensure she is realistic about goals. “The key to my balance is appreciating that I own my business and that my business does not own me," Forry says.
2. Create a routine.
Finding personal time outside of work can be especially vexing for couples who run a business together. Anna Copley and husband David Johnson own PickleballCentral, an online retailer of equipment for the backyard game, which combines elements of badminton, tennis and pingpong. The couple, based in Kent, Washington, developed a routine to help make time for themselves and their 13- and 9-year-old daughters. The couple often tag team items on their to-do lists, with one staying at home while the other mans the office. They limit how many social engagements and volunteer jobs they say yes to, and their office is a 10-minute drive from home, which minimizes commute times and ensures they can be home for family dinners. “Having two kids has made us smarter and more efficient entrepreneurs,” Copley says. “We carefully chose what to work on and what to live with.”
3. Bring family into the business.
Larry Gurreri, founder and president of Sosemo, a New York City digital marketing agency, is always working. To spend more time with his family, he brought them into the business. A year ago, Gurreri hired his mother to work in the company's back office. “We actually talk more now than we have in years,” he says. He'd love to bring his brother, an engineer, into the business as well. “The great thing about being an entrepreneur is that you get to decide whom you work with, which certainly and gratefully can be my family and friends," he says. Gurreri and his family intentionally limit discussing the company outside of business hours. If something comes up at a family gathering, "We try to keep it short and to the point," he says.
[block-text alignment="left"]Existing customers are often the best way to increase revenues.
4. Schedule me time.
Many small-business owners forget to take time for interests outside of work, says Lauren Abel, a serial entrepreneur who runs public relations agency Abel Associates and two wellness firms, Abel to Cook and Abel Fitness Training. To balance work and life, the Prairie Village, Kansas resident schedules "me" time every day, even if it’s just to take a 20-minute walk or have lunch with a friend. “Don't feel guilty about taking time away from your work for yourself,” Abel says. “You've earned it.”
5. Focus on quality vs. quantity.
Some entrepreneurs find that saying no to projects to gain more personal time ultimately pays off financially. Christopher Tompkins, CEO of The Go! Agency, a Largo, Florida online marketing firm, has turned away work to make time to train for triathlons. The decision helped create more business opportunities because he stopped wasting time on less profitable "filler" projects. "I was forced to focus my energy into being more effective,” tackling quality projects rather than chasing work he wasn't as interested in, Tompkins says.