Running a small business, or any business for that matter, usually means that a large amount of your time is focussed on growing the business. Although statistics reveal that all Australians, whether employed or self-employed, do not have enough time for their personal life, small business owners are often the ones who are most time-poor when it comes to looking after themselves.
And the smaller the business, the worse this disparity can be. Sole-traders and micro-businesses often have to fulfill a variety of job roles from administration to marketing & sales and providing the actual products or services that are the actual revenue of the business. They have to be everything to everyone.
In the short-term, this can help a business grow to a stage where the business owner is able to increase revenue enough to bring more hands on deck, but often this is not the case and their workload increases even further as the business does.
But why is work/life balance so important?
The answer is very simple. If you are continuously devoting more and more of your time and energy to work or business, then sooner rather than later you are going to head towards burning out. You will be exhausted & overwhelmed and you might even become sick and lose the interest and passion you have to do what you do. Not just in your business, but this overflows into all the areas of your life. Alot of us work best under pressure, but make the pressure too much and you will break.
It can become a vicious circle. The more you do, the less productive you become and the time you have becomes even less as you seem to have even more tasks.
Think for a moment about the reasons you decided to go into business. Two of the most common ones are increased finances and a better lifestyle.
Perhaps working long hours in your business might give you some of the first whilst you still remain productive, but it’s certainly not giving you the second. “Better lifestyle” might mean to you more time with your family or friends, or having time to be able to enjoy your passions, interests and hobbies. This is certainly not happening if you are spending the majority of your time working. Or a better lifestyle might mean being able to afford the things that you want. Which you might be able to afford now, but are you actually able to use them or enjoy them?
And are you really better off financially? Your business might have better turnover and revenue than if you were employed. But consider for a minute what your true hourly rate would be. As an employee you work X amount of hours and get Y dollars. Now think about the revenue your business turns over and the hours you spend in your business gaining that revenue. Is your true hourly rate better than being employed? Or are you really working for a pittance?
Unlike Blue Emerald’s Creative Director, who often gets roped in to be my PA as well :), and who is the epitome of being able to find that work/life balance, finding time to release his fourth album and follow his passions, I am just as guilty as most other small business owners in dedicating too much time to my business and not enough time to my own interests. Blue Emerald is definitely in the rapid growth phase, which feels very rewarding, however, like many of you out there, I also need to assess my priorities and time spent working well before it starts to become a problem in the future. Although I am certainly nowhere near the “burnout” stage, I should think about my own advice and apply it in my own business well before I start to head down that path. 🙂
So, now you can see that there might be a problem with the time you are spending in your business. But what can you do about it? You can’t just “down tools” and take an extended holiday! But there are some strategies that you can look at that improve that work/life balance. Copying what big business does that works can often be good idea.
1. It may sound like more work, but start scheduling your time. Rather than just having a giant to-do list and attacking what is most urgent first, take a good look at what your regular tasks are that use up chunks of time, such as administration, marketing, phone calls, meetings etc. Try and make a regular time each week or month to do these tasks and stick to it. Alot of the time-sucking tasks we don’t enjoy, yet they really need to be done and not put off. Attending to them on a regular a basis can make them seem a little less daunting. There is a huge selection of choices out there to help you with this, alot of them free. Consider calendars, task lists, workflow management software and other automated systems to help you with this.
2. Outsource or delegate. In a small business with little cashflow to go around, it might seem like the sensible solution is to keep the cash and do it all yourself. But in reality, this is just setting you up for a fast decline. If you outsource tasks such as accounting, administration, marketing and website design to those who specialise and can do it much quicker and more efficently and you will have alot more time for the tasks that you yourself specialise in and actually generate revenue for your business. For administration tasks, you could also consider a part-time employee. Even 5 hours a week could make a difference to your own time and productivity.
3. Start “automating” your systems. Are there documents you regularly use? Or emails you seem to type over and over again? Do you provide similar products or services in the same way to most customers or clients? Don’t re-invent the wheel each time. Take a look at what you repeat often and setup master lists or documents that can be customised slightly for each use. For example, in our business, Blue Emerald has standard workflow documents that I have created. One example is for setting up clients on Xero. They list each task and who is responsible (client or Blue Emerald), what information the client needs to give and checkboxes for when they are complete. We also use job/workflow management software (Workflowmax) and a CRM (Capsule), both of which integrate with Xero and really enable us to keep on top of scheduling and client work. There are many other options out there for automating your repetitive tasks and reducing your admin time. Consider cloud solutions rather than desktop, as they can give you alot more flexibility in not being so tied to a desk. Do a little research and see what works for you.
4. Either take care of important tasks immediately, or schedule what you need to do and when. Having a big to-do list in your head is both overwhelming and inefficient. Completing the tasks you don’t enjoy first &/or the biggest ones can more often than not reduce both your stress levels and your to-do list dramatically.
5. Business owners who work from home have even more challenges with time. Although having a home business can give you alot of increased flexibility, it can become much harder to walk away from work and “down tools”. Consider setting stricter limits with yourself. Give yourself strict working hours and stick to them. It doesn’t have to be 9 to 5, but simply a regular pattern. You might still work a full workday, but just spread over different times. Consider having your workspace in a place you can close the door or put your work away so you are not always looking at it thinking “Well, I should really just finish that one urgent task……”. That one task often turns into many.
6. Network. Most of us know the value of networking to gain more business and revenue. But there are other types of networking that are just as valuable. Consider forging relationships with others in your industry – join industry bodies or chambers of commerce/business enterprise centres and local networking groups where others in your industry might also be. To a lot of business owners networking with your competiors can seem a strange thing to do, but more often than not they find that sharing knowledge of things that work and don’t work in their industry and sharing resources to avoid reinventing that wheel and receiving relevant industry news and changes are actually of great benefit. A succesful business stands on it’s own merits. It’s not about pretending your competitors don’t exist and keeping everything about your business practices secret. The majority of businesses in the same industry have their own niches and relationships with others in your industry can actually be a source of referrals for your own niche. Think of how you would like to hear about your business – “Well, we can’t do that for you, but our competitor (you) specilises in that…..”. An example of same industry networking is that Blue Emerald is a member of the Proactive Accountants Network. Not only does that give us much education and resources for our business, but it actually enables us to give a higher level of service to our clients. Win/win.
7. More networking! Consider making relationships with other businesses that compliment yours. For example if you are a bookkeeping business, make relationships with accountants and admin businesses. These little teams of complimentary businesses can be not only a great source of referrals, but are handy ways of outsourcing your own client work when you are time poor. You are actually providing a better service for your clients when you stick to your niche and outsource or refer the rest. Trying to do everything for everyone spreads you too thin. And return referrals from these relationships ensures that you are not losing revenue by passing work on. What types of businesses compliement your type of business?
8. Consider your backup plans. Not your data, but yourself. You are your business’ greatest resource. You can schedule as much as you want, but there will always be something urgent that pops it’s head up when you least expect it. Or when you least need it. Working towards having your time streamlined & efficiently used in ordinary regular circumstances can make those spontaneous, urgent things or emergencies much less daunting and overwhelming. Also if you work alone in your business, or are the main worker, think for a while about what needs to happen if you are unable to work temporarily. It might be illness, personal issues/committments or even just taking a holiday. Some of these are immutable and you need to consider how your business will continue on until you are back on board.
9. Don’t be “always available”. Make definite hours that your business is “open” to customers, clients and phone calls. It doesn’t matter if you are working more than this, eg weekends or at nights or if you split your actual hands-on work because you work from home. Make your customers & clients aware what your business hours are (usually regular 9-5 on business days is the way to go) and even if you are working outside these hours, let the phone go to your message bank and if you are replying to customer/client emails, save them as draft and send them during your next normal working hours. Being “always available” is a slippery slope which your customers and clients start to expect and start to take advantage of without even realising it making it even harder for you to take your own time when you need it.
10. And last, but perhaps most important, start to schedule some simple time for yourself:
- If you constantly eat at your desk or on the job, then take 15 minutes to sit somewhere else and concentrate on just eating. Or if you are tied to a desk or phone for hours on end, stand up, take a little walk around, even if it’s just around the room or to go make your own coffee. Or go breathe some fresh air for a few minutes. It’s amazing how focussed and efficient you can be after even a short break. And don’t forget to eat luch! This is one of my biggest naughty habits. I get so focussed in my work, that it’s after 3pm before I realise I haven’t eaten anything yet today!
- Make a committment to reduce your hours. Even just a little bit. Twelve minutes less a day can mean an hour less each week. That might not seem like much, but it can start to get you in the right mindset of looking after yourself.
- Try not to work seven days a week. Be honest – alot of us do this, myself included. Schedule at least a half day off where you are not doing anything related to work. It can help to make a committment with someone, whether it be family, friends, an associate or something that you have paid for in advance. That way you are less likely to say “Well, maybe I can’t do that today as I really should be working…..”
- Consider taking annual leave/a holiday. You don’t have to go anywhere, or pay yourself leave loading or anything like that. It’s just about the time. Make the commitment to have a definite break and do whatever it is you want to do – go somewhere, spend it with someone/people, do a passion you enjoy or just sleep! Make yourself almost totally unavailable (yes, sometimes there are true emergencies that need your attention). For those who work alone in a business, one day just now and then might be all you can manage, but it can be very worthwhile, similar to those little breaks during the day.
In a small business where time is one of the most valued commidities, it can be hard to get that impetus to start making more time for yourself. But it is vital to create the work/life balance that really does work for you.
Start by asking yourself why you got into business in the first place. The right answer is never “to make more money”. The answer is what is behind that. What is that you want to do with that money or time or freedom? This is what truly motivates you to work in your business and it is also the thing which will give you the motivation to start adjusting those scales on the work/time balance and start dedicating more time to you. So what motivates you?