It's NOT about balance at all.
The personal and professional lives of small business owners are oftentimes so intertwined that it's hard to set boundaries and find balance. I'd like to offer a few thoughts on how you can work to find a work/life balance.
First off there's no point in using the word "balance."
It's totally misleading to small business owners. Just hearing the word balance makes me think of a balance beam (I could totally fall off of) or scales of justice (someone is going to lose), or a teeter-totter (who doesn't love the teeter-totter?)
So as a small business owner I take the teeter-totter approach because afterall it's a piece of play equipment and I think showcases what modern-day balancing is truly about: up and down, equally weighted on each side, and you don't stay on it all day and night.
Now I didn't arrive at my "balance theory" overnight, hardly, it's been five years of struggling, thinking, revising, and reinventing what it means to me to live a life that I love and run a small business that I believe in with all my might.
To prevent my small business from taking over my life, these are the lessons I've learned amid the struggle.
1. Automate your home.
Running a business takes lots of time whether you work in or out of your home, and unfortunately the home stuff (laundry, cleaning, groceries, meals, etc.) doesn't run itself. To prevent the business from overrunning our personal lives, we have to have time to get the business stuff done during business hours. My best small business hack actually starts at home. Once I automated all the cleaning, grocery shopping, and meal tasks -- I gained 12 hours each week that I could then use for the business without sacrificing anything on the personal side. (I've since gone on to gain almost 20 extra hours in my week through automation, elimination, and motivation!)
Here's the exact system that I use to automate house cleaning, eliminate nagging, and motivate all my family members to help out. Popsicle sticks have literally saved my personal life and business. I don't have to micro-manage the home, everything runs smoothly, and my family is happy.
2. Plug the time drains
Finding the elusive "balance" is really nothing more than capturing more time so you don't have to blur the lines between personal and business time.
Depending on your business, you can outsource something. Small business owners are the worst offenders because we think we have to do everything - we don't.
Now plugging the time drains is one thing but first you've got to know where the leaks are.
For this I used aTimeLogger consistently for two weeks. I tracked everything because my life depended on it. At the end of the two weeks I quickly saw that my time drains could be easily solved with
- Google voice (Free) - to act as my "secretary" and allow me to speak with people and answer calls during the time I'd set aside in my day.
- An online scheduling service ($8/month) - to act as my 24/7 secretary scheduling appointments for clients.
- Social media management platform ($49/month) - to act as my social media virtual assistant
- Result: I took back 10 hours in time that wasn't making me money for $14.25/week - I can't hire anyone to work for that.
Now if you're the small business owner who says, but I want to save that $$ - please just do this calculation: Amount hours x $[your rate]/hour = ??? For me, unless I valued myself at $1.42 which I don't then I needed to plug my time drains immediately!
3. Find more friends
Not just any friends but ones that are going through what you are going through. The modern world we live in is nothing but quick access to every single kind of niche you can think of.
One area that many bricks and mortar businesses are simply not taking advantage of is the Facebook group function. These groups have honestly saved my sanity and made me thousands and thousands of dollars.
Let me explain: when you're a small business owner you're doing everything you can to again find that elusive "balance" -- but you're not alone. There are more of you. What if you could find a group of people to bounce ideas off of, run free market research, receive support, make new connections, and all for FREE and minutes a day or week? Anyone saying no? I didn't think so.
It's really easy to find groups by simply searching on Facebook using keywords.
Type the kind of business you run in the search box and see if anything is suggested.
If it's not, then make a group and invite people to join. I've done this for my Mamattorney group. Talk about a niche that's not served!
I spent my first two years as a business owner not knowing the value and power of the Facebook groups - don't make the same mistake! Now when I need market research, or help with an issue I'm up against, or just need someone to tell me I'm not insane - I jump into one of my groups and make my post.
4. Don't do whatever you can to make the sale.
I know it's counterintuitive but here is where I made so many mistakes and have watched so many other small business owners do the same.
We think that we've got to provide everything our customers want, be available whenever they want, compromise on the price set, compromise on the hours we're going to work, etc. All this does is communicate to our customers that we don't value ourselves. And what that says without us knowing it is that if we don't value ourselves, then we really aren't valuing them.
So before you start going above and beyond, or compromising on your prices - ask yourself these three questions: (they are the key pieces of the teeter-totter balancing act and also clearly identifying your PBJ)
1. Who am I? (the "teeter" side)
2. Who is my ideal paying customer? (the "totter" side)
3. What do I want to sell? (the seats balancing on the fulcrum)
Who am I?
This goes to the core of your "why." Why are you taking on the additional responsibilities of a small business owner. What kind of life did you want to create for yourself and your family? It's also why it's the P in PBJ because it's all about your personality and the life you personally want to create.
Who is my ideal paying customer?
What qualities does your dream client or customer possess? When you can specifically state the commonalities of your ideal paying customer then you have the other side of the teeter-totter. It's also the B in PBJ - your buyers.
What do I want to sell?
This folks is where the "balancing" comes into play ... You know who you are and the life you want (personal) and you know your ideal paying customer (business) now you have to know what you want to sell because you can't sell everything! (NOT even Wal-Mart sells everything!)
When you know what the products are that you want to sell and your ideal paying customer wants to purchase, then you can make the effective business decisions you need to to make sure that the business isn't running you ragged.
This is the J in PBJ - selling (aka sharing) what brings you JOY! As a child, when we could play on teeter-totters for "work" because play was work, and work was play - we did what brought us JOY.
Parting thoughts -- to manage the work/life balance think about it like a teeter-totter. Put equal weights on either side -- Who you are and the life you want (personal) and then know your ideal paying customer (business). Be very clear about what you're both sitting on (what you're selling) and then have fun! Just watch children playing on the teeter-totter -- they're laughing, enjoying themselves, and having a blast!