As most entrepreneurs will attest, it takes drive, focus, and a nearly round-the-clock time commitment to start, and successfully grow, a small business. Yet entrepreneurs, when pressed, will also admit that owning their own company often takes a toll on their personal life, eating into precious family time, vacations, and even sleep.
Attempts to grab some of that balance back are not always successful. A recent survey by insurance company Hiscox showed that just five percent of the small business owners it spoke with say they maintain work/life balance by not working weekends. Not having their smart phone at the dinner table or in the bedroom? A paltry three percent of the survey respondents say this is how they keep the work/life formula in check.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Entrepreneurs are actually in the best position to create and maintain a manageable level of work/life balance—and are able to set the tone for the rest of their employees. “It really does start at the top,” says Kathie Lingle, executive director of the Alliance for Work-Life Progress in Scottsdale, Arizona. “As the boss, you are in control of how you work and that example sets the pace within the rest of your organization.”
Find some flexibility
That’s certainly true of Lizanne Falsetto, founder and CEO of ThinkThin, a Los Angeles-based company that makes a line of all-natural, gluten-free snack bars. The single mother of two pre-teens says work/life balance for her is all about flexibility. And she’s not alone. The Hiscox study found that ‘flexibile working hours’ was the most popular work/life balance strategy, cited by 51 percent of small business owners. “The idea of work and life being 50/50 all the time just isn’t a reality for me,” she says.
Each day of the week is different for Falsetto, depending on the number of meetings scheduled and what obligations she has with her kids. “Today I had a 7 a.m. call, worked until 2 p.m. and then spent a few hours with my daughter,” she recalls. “I came back in the office at 4 p.m. and worked a few more hours. The rest of the week will be different and that flexibility is what allows me to have balance in my life.”
Falsetto says she extends that same flexibility to her 130 employees. “They know what has to get done and I don’t micro-manage their time,” she adds. On Sunday nights (“After all the kids are in bed for everyone,” she explains) Falsetto has a conference call with her senior managers to review what’s on tap for the week ahead. “It’s a good way for everyone to come in on Monday morning and be able to move full-speed ahead without a lot of confusion,” she says. “I do believe that chaos creates anxiety.”
Know when to turn it off
To be sure, there are times when a certain 24/7 mentality takes over and work/life balance is nearly non-existent. “In the early stages of any business start-up, work is going to overtake other things in your life,” explains Jaye Smith, president of Breakwater Consulting, an executive coaching firm in New York City. If you’re in a competitive business and need to be available to clients or customers, then that’s what you have to do, she explains.
But Smith counsels entrepreneurs not to sacrifice their mental health—or that of their employees—for the sake of responsiveness, a trap that technology makes all the more tempting. “When you promise a client an answer on something, it doesn’t always have to be in the next 10 minutes,” she adds. “It’s okay to suggest getting back to them the next day, if possible.”
The same goes for emails. “You don’t want them going out to clients at 2:30 a.m.,” she advises. “It sends the message that you’re not in control of things and need to conduct business at unreasonable hours. Wait until your normal business hours to communicate.” Not only does this help rein in your own schedule, but it also prevents customers from expecting you to be available at any time of the night or day, she says.
Learn how to take a break
Christine Figliuolo, founder and president of Creations by Christine Events, a wedding and corporate event planning company based in northern New Jersey, has established her own version of work/life balance. “My business is cyclical, with spring and fall the two busiest times of the year,” she explains. Oftentimes corporate events and weddings are back to back and her home life—she’s married with three teenage daughters—gets less of her attention. “I manage through it because I know there’s an end in sight and my schedule will slow down” in the off-season, Figliuolo says.
It’s during those periods that she makes sure to spend time with her daughters, taking day trips or simply going out to dinner or the movies. “I also make sure to take care of myself,” she adds. Yoga, massages, and time to work out are “another element of my business life,” she says. “If I don’t refuel during the down times, I won’t have the energy to get through the crazy times.”
As with most things in life—and in business—balance comes down to the basics, say the experts. Enjoy the work you do. Get enough sleep. Spend (uninterrupted) time with the people you love. Disconnect occasionally and just think. Says Smith of Breakwater Consulting: “An investment in yourself is ultimately an investment in your business.”