It’s no secret that the demands of starting a small business can take their toll on your home life. The first few pages of Google for “entrepreneur personal relationships” makes that perfectly clear:
Well then. Those headlines don’t paint such a pretty picture, do they? Through trial and error, you can learn how to be an entrepreneur, or you can learn from what successful entrepreneurs have to say.
Clearly, balance is not considered one of the defining characteristics of a good entrepreneur, but perhaps it should be. No doubt, 24/7 work requirements and a passion (that may sometimes border on obsession) can be difficult to balance against the focus and presence required to maintain a healthy relationship.
For a deeper look at how real small business owners are dealing with these very real challenges, we went straight to the source. We asked for tips, challenges and lessons learned.
Forget balance; strive for equilibrium
Work-life balance is a trendy catch phrase – and seemingly as elusive as Big Foot (there are odd reports of those who have caught a glimpse, but attempts to verify are sketchy indeed.) Instead of balance, small business owners report more success when they aim for a healthy equilibrium.
As odd as it may sound, I bring work home to help maintain a better personal relationship with my wife. Involving her—and the kids—in some of the businesses' creative challenges is a fun way to keep everyone involved... and the home happy!
"Don’t focus on having an equal 50/50 balance of personal & business life every day. Personal life will come up sometimes during business hours; and sometimes work calls when you just put in a movie with the kids. Each day will skew in a different direction, but in the end everything naturally balances out. Don’t worry about making it perfect."
"Although I tried hard for years to balance personal and business, things smoothed out once I learned that drawing a hard line between the two was pointless, and that it was ultimately a false dichotomy. At the core, I’m the same person who is in the business meeting as I am at home with my wife. The best thing I ever did was to start acting like it."
As in business, so in life...
It’s not all doom and gloom. Sometimes the very thing that can bring stress to your personal relationships can also come with lessons that can bring harmony and success to home relationships as well.
"Running my own business has made me more tolerant of failure. To do anything well takes practice. I want to be a great leader, a great wife, a great mom, and a great friend. Sometimes, I feel like a failure at all of those roles! When I fail, I evaluate what went wrong and pivot in a different direction. As long as I'm failing, I'm growing."
Learn from your mistakes
When you’re a new small biz owner, down in the trenches and learning about everything from accounting to marketing to customer service and working longer days than good sense would suggest, it’s inevitable that you’ll make some mistakes. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs report that these mistakes cost a great deal in terms of personal relationships and health.
However, the most important thing is to learn and grow from these mistakes, so that you can change what needs to be changed to help you, and your relationships, thrive in the future.
"Knowing absolutely nothing about online business, I spent 16–18 hour work days for the first two years frantically studying and experimenting. I eventually built a passive income model that freed up my time. However, some of my friends had moved on because of my absence and my family had grown bitter towards my business. My ridiculously long work days no longer became the focal point of my stress and I invested time in rebuilding the relationships I had neglected over the years."
"When I first began my business I was thinking of the whole world as potential clients, so unless I was alone, I had some level of performance stress. It was an unsustainable stress level and very lonely. Once I realized that it's the authentic me that people are referring their loved ones to I was able to go out and laugh and enjoy myself. Not surprisingly, I felt better and my business improved."
Quit trying to do it all yourself
Yes—I mean you. I know you’re really, really, really good at all the things. So good, in fact, that you often tend to grab tight and hold on, even when your to-do list is longer than Santa’s Naughty list.
Here’s a hint: You’ve gotta let go. One quality of a good entrepreneur that will also help your relationships is to stay focused on your zone of genius, the things that nobody else can do, and then put your energies into hiring our outsourcing the rest.
"82 percent of business owners are working 40-plus hours per week, but only 44 percent want to be. The best way to reduce your workload and get more time to spend with the people you care about is by delegating tasks you don't need to be doing yourself and creating a strategic plan that allows you to work on your business, rather than in it."
- Jo Clarkson | The Alternative Board
"Hire well! Have at least one employee that you can rely on to run the business. Many small biz owners try and do everything themselves. Make yourself replaceable, train someone who can do everything in your absence if needed. Having an employee I trust to run things while I'm away has made 10-day vacations possible and even helps when emergencies arise, or I just want to have a three-day weekend with family."
Just say no (over and over and over again)
It’s easy as a busy entrepreneur to slide down the slippery slope of saying YES to every opportunity, every client, every task—big or small— that comes your way. It can be hard, even terrifying, to say no.
But in order to have any chance of keeping your head above water (and your significant other from becoming a bitter and lonely cat lady), saying no is a vital skill.
"Building a small business has forced me to get very clear that only those things that feel like they bring real value in my life get to stay. My personal relationships increase my energy level, relieve my stress, and increase my creativity, if that is not a business boost, I don't know what is."
"Eliminate. If it isn't a HELL YES then it's a NO! This has helped me focus tremendously."
Know when to stop and unplug
You might be good at all the things, but the laws of physics, biology, and relationships prove you can’t be doing all the things all the time. Sometimes being dedicated to your business means taking time every day away from your business and focusing on other things like sleep, bathing and the ones you love. You’ll get better at all the things.
"Setting a firm quitting time each day leads to greater productivity and happier home-life. Counter-intuitive as it seems, this daily deadline keeps me more focused and effective when I am working. I wind up getting more accomplished, feeling more satisfied, and enjoying my evenings more."
"I learned that once I get home from work, I need to unplug from technology. As a business owner, there is always something you can be working on or emails that you can be responding to. After I put long hours at the office, I realized that the high priority tasks can wait until the morning. This allows me to be more focused on the personal relationships. By waking up early, I can still be extremely proactive and get all of the work completed that I need to."
"Best Tip: Be where your feet are and live in that moment. The ability to clear the noise around you and focus is key in anything you do."
Be intentional (and realistic)
Just like you need a business plan to keep things on track and moving forward, so you need one for your personal life too. Don’t worry that calendaring things like “lunch” or “quality time with my partner” seems unromantic or disingenuous. Because ultimately, what’s more romantic and genuine than saying, “You mean so much to me that I made this space on my calendar for you”?
"Each week I have a goal of two personal lunches or happy hour dates with non-business related friends. I go through my social media feeds and see who I haven't seen in a while. I have found that, although I have a no 'shop talk' rule on friend dates, these relationships that I take time to invest in have been some of my best referral sources. The truth is we are most likely to refer people we like."
"Schedule your time together, whether it's a weekly date or quarterly vacation, and make it consistent. Whatever it is, that time is untouchable, period. We've made an agreement that there is absolutely no business that can trump the pre-scheduled time."
"I have found by scheduling in time for my personal relationships (whether the other person is aware or not) I tend to honor and follow through those engagements. I treat my personal relationship appointments with the same respect and urgency as I do my business appointments. This one change has given me a more fulfilling and balanced life."
What happens in your small business stays in your small business
In other words—keep it separate. Although hard and fast lines are very difficult for most small business owners, it’s best to keep the line from getting too blurry.
"Have a “Rule Of The Stairs”: Do not talk about anyone or anything related to work after stepping on the first step of the stairs. This will help to keep your work and family life separate."
"Have places and times where personal relationships and business do no mix. Sometimes even just a few minutes of complete separation from your business goes a long way. You never know, maybe that's all you needed to get your brain rested and ready to get back to business!"
- Rigoberto Alvarado | My Wedding Bids
And don’t forget to keep your eye on the (real) bottom line:
"I believe that humans are created to be relational. Relationships provide support, love, and emotional stability that helps us get through the rough patches in both life and business. I still struggle in finding the perfect algorithm for work and relationships because there is no algorithm for people. I have found that my time is best spent when invested in people and not machines. Money comes and goes. In fact, millions of dollars can be made or won in mere seconds, but relationships take time and effort to nurture. Keep the quality of your business high and the quality of your relationships even higher."
- SamOh | Founder, Money Journal
A growing list and booming bank account are important to any small business owner. You need to keep growing your social network and get your systems running like a well-oiled machine. But all of that, even with unexpected success, gets pretty empty quickly without family and friends.
Don’t forget to keep your focus on the strength and solidity of your personal relationships—when the going gets tough (and we all know that it does) these are the people who will help you get through. And when the going gets good (and we know that it well) they’ll also be the ones to celebrate your success.