Owning a business can be highly stressful. Lots of business owners — myself included — feel the need to be self-reliant and constantly available for client needs and professional networking. However, the pressure to always be on means many business owners suffer from stress and burnout.
Sophia Bera, CFP®, is the founder of Gen Y Planning and a friend of mine. She does an admirable job of balancing her work with her personal life, and this week on Money Checkup, she shares advice on how to structure your business to align with your goals and values.
How business owners can commit to personal priorities
Business owners are, first and foremost, hustlers. It’s important to work hard during the early years of building your business, as you seek to establish yourself in your industry and develop a client base.
But many business owners experience burnout after a few years of 60-hour workweeks, just like physicians and professionals in other industries that emphasize output and productivity. For virtual business owners, this may even be more difficult: Being available to work from anywhere often means having to work from everywhere.
Once your business is established, you may have the freedom to step back and not have to hustle as much. But it can be very difficult to let those old habits go — especially, I’ve found, for women in leadership roles. Many of us feel like, if we take our foot off the gas even for a moment, we might begin to fail.
But as your company grows, setting boundaries can help business owners re-establish work-life balance and re-commit to relationships, hobbies, travel, and all the other things that, for most of us, make life fun.
Start by thinking intentionally about your priorities. As a toddler mom, my first priority is my family. I built a virtual business in large part so I could spend time with my daughter, and I block out time every day to have lunch with her.
Sophia prioritizes health and wellness, so she schedules time to go running, attend yoga classes, and take walks. She color-codes her calendar so she can see at a glance whether personal activities are balanced with professional development and revenue-generating work.
You are the only person who can decide what your priorities are. But once you do, you can give yourself the freedom to say no to commitments that don’t fit into that framework. In their early years, lots of business owners give time away to everyone who asks, because we want to grow our networks as much as possible. That isn’t sustainable, and the returns tend to diminish as your company grows.
It was common in our parents’ generation to think, “If I work as hard as I can now, I’ll have the freedom to enjoy myself in retirement.” My Millennial and Gen X clients, on the other hand, want to enjoy their lives now, too. Let your priorities guide your schedule, not the other way around.
Building a team of employees and contractors
Most business owners try to do everything themselves, at least early on — in part because we think we’re capable of doing it all, and in part because we think we can’t afford to hire someone to help. But building a team is essential to growing your business as well as maintaining your own health and happiness.
Working with contractors
As your business grows, it can feel like you have enough work for one additional person. But instead of hiring one person to perform five different tasks, you may be able to hire three contractors to expertly manage those tasks, or one contractor who can sub-contract them to freelancers in their network.
I’ve often heard other business owners question the feasibility of hiring contractors to help with specific tasks, because at first glance, it seems more expensive than handling a task in-house. Contractors usually charge hourly rates or per-piece rates that may seem high. But in reality, contractors are experts in their fields, meaning they may be able to produce higher-quality work than an employee who doesn’t specialize in that area — and they’ll often do it in half the amount of time.
For jobs that have traditionally been handled by administrative staff, you can probably find a digital tool that can fulfill most or all of that need. Financial firms may have an employee whose sole job is to call clients and schedule upcoming meetings. Now you can manage that via software, much of which is free or low-cost.
Most business owners eventually want to hire full- or part-time employees to play a larger role in business services. Hiring is a big decision, and the smaller your business, the larger the impact will be on your cash flow. It’s important to clearly define each new role, including what duties the new hire will take off your plate and what new tasks they’ll be able to manage.
It’s also important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses. If you know you’re lacking in certain skills, hire someone who is better at those tasks than you are. Then, trust your employees to excel in their jobs. Hiring is meant to free up time for business owners to focus on the things they most want to focus on, not to create more opportunities for micromanagement.
Hiring can be challenging. It also comes with other responsibilities, like offering employee benefits and retirement plans. But business owners can set employees up for success by clearly defining their roles, training them thoroughly, and stepping back to give them room to grow.
Creating habits that support your personal goals
Business owners tend to be highly goal-oriented. We make revenue projections, set targets for growing our client bases, and develop plans and timelines to keep us on track to achieve those goals.
Setting goals in our personal lives, too, can help us step away from our work. Setting a reading goal, training for a 5K, or committing to experiences with your family requires you to invest time in yourself. Traveling can get you out of our comfort zones and give you a great reason to log off.
For business owners who want to travel but struggle to step away, Sophia is a big proponent of “travel hacking” — strategically using credit cards to build up travel rewards, then redeeming them for free or discounted flights or upgrades to first class. When you feel like you’ve earned a flight, it’s much harder to turn down a trip to see your family or a quick weekend away. Business owners can even combine rewards from personal and business credit cards and redeem them for travel points. (Read some of Sophia’s writing on travel hacking here.)
We both suggest that our clients set up savings accounts specifically for travel, so they don’t feel any guilt about spending money that they could have invested in their business.
It can also be helpful to contract out some tasks that make personal life stressful. Although I am a CFA and CPA, my husband and I use a financial planner to help alleviate some of the stress of managing our household and our financial lives.
Finally, lots of business owners — including me — have benefitted from building a group of fellow entrepreneurs who can encourage us in both personal and professional goals. In the same way that mentors and peers can support you in pursuit of your business goals, friends can keep you accountable as you dedicate time to your personal and family goals.
Life is much more than work, even for business owners. Make sure you prioritize the people and activities you love.