You’ve started a business. It’s a dream fulfilled and a chance to achieve success on your own terms. So why does it sometimes feel like your business is running you?
Work-life balance is tricky to pull off in any job, but especially when you’re your own boss. Your responsibilities can’t be left in a cubicle at 5 p.m. There are fires to put out on evenings and weekends. Entrepreneurship can be thrilling and fulfilling, but it can also consume you if you let it.
Having started a search engine optimization company 13 years ago, I’ve learned a lot about work-life harmony. That doesn’t mean that I’ve always gotten it right. I’ve fallen off both sides of the tightrope at times, but those experiences have taught me a lot. They’ve led me to develop a set of rules that I hold onto tightly and that I’d highly recommend to other business owners looking to find balance.
1. Limit your technology.
Technology is amazing, but it can also make you its slave. Remember the movie What About Bob? where the neurotic patient played by Bill Murray follows his psychiatrist on his family vacation? That took some doing on Bob’s part, but technology can easily hop into your suitcase and crash any personal outing — if you don’t give it parameters.
My mantra is this: Embrace technology as much as needed so it can benefit you but as little as needed so it won’t distract you. In order to make this happen, here are five things I don’t have. (And quite frankly, it shocks people.)
- No Facebook Messenger on my phone.
- No email on my phone. I check them during working hours only, from my desktop.
- No email notifications on my computer. I don’t want to be distracted, so I only get emails when I push the “get emails” button.
- No office phone calls past 5 p.m. You have (or want) a life, don’t you? Auto-attendants can help automate this shut-off time.
- No phone calls on weekends either. (See bullet 4.)
As much as I love technology, I also love the real world, and I want to be present in it.
“But, but, what about my clients?” you’re thinking.
2. Establish boundaries with your clients.
I work with big companies that want big results with their search engine optimization. However, there’s no correlation between me being available 24/7 and producing results. Constant availability does not equal results. Results = results.
What we can offer our clients are good processes, a killer work ethic and stellar communication. I’m confident enough in my company’s track record that I let our results speak for themselves. Beyond that, I’ve created the following rules that allow me to meet my clients’ needs without surrendering my quality of life.
- Don’t give out your cell phone number. Many people are surprised to learn that I haven’t given my cell number to a client in 13 years — yes, since my company’s infancy. This can vary by industry, but for me, no one but family and friends gets my mobile number.
- Set realistic expectations with clients. I am upfront with customers about when I can be reached. If I get a sense that a potential customer is very demanding and “needs” me to be available 24/7, I shy away from taking them on as a client. Sure, I’d love additional business, but not at the expense of my sanity, my family or my team. If a client needs me around the clock in a way that cuts into my time with family, we’re simply not a good match.
- Establish preferred communication methods. In addition to communicating general availability, I let clients know the best ways to reach me. I use a real-time calendar integration tool called Acuity that allows clients to book a time with me at their own convenience, but it also limits the choices for availability automatically based on rules I define. For example, I like walking my kids to school in the morning, so 8:15 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. is never available on my calendar. But 8:46 a.m. always is. This is just one way of making yourself accessible without having to put up with midnight calls.
Every person is different, so not every policy that works for me will work for you. But hopefully, these ideas have given you some options for restoring balance in your life as you run your own business.
If you’re anything like me, one of your main goals in starting a business in the first place was so that you could have a greater say in the way you wanted your life to run. You wanted to be able to make it to your daughter’s dance recitals or your son’s baseball games (of which I’ve never missed a single one). You wanted the freedom to go out of town with your friends or your spouse without fretting about getting approval from your boss or using up limited vacation days. The challenge is not to get so wrapped up in your business that you lose the very thing that attracted you to this way of life in the first place.
Your life is your life. Design it how you want.