My business partner used to tell his grandchildren that owning a business meant you could choose whatever eighty hours a week you wanted to work. It’s too easy to let that be true. Entrepreneurship is fundamentally a lifestyle choice, and entrepreneurs need to learn to manage their business rather than letting their business manage them.
Early in the life of our business, we had the opportunity to travel for three weeks with our Asian partner. We had a single employee who had been with us for only a matter of weeks, important development projects under way, shipments to receive and products to ship. What to do? It seemed unimaginable to miss out on the combined opportunity of international travel and cementing the relationship with our distant supplier. But how could we leave our nascent company in the hands of someone we barely knew? The answer was to trust that our hiring instincts were good, and that nobody could irreparably damage the company in a mere three weeks. I gave only one instruction – solve every problem with your best judgment. The only firing offense was losing customers because of issues that were ignored. The result of this choice was that we had a wonderful vacation creating a personal relationship with our supplier that could never otherwise have happened, and developed a long time employee who treated the company as if it were her own.
Business owners are faced with similar choices every day. Do we attend yet another meeting or our son’s little league game? Take another client to dinner or see our granddaughter’s dance recital? Some of the answer is found in the stage of our business. Some of it is found in the stage of our life. Every entrepreneur goes through that early period when nothing gets in the way of creating his or her dream. Everything else is pushed into the background. This is also true early in one’s career – life is put on hold for the grab at the brass ring of starting a successful company. The key to a successful life is knowing when to rebalance the scale and give your personal life a higher priority. Understanding how to accomplish this will not only make your life more successful, it will make your business more so as well.
One example of this is a friend of retirement age who poured every minute and every dollar of his personal wealth into developing a business idea. His product was timely, well priced, and had a large potential market. He chose the route of going for the big killing rather than slow steady growth. In the end, after pouring thousands of dollars into marketing, trade shows, software development, and many sales calls on large prospects, the business failed. My friend had not only lost his home and ruined his finances, but by investing all of his time in his business, had lost most of his personal relationships as well.
Learning to balance our work life with our personal life takes practice – if you haven’t succeeded yet keep trying. I suspect it took me well into my forties to learn this lesson, and my second business was more successful than the first because I was a more levelheaded person who was able to look at issues from a more objective point of view. Once I stopped seeing each small failure as a personal disaster because I had no other life for balance, it was amazing how much easier these decisions were to make and how much my business improved. If only we knew these things when we were young…