When I started my last business, I was pregnant with my first child. I had no idea what it would be like running a business around family.
I was completely delusional in that I expected life to go on as it had previously. Yes, that’s right, I expected to be able to work and have a baby or two gurgling calmly beside me and playing with their toys while I plowed through my work and built an empire! If you have any experience running a business around family you’re laughing your head off right now.
Needless to say, there were some changes to my working habits once the baby arrived. In the years since I’ve developed several mottos and habits which have served me well. These won’t suit everyone, but here are my top tips for building and running a business around family:
1. Lower your standards
Unfortunately you’re going to stop needing the house to be clean, the washing to be done, the meals to be amazing, the kids to be dressed just so, etc etc. Understand the more focus you put into this kind of thing, the less focus you’re going to be putting into your business. The choice is yours to make but there are tradeoffs. I read somewhere once that the sooner you clean something, the sooner it will need cleaning again – this freed me up enormously!!
2. Put a ban on chores during quiet time
I found that almost all chores can quite easily be done around children, whereas business work generally cannot. Therefore it makes sense to work only on your business once the kids are away or tucked up in bed. For young kids, sorting washing can be an activity, a trip to the supermarket is an outing, and you can chat and engage with them while making dinner.
3. Batch it up
You’ve probably heard how batching similar tasks together can save a lot of time? It’s true. Apply this rigorously to both your work activities and your family duties. Why cook one meal when you can cook four in only slightly more time? Why make one call when you can make 10 in the same sitting? Why create one invoice when you can do a whole week’s worth at once? You get the idea. You may even want to set yourself a schedule, e.g. invoicing on Monday mornings, prospecting calls Tuesday and Thursday mornings, batch cooking Sunday afternoons, etc.
4. Know what you’re going to work on next
When your time is limited, the last thing you want is to faff around for 45 minutes before actually starting doing work. (In the early days, I’d find that just as I was getting started on something, my baby would wake and I’d regret having wasted the precious nap time!)
Have a plan and a detailed to-do list that keeps you on task. Know what’s most important to get ticked off next and work on that thing (regardless of what you feel like working on). I find it’s best to keep separate business and personal to-do lists.
5. Get a cleaner
Unless you’re a strange breed that actually likes cleaning, it makes no sense at all for you to be doing your own cleaning. If you’ve got enough talent and drive to start a business, you need to put more value on your own time and put strategies in place to make the most of the time you have. Outsourcing cleaning is a no-brainer. Personally, I’ve had a cleaner since my first job where I was earning only $23 k per year – I’d rather miss out on going out to dinner once a fortnight than have cleaning hanging over my head all the time. Even if it’s only once a fortnight, you’ll be amazed at the peace of mind it gives you just knowing that in a few days the cleaning will be done – so you can free your mind and energies to focus on more important things.
6. Understand the value of childcare
This is a tricky one. On the one hand, part of the appeal of having a business may be the flexibility that would allow you to spend time with your family. But on the other hand, if you don’t give yourself enough time and space to build the business, well, there is no business. Most childcare is also expensive and inflexible – making the decision to commit very hard – particularly if your business is not contributing much financially (yet). It’s a vicious cycle but too many of us tend to wait until we can justify childcare, but in doing so restrict the growth of our businesses.
My view is that we often underestimate the impact of having children around 24/7 and getting yourself some totally free time (which does not cut into your sleeping hours) should be a priority. Whether this is formal childcare or a regular arrangement with your partner, or another friend or family member to have the kids for a day or two a week, depends on your situation, but I haven’t seen too many successful businesses that were truly built with children underfoot.
7. Multi-task thinking and doing
Multi-tasking is often not a good idea. We think we’re being efficient working on multiple projects at once, but really we’re often just flitting between things and making little real progress. There are some exceptions to this though; when you can combine physically active things with mental/thinking things. For example:
- Listen to educational podcasts while driving or exercising.
- Make your phone calls while driving or walking.
- Do some thinking work while watching the kids at the park (eg plan your next article, draft a sales letter, make notes on how to handle a difficult call, put together your criteria for sourcing a product, etc).
8. Set the expectation of sharing duties
Back in the BC days (i.e. before children), my partner and I had a very egalitarian relationship, but along the way some things slipped and I suspect this is common for many couples – and with good reason. When one partner is no longer earning an income, the other can feel more responsible for providing financially for the family and commit themselves to their own work more than ever. When one partner is home for much of the day, it seems to make sense to take on more of the household duties. But this is a dangerous and slippery slope.
Very quickly, what seems like a temporary shift can turn into the ‘new normal’. If you’re getting serious about building a business, it’s up to you to change things around (after all, who is really going to object to having all their meals cooked, clothes washed, errands done for them?).
Although the division of labour might look different to how it did BC, if both partners are wanting to pursue work/business endeavours, there should always be the expectation that the chores will be divided in a way that makes sense for both the present and the future. It’s another Catch 22 – if you wait until you can justify this, you might just sabotage your business and end up waiting a very long time.
9. Schedule time for yourself
When you work at home, it’s easy for everything to feel like work. There is a blur between your business and keeping the household running and there is always more that needs doing than you can actually do. I’m not very good at relaxing at home and setting boundaries like work finish times (although that might work for you), so for me the solution was to schedule things that got me out of the house. Meet a friend for a walk, commit to a yoga class, have a regular dinner out with friends, or join a sporting group that meets regularly. Once your appointments are in the diary, make sure your partner is onboard and whatever happens, leave the house! If you’re serious about running a business around your family, take this seriously too!
10. Don’t feel guilty
When you’re rushing kids around so that you can get back to your business, or putting off some business task because you’ve been busy with the kids, it’s very easy to feel guilty (not to mention disappointed, frustrated, frazzled…!).
These are not useful feelings and will not help you succeed in either role. Some of the strategies that can help are;
- Think of the example you’re setting your children. They’ll grow up learning the importance of work ethic and seeing the insides of a business in progress.
- Think of how resilient your children will be by having experiences with other people and places.
- Compartmentalise your life. Have separate times for work and family and don’t let something bother you when you’re in the other mode.
- Measure your progress by your inputs (not just the outputs). For example, focus on how many sales calls you’ve made, not just how many sales came through.
- Understand that even though you might be putting less hours into your business than someone without a family, running a business around a family means that you are automatically a time-management ninja! You’re working with much more focus and clarity and a ruthlessness about how you spend your time that gives you a huge advantage.
So there you have it – my tips on running a business around a family. As I said upfront, these won’t all be for everyone (and there are some contentious issues here I know!), but hopefully you can take something away that helps.
I’d be curious to know… what are your best tips for running a business around family? Please share in the comments…