Small-business Owners Struggle With ‘Work-Life Balance’

January 9, 2006

Small-business owners daily walk a fine line dividing their time between the demands of work and personal life. Often times, work wins out.

From paying the bills to managing employees, the daily operations of running a business can be overwhelming.

“So many small-business owners get caught in the ‘as soon as’ trap,” said Jim Bird, CEO of WorkLifeBalance.com in Atlanta.

They think “‘as soon as I finish up this order, or as soon as I wrap up this client’s work, then I’ll take some time for myself,’ ” he said. “And they never escape that because there’s always something else.” A former small-business owner, Bird now consults with businesses nationwide on the importance of achieving a work-life balance.

At the end of a long day “the entrepreneur or small-business owner, they don’t have anyone to pat themselves on the back,” he said.

The responsibility falls on them to reaffirm their work and acknowledge their personal achievements — even if it was just getting through the day.

Work-life balance, Bird explained, is the fusion of achievement and enjoyment. It’s accomplishing your goals, and still finding time to enjoy the process. A key to that is taking time for yourself.

“If you don’t take that time, you get stressed. You get irritable,” Bird said. “You become a pain I to be around.” But efforts to achieve a steady work-life balance are further complicated when the owner is also the sole employee.

“Work-life balance is keeping my work life separate,” said Jamie Becker, owner of Guardian Nannies LLC in Tucson. It’s “having some down time, but making sure my business is growing and my customers are happy.” In the summer of 2004, the 26-year old Becker started the nanny recruitment and referral service with then-business partner Elizabeth Pearson.

The additional body helped to distribute the workload, which was especially helpful in the business’ startup phase, Becker said.

But the arrangement wasn’t permanent and, after graduating from college, Pearson left to pursue another career.

As the owner and manager, Becker coordinates schedules for about 20 nannies in temporary positions. Monthly, she also facilitates the placement of a permanent nanny for an average of seven families.

Those responsibilities are in addition to her roles as the company’s human-resources director, marketing manager and customer service representative.

Payroll administration, however, is outsourced and she rents space in an office building at 5151 E. Broadway. Employees there take messages and handle reception duties, while the building provides her with space to meet with families.

“I’m pretty much the only person running the business,” Becker said, though she added she’s planning on hiring more help this year and may outsource more administrative functions.

Though the concept of work-life balance appears self-explanatory, there is no across-the-board definition of what it means to the small-business owner.

“It is to each his own,” said business and life coach Cheryl Vallejos of Tucson. “It really depends on the client and what’s going to be the best for them.” Consultants generally express work-life balance as the point at which an individual achieves his own highest level of satisfaction in several aspects of life.

In her work with clients, Vallejos uses the image of a wheel where the spokes are represented by eight different areas including work, family, friends, personal enrichment, and health.

If one area, or spoke, doesn’t rate as high as the others, the uneven shape of the wheel throws the whole balance off.

There’s typically a process involved in setting that balance right, and both Vallejos and Bird suggest starting with a serious examination of the areas in your life most important to you and prioritizing your time accordingly.

Becker is pretty certain what those areas are to her — family, friends, her puppy and her, she says.

“I think I’m able to keep a pretty good balance,” she added. “I don’t stress about it on a daily basis. It usually seems to work out in the end.”