Defining and maintaining business harmony in your life

Mags Fuller, Co-Owner and Financial Director of business advisory group The Alternative Board UK explores tactics and advice for business leaders to maintain a good work life balance for themselves and their staff.

As the leader of a small business, it is completely understandable that your business is your passion. You have poured everything you have into this venture, and you are completely invested in its success. As such it can be tempting to dedicate your personal hours, in addition to your working hours to furthering your business goals. This can be a mistake.

At TAB we don’t really like the term work-life balance. It implies that the two are conflicting, when really work is just another part of life. A big part of life, especially for those who run their own businesses, a business venture often starts because it is something you are passionate about doing. Regardless of how you refer to the act of fitting all the elements of your life together, we know that this is something that owners and leaders of SMEs struggle with. In small organisations owners and leaders are often still working at the coal face as well as thinking about the strategic direction of the business. This leads to too many hours put in, too much responsibility on their shoulders, and can often lead to burnout.

Define it, then stick to it

To create equilibrium in your life, you must first define what that looks like for you. There may be a seasonal flux to consider, or a period of high growth that requires more of your time, but overall, the pace of your work should feel sustainable, and the strategic planning for your business should support this pace.

You might be wondering: what does my strategic business plan have to do with work-life balance? The answer is: a lot. Entrepreneurship comes with a list of inherent risks and responsibilities. But it’s difficult for a leader to be effective if they’re stressed, working nonstop and hoarding tasks that could be delegated to somebody else. You cannot steer the car with your head under the bonnet, and being burned out will only impede your decision making.

If your company operates in an industry like retail or hospitality, where business comes in cyclical peaks and troughs you can plan for these, so you thrive in the cycle rather than being buffeted by it. Tailor your marketing to really seize on high demand periods, and echo the cycle in your financial planning. Peak seasons often require additional investment, and these periods can be financially draining if not planned for carefully. However, these times are also your best chance to maximise profits. Seasonal lulls are often the perfect time for strategic discussions, with clients and prospects potentially more open to forging new partnerships. This makes it an ideal time for service providers to target marketing in that area.

Respect your staff

It is crucial that you also allow your employees to define their own balance. Hopefully you will have a team around you who believe in your vision and are dedicated to their work. This needs to be nurtured. Working collaboratively with your staff and giving them the space to grow, while also offering support and opportunities for learning will keep their enthusiasm high. If you believe in them enough to hire them, bring them along with you on your decisions and goals for the business.  This will make them shared goals and ensure that you are all pulling in the same direction.  This is all fantastic for your business, however, remember family will come first for them, and to have their full attention during working hours, you must respect their private time.

If possible, this could mean allowing employees to leave early to pick up children, and then log back in from home, or structuring their working week around other commitments. Respect is a two-way street and if you can strike the balance between high expectations at work with respecting your employees’ private lives you will in turn gain their respect and foster a culture of hard work and mutual success.

To support your staff, and yourself, to split time effectively, encourage the use of time management tools like calendars, task management apps, and project management software. This will help you to track deadlines and make sure work is completed on time.  This will also give you oversight of what is going on and where things are up to, meaning that if a member of staff leaves early or is off sick you are not left in the dark about their workload.

Delegate – Trust your staff

This is the tough one for so many business owners, but you can’t do everything if you want your business to succeed and ultimately grow. Part of showing respect for your staff is trusting them. One of the most common reasons for overwork in leaders is that they refuse to delegate. It may be quicker in the short term to complete a piece of work yourself, in the long term, having no one else who can jump in for you will only mean that you spend a disproportionate amount of your time on small tasks. Train your team well and let them step in for you. Try not to let cost be a barrier. Directing your time to the right activities will give you a far greater return than the cost of hiring and training someone to help.

You must, however, delegate carefully. As a manager, you will need to match jobs to talents and remember that not all employees thrive in a delegation situation; always begin with employees who have demonstrated the ability to think on their feet and who are prepared to take responsibility for the decisions they make. Once you find these people, be prepared to let go of some control. They might not do things in the same way that you would, but this doesn’t mean that they are wrong. Delegating is about sharing responsibility, not micromanaging.

Feel the guilt and let it go

Business owners often struggle with a lot of fear. Fear that their business will fail, that the people who work for them don’t fully understand the business needs, and fear that if they turn down an opportunity or make the wrong decision that those opportunities will never come back, or that bad decision will have a calamitous effect. Leaders tend to feel guilty when they are working, and guilty when they are not.

I am not going to tell you that you shouldn’t feel conflicted. Life as a business owner is full of tough choices and conflicting priorities, and it is understandable that your decisions sometimes keep you up at night. The key here is to not let the guilt dictate how you behave. You may feel panicked and guilty feelings when you’re focussing on one priority over another; acknowledge these feelings and then finish the task at hand. Do not try to do too much at once as this will only lead to more stress.

You can use practical frameworks like the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritise tasks based on their importance and urgency. This is where you categorise tasks into four quadrants: important and urgent, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and neither important nor urgent. This will help you fully commit to the task at hand and feel confident that you are sorting your task correctly.

Reach out for support

Running a business is not something that comes easily and intuitively to everyone, even though you know all about the product or service you are providing, you may not know all about other aspects such as accounting, marketing and HR. But there are fantastic support networks available where you can draw on the expertise and experience of others who have trodden the path before you. Research government resources, support groups or organisations like The Alternative Board. With TAB you can be part of a group of like-minded business owners and leaders, coming together to advise one another on their most pressing business challenges, working together to help you and your business thrive.