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Maintaining a work-life balance

When it comes to achieving a work-life balance many small business owners struggle. With the amount of time and energy dedicated to starting and running a small business, it can be all to easy to slip into a pattern where work dominates and taking time off to relax and spend time with family and friends suffers. Here we look at the importance of striking the right work-life balance and offer advice on how to achieve this. 

Am I working too many hours?

This can vary depending on an individual’s circumstances. Some business owners will work 70+ hour weeks – this may be necessary for a new business as you are getting it off the ground, but if this becomes the norm rather than the exception then you need to take a step back and see how things could change.

Some people are happy working long hours and therefore may not see it as a problem, and actually it isn’t, as long as the individual understands that it is important to rest and relax and stay healthy.

Can I schedule my time so I don’t end up working evenings and weekends?

Look at what it is you are actually doing and ask yourself if you really need to be doing it or can it be delegated to somebody else.

If you are spending your evenings wading through paperwork, working out which customers owe you money or trying to find that supplier invoice you are convinced you paid twice, then that is not an effective use of your time.

Do you use an accountant? Maybe you use them once a year when they complete your accounts. Consider asking them to carry out your ongoing bookkeeping work. You can take all the paperwork to them regularly and if you need anything from them they can supply you with the information. That is what you are paying them for after all!

Or you may find yourself coming into work ridiculously early to type up the customer quotes you didn’t have time to finish the previous day. This is something you could employ an administrator to do, along with answering your emails and the phone and organising your diary.

You can read more on managing your time effectively here

Should I employ a member of staff?

One of the biggest steps a small ‘one man band’ business can take is taking on its first employee. It might seem like a big gamble – will it work? Can I afford it? But many small business owners will tell you that once they have employed somebody they wonder how they ever managed without them.

Your time as a small business owner is precious; it should be spent delivering a service to customers, making key decisions and ultimately earning the business money. If you are spending a lot of your time doing administration tasks – banking cheques, queuing up at the post office, answering the phone, placing orders with suppliers – you are not neccessarily using your time effectively and you need to consider delegating.

After recruiting a member of staff you may need to dedicate time training them on any office procedures you have set up. However this will be time worth spent, as once trained your employee will be able to carry out their duties efficiently, leaving you time to concerntrate on running and growing your business. 

 

How can I switch off from work?

Relaxing away from the pressures of work are crucial to maintaining good health and productivity, but with mobile phones and emails making us accessible 24/7, it does make it a challenge to fully switch off in this day and age! But it can be achieved:

  • Consider having a separate phone for work and another for private use. Get into the habit of switching the work phone off in the evenings. Or better still, leave it in the office!
  • If you have email alerts on your phone, consider turning these off out of work hours. Many business owners panic if they are away from their phone and email – they worry about upsetting a customer if they are not contactable. Responding to an email within 24 hours is good etiquette, so if an email arrives from a customer during the evening there is plenty of time to deal with the query and reply the following day. 
  • Everybody needs to take holidays or at least a few days off from work. Again, business owners worry that the business is going to fall apart if they are not there for a few days, or that customers might get fed up and go elsewhere. However, this is not the case and customers will be happy to wait until you return to work. Keep customers informed of any holiday periods by setting up an autoresponder on your email, updating your voicemail message or by including details on when you are unavailable on your website.  

What is a good work-life balance?

This means something different to everybody. If you are working all hours and spending every waking hour either at work, thinking about work or answering emails, then something has to change for the good of your health. You may have started your business to improve the life of you and your family or you may have been fed up working for somebody else and you wanted some freedom in the hours that you worked. If you find you are not achieving this, then you may need to look at what you can do diffently.

Let’s take a look at the example below. 

  • A new business with steady work

    Let’s look at John, a mechanic. He rents a small garage and works alone. He has been in business a few months and work is steady. He gets passing trade and it is rare that there is not a car waiting to be worked on.

  • Working into the evening

    But when he closes at 5 o’clock he goes home and spends hours sorting out invoices, printing off bank statements, responding to emails, working out which suppliers need to be paid, completing his VAT return – the list is endless. When he arrives for work the next day he is drained and is not working as effectively as he knows he can.

  • Taking on an employee

    He decides to take on an administrator to carry out all the work he used to do in the evenings. They also answer the phone and deal with customers during work hours, which means John can concentrate fully on working on the cars – he is a mechanic after all! The time he now spends with his family in the evenings unwinding means he is a lot more productive at work.

  • Work/life balance achieved

    John charges his time out at £45 per hour. With the administrator taking on the paperwork side and his increased efficiency John calculates he is probably doing around three hours extra chargeable work per day. That is £135, which more than pays the administrator’s wages and leaves some profit in the business. Also John is much happier as he gets to spend more time with his family and unwind.

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