I had a great phone call earlier this week with Sharon Gaskin of The Trainers Training Company. Amongst other things, we talked about how to successfully run your own business in conjunction with raising children.
I am sure that the utopia that many business women who happen to be mothers (or fathers who take responsibility for childcare) are all working towards is a business which is flexible around the many calls on your time, with the main working hours between 9:30 and 15:00 and provides you with a comfortable living.
Well, I plan on working towards that utopia – and will let you know if I get anywhere near it – but in the meantime, here are our top tops for making your business and family life work for you:
1. Learn how to say no
As a parent, there are always many calls on your time. As your business starts to grow, the number of people that want to talk with you (“grab coffee sometime?”) seems to grow exponentially. To keep your life manageable you need to learn to say no – both within your professional and personal life.
2. Have reliable childcare
In general, the business world is not geared up for people who are the main childcare provider. There will be times when you need to attend a meeting or visit a supplier and will need childcare for your children. By having at least four different childcare options ready if you need it (partner, grandparents, childminder, friends, etc) you should be able to juggle the demands of both the business and your family.
3. Prepare to work between 6am and midnight
Forget about having a 9-5 working existence. There are times when you’ll love having the flexibility to put your family first, for example, attendance at school sports day. But, there are times when you find yourself e-mailing at midnight and wishing that you had a more normal working hours and patterns.
4. Be focused and disciplined
As a business owner and parent, you have far more calls on your time than the average person. To be able to have it all, you will need to be very focused and disciplined.
5. Invest in automation and efficiency
The more systems and processes that can be automated or run efficiently, the more time you will have to spend on the more valuable work-based tasks and quality time with the family.
6. Be very protective of your quality time
It’s so easy to put your own personal need for quality time after everything else. In fact, you may not even let yourself have any quality time. But to be able to be your best, you need to schedule in quality time for yourself.
7. Outsource as much as possible
You don’t need to tell me that there’s always another job to do on the to-do list. Trust me, I know! As soon as you become a parent, the to-do list never ends. Add in a business to run, and you can easily feel guilty if you stop and try to steal a bit of “me time” back. Get more of your time back by outsourcing or delegating out as much of the low value tasks or stuff that doesn’t play to your strengths, as possible.
8. Balance your business, family and “me time”
There will be times when your business will need more of your time and attention, and your family and “me time” will suffer. Similarly, in the school holidays, your family will demand more of your time. However, over time, you should look to balance the demands of the business, your family and make sure there is some time left over for yourself too.
9. Richard Branson in the making?
There are some very high profile entrepreneurs, such as Richard Branson, who have quickly built up a global empire from humble beginnings. Don’t compare yourself to these people – you need to grow your business at a pace that you and your family are comfortable with. In the early days of their businesses, the Martha Lane Fox’s and Richard Branson’s of this world didn’t have as many calls on their time as you do now.
10. Don’t hide your children
People want to deal with people. The more open you are with your clients and customers about your family and how you juggle the two, the more understanding they will be when, for example, a phone call is interrupted with the immortal words “mummy, mummy I’ve done a poo”. (Believe me, that happens a lot in my house at the moment!)
11. Remember why you started your business in the first place
When times are tough and you wonder whether there’s anything more to life than the business, it’s worth remembering why you’re running your own business. There is nothing quite like having the flexibility to build your professional life around your family commitments. Remember, you can always go back to the 9-5 corporate existence…
12. Be realistic with what you can achieve
There are only 24 hours in a day, and I’ve only ever met one person who needed less than six hours’ sleep a night. Your business will grow only as fast as you personally push it. If the pace is getting too fast, then take the foot off the accelerator pedal. Don’t fall into the trap of setting yourself unrealistic targets or unrealistic expectations. Unless you can afford a full time cleaner, a cook and a nanny, the house will not always be tidy and clean, and dinner may not always be freshly cooked and on the table on time.
Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks. She has just been commissioned to write the FT Guide to Business Networking.