There’s nothing more exciting than breaking free of a cubicle and starting your own business - until you discover the drawbacks.
While entrepreneurs make their own rules, set their own hours and decide how they want to do business, they almost inevitably discover they lack a safety net when their personal lives get challenging. Many tackle divorces, medical setbacks, childbirth and loss of loved ones while still handling deadlines, tackling customer issues and making payroll.
Earlier this month, Jackie Velazquez tried to keep her 13-year business operating while undergoing surgery to prevent breast cancer. “The first thing that goes across your mind is, ’How can I accomplish this and not miss work?’ “
Velazquez, owner of Miami-based SmartTarget Marketing, planned ahead for her business, which creates targeted direct marketing lists. She asked clients to place requests by a specific date and informed them that she would be hard to reach for four days. She will do the same for an upcoming surgery with a longer recovery.
Meanwhile, she tried to adjust client expectations and answer email as much as possible from her hospital bed. Still, she said, she worries that clients will go elsewhere, or tasks will go unnoticed. “There is never a good time to be gone from work when you are a business owner. If your phone is ringing and you’re not answering it, money is not coming in.“
Undoubtedly, running a business, especially in today’s economy, is not easy and comes with stress. Most entrepreneurs say that they work long hours - an average of 55 hours or more - and 97 percent work on weekends, according to a 2013 Small Business Pulse survey by The Alternative Board, a business consulting firm. Handling life’s upheavals can be a serious concern for entrepreneurs whose jobs extend well beyond 9-to-5 hours.
One such challenge is childbirth. Even with the flexibility of working for themselves, few female entrepreneurs report giving themselves the luxury of three-month maternity leaves. “When you are dedicated to your business, you simply cannot in good conscience check out completely,“ said Jessica Wilcox, founder of MoneyClip Direct, a direct mail advertising publication for businesses in Miami.
Wilcox quickly learned that juggling isn’t just a metaphor. After giving birth, she gave herself a short one-month maternity leave before returning to sales calls with baby in one hand, invoice in the other. “If I’m not working, money is not coming in and the company is not growing,“ she said.
Most importantly, she adjusted her expectations to sustain the business rather than build on it, holding on to existing advertisers rather than courting new ones. She worked just enough to handle “all those little things that can fall by the wayside if you’re not paying attention.“ Now that her son is 1, she has hired child-care assistance and recommitted to expanding her business.
The larger the small business, the more challenging it can be to balance the rigors of running it with the demands of life and unforeseen events. A 2013 Small Business Annual Survey by U.S. Bank found that owners with employees are less likely than solo entrepreneurs to have enough time for friends and family and more likely to have their life defined by their business. But the successful ones understand the role their team plays.
Lisa Cann said her team is the only reason that her Pembroke Pines, Fla., cupcake/dessert business remains open. For the past few years, she has juggled marriage counseling, health issues and financial concerns. “It has been so stressful,“ she said. Throughout, she has relied on her employees at Royal Treatz to handle the day-to-day tasks while she focuses on the higher level work.
“I had to get them to realize we’re a team. I don’t want clock-punchers. I want employees who are happy to be here and want the business to survive.“
Cann said she scaled back, closing a kiosk in the Pembroke Pines mall. She continues to operate her storefront/party room with eight full-time staff, on whom she relies to handle sales, communicate about inventory and decorate cakes. “I’m one person wearing lots of hats. But if you hire well, train them right and build trust, your employees will run the business when you can’t.“
Still, some entrepreneurs resist handing off simple tasks to employees as soon as the company starts to grow, according to a third of 619 business owners surveyed by The Alternative Board. Those same do-it-yourselfers find that when life events shake up their schedules, they are not prepared to handle the disruption.
Mark Amarant, a second-time entrepreneur, learned the hard way. This time, he has built his business with the safety net that eluded him the first time around - a strong senior team.
The lack of balance as CEO of his prior company affected his lifestyle and left him in bad shape - overweight, depressed and a heart attack candidate. After selling STS Telecom, a Florida-based VoIP provider in 2011, he spent two years concentrating on weight loss and healthy eating.
Now, Amarant is back in business as founder of Whoa.com, a nationwide cloud-service provider based in Hollywood, Fla. He is 80 pounds lighter and has carefully selected a senior team on which he relies, allowing him to work out regularly with a personal trainer and slip into the company’s relaxation/meditation room while still managing the business.
“I have a business plan that shows me who needs to be hired and when,“ he explained. “I see this growing into a billion-dollar company. But to do that and stay healthy, I know I have to have faith in the team that I put together.“
Leadership expert Sharon Hadary believes that most entrepreneurs have the mentality that if they aren’t eating, sleeping and breathing their businesses, they aren’t working hard enough to succeed. But the most stable businesses have two things in common, her research shows.
First, the owners know their values and act on them when their personal lives get complicated. “Values help you make decisions and set priorities,“ she said. Next, they understand their time constraints. “They realize they can’t do everything themselves and learn to delegate responsibly.“
Hadary, co-author of “How Women Lead: The 8 Essential Strategies Successful Women Know,“ said some businesses shut when personal crisis hits. “Unless you have someone else to turn to who understands the business, you probably have to close shop and re-create the business later.“
Monica Davis did just that. Eight years ago, Davis operated a retail store in Pembroke Pines. But after being robbed during the recession and giving birth twice, she closed her Prisma Styles jewelry shop. “It was very disappointing,“ she said.
Today, the mother of three has restructured the company. Prisma Styles now sells jewelry at corporate events at hospitals, gyms and big companies. Davis intentionally keeps the business small, which made it manageable while she underwent cancer treatment two years ago. She has an employee who helps with sales.
Davis said finding the right business formula to stay profitable and allow for life’s curveballs often involves a learning curve. “The challenges will come, but if you are an entrepreneur, you can’t give up on your dream.“
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at balancegalgmail.com. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.