Work-life balance refers to the manner in which someone balances or manages both their professional life and their personal life. If you’re a small business owner, chances are, pursuing work-life balance can sometimes feel challenging or appear unclear. And that’s because work-life balance will feel and appear differently for everyone.
First, are some quick numbers from Forbes about work-life balance:
- 94% of service-based professionals work over 50 hours per week.
- 77% of Americans who work full-time have experienced burnout in their position.
- And lastly, burnout costs between $125 and $190 billion dollars per year in healthcare costs.
Having personally experienced burnout as a small business owner, achieving work-life balance can feel like a far away goal. However, just like in business, I’m a big believer in the way small, daily actions can make a big difference overall. Just like marketing your business consistently, day by day, can build a strong foundation for your business success, small daily habits and commitments can help you to feel more balanced professionally and personally.
But why does work-life balance matter? Not only can a lack of balance lead to burnout, stress, and unhappiness in your position as a small business owner — but a lack of balance can also mean a lack of creativity, passion, and purpose in your position, too. With more balance, you can bring your most joyful, creative self to your business, and in turn, serve your clients well.
So, today, we’re going to discuss how to design your small business with work-life balance in mind — how to create a strong, sustaining business from the ground up.
How to Design Your Business for Work-Life Balance
Welcome to Episode 109 of the Brand It, Build It Podcast — How to Design Your Business for Work-Life Balance. When I became a small business owner in 2014, words like “hustle” were often used to describe our daily work as small business owners. Being busy, stressed, and continuously working were often glamorized on social media — sending a message to small business owners that continuous work was needed to create a successful business.
Having studied business in college, I found these messages to be overwhelming. When studying business, I learned so much about systems, processes, workflows, organization, and creating a strong, sustaining business from the ground up. What I was seeing online and what I knew to be true about business conflicted — because I wholeheartedly believed it was possible to create a strong, successful business without experiencing so much stress and overwhelm.
In the first 2 years of our small business journey, I began to believe the messages I was receiving on social media. As a new small business owner, I wondered if perhaps my college classes had oversimplified business ownership — if continuous work really was needed to succeed. For 2 years, 50 to 60-hour work weeks were our norm — and I began to find my value and worth in how hard and how long I could work at building our business. Soon, my hobbies fell to the wayside — and I committed every moment of every day to building our business. Weekends were no longer actual weekends and vacations were a memory.
Then, burnout set in. I found myself feeling stressed even before my workday began. I experienced what some people call the “Sunday scaries” — feeling anxious even before the work week officially begins. I began to feel extremely anxious before our client meetings, feeling as though every decision I made was absolutely critical to the success or failure of our business. When our revenue goals were met, I felt calmer — but when our revenue goals were harder to reach, I felt as though continuous work was my only solution. Maybe you can relate to one or more of these feelings.
If we fast forward to today at With Grace and Gold, as we approach our 8th year in business, we have a 4-day work-week, with business hours from 7:00 AM – 3:00 PM — and weekends are truly weekends. We know work-life balance means bringing our personal happiness and peace of mind to our business and to our clients — and ultimately results in serving our clients as best we can. We encourage one another to take breaks when needed, knowing that the time we spend outside of our business is just as valuable as the time we spend within our business. We use a project management unique to our business, values, and goals, we automate certain aspects of our business, and more — which we’ll explore in just a moment.
So, when did the burnout end, and how did we shift our business so work-life balance was a priority?
Burnout ended when we agreed we became small business owners for our own unique reasons — to have creativity in our work, to serve our clients wholeheartedly, to have balance between our professional and personal lives, to have a successful business in both the short-term and the long-term. We realized, if we truly wanted to honor those reasons, if we wanted With Grace and Gold to be our careers, we needed to lay the groundwork for a strong and sustaining business. We needed to create a business we could run, so our business would no longer run us. You may be thinking, “Easier said than done.” In a way, you’re right — reframing the way you see yourself, your business, and your work is one thing, redesigning your business in a sustainable way is another, and then committing to the ways you’ve reframed and redesigned is another. So, I’m excited to share some actionable ways you can design your business with work-life balance in mind.
- Revisit the reasons you became a small business owner. Recently, I attended a conference where it was mentioned, “There are reasons you became a small business owner, and then there are reasons you continue to be a small business owner.” It’s OK if the reasons you became a small business owner differ from the reasons you continue to be a small business owner — and that’s why it’s important to revisit and know what you value, what motivates you to build and grow your business, and what equips you to run your business each day. Maybe you’re a small business owner, because you’re able to work from home and balance life with your family and life running your business. Maybe you’re a small business owner, because you’re able to think creatively, implement new ideas immediately, and serve people in a way aligned with your unique values. Overworking and experiencing burnout can take away from the unique and special reasons you became and are a small business owner — so revisiting these reasons can be a helpful way to recommit to yourself and to your one-of-a-kind reasons for pursuing and maintaining your position as a small business owner.
- Write down your vision for what work-life balance looks like. In past episodes, I’ve often said how the beauty of being a small business owner is knowing your business can be a reflection of what you uniquely value. The same is true for work-life balance. Work-life balance will look differently for every small business owner. As an example, for me, work-life balance looks like beginning every day with exercise — not starting my workday until I’ve spent 30 minutes exercising. It looks like waiting until I’m completely done having my morning smoothie to look our email Inbox and formally begin my workday. It looks like ending my workday on time — at 3 PM — and keeping my computer closed until the following morning. Work-life balance looks like listening to my body and knowing when I need a break — because I know taking a break will help me to serve our clients better. This can mean taking a walk around the block, making a snack in the kitchen, or simply stepping away from my computer. It means really being present when I’m with family and friends — keeping my phone put away and reminding myself to be present when my mind wanders. To me, work-life balance means knowing how proud I am of our business and the way we equip fellow business owners for success — while also knowing work is just one part of who I am as a person. Reminding myself I’m valuable as a person — and as a wife, aunt, sister, friend, and community member. So, what does work-life balance look like to you? What would your ideal day feel like? Remember, experiencing work-life balance begins with small, daily actions that add up to habits and then a commitment to those habits. Start small, don’t shame yourself when your vision isn’t perfectly executed, and be kind to yourself. Nurture yourself in the same way you nurture your small business, remembering the time you spend outside of your business creating a life you love and feel proud of will help you to bring your best self to the people you serve through your business.
- Make a to-do list of your small, daily habits. Certain habits are universally helpful — moving your body through exercise, drinking enough water, and managing stress. Make a list of the small, daily habits you’ll commit to for better overall wellness. Treat your personal to-do list with the same passion and commitment you have for your work-related to-do list. Keep your list in an easy-to-access place, so you’ll always be reminded to check off your personal to-dos, day after day.
- Set boundaries. Experiencing work-life balance can mean formally creating boundaries so you can more deeply and fully enjoy both your personal life and your professional life. Setting formal business hours can be one helpful way to create a boundary. It can help you to work diligently and in a concentrated way within your business hours — and it can help you to set and manage expectations between you and the clients or customers you serve. This specific boundary helps you to remove the personal expectation that you need to always be “on” or available for your clients or customers — something I learned during my own experience with burnout. Setting business hours has helped us to manage the expectations we have for ourselves as business owners — and to not shame ourselves for not being available 24/7. Another boundary you may consider setting is sharing when others can expect to receive your email reply. At With Grace and Gold, we respond to emails within 24 business hours — but we have certainly seen business owners who ask for 48 or 72 business hours, and even business owners who have office hours just one or two days per week and provide email responses on only those one or two days. Whatever your comfort level is, sharing when others can expect to receive your reply can remove the pressure of always being active in your Inbox. Lastly, you may consider the forms of communication your customers and clients have access to. When With Grace and Gold began, we were able to be reached via phone, email, live chat, our project management system, social media, and elsewhere. These days, we accept inquiries solely via email, and phone calls are available by appointment only using our calendar scheduling system. With these boundaries, we are able to speak with and connect with prospective clients and current clients more intentionally, rather than being pulled in many directions all at once. This allows us to serve our clients as best we can and provide a really positive experience. It’s likely there are other boundaries you can establish based upon your unique business. In the end, having these boundaries is truly beneficial both for you and for your clients or customers — because you’re more likely to bring your dedicated attention and enthusiasm to each conversation.
- Pare down your offerings. It’s possible that burnout can arise if your business is taking on too much at once. One of our most popular episodes of Brand It, Build It, Episode 8, asks “Are you offering too many services?” By paring down your offerings, you can ensure what you’re offering is serving your clients and customers well — and that you’ve designed your business in a way you can truly, effectively and comfortably manage. Episode 8 is definitely worth listening to, to determine whether your business can benefit from paring down your offerings.
- Use systems and resources for organization and automation. As humans, there is only so much information we can manage in our heads, purely from memory. Using systems and resources for organization and automation can help you to work more efficiently, work with greater accuracy, and serve your clients and customers through the same great, tried-and-true process. Altogether, systems help to create more space and time for your creativity and innovation — and help to move your business forward. A few systems to explore are project management systems, client management systems, social media marketing systems, newsletter marketing systems, canned email responses, and auto-responders. These systems should be unique to your specific business, because what works well for one business owner may not work well for all business owners. Instead, we always recommend signing up for free trials of various systems and resources, so you can more accurately determine which resources will work well for your unique business, with your unique definition of work-life balance in mind.
- Explore passive income. Another very popular episode, Episode 11, is called “Your Passive Income Action Plan.” This episode shares a step-by-step approach to building passive income into your creative small business. Passive income allows for diversification, and can alleviate some pressure from the high-touch, service-based areas of your small business.
- Think outside of the box. As small business owners, we create nearly every aspect of how our businesses are run — from scratch. From the way we think about our business to the way we approach our services and processes, we can become comfortable in our ways and come to believe there is no other way to run our business. Sometimes the answer to a problem in business is simply, “Think of a new way.” As an example, if you begin your process without a phone consultation, but you come to find your business isn’t always a great fit for the clients you’ve booked — consider beginning your process with a phone consultation so you can learn more about prospective clients, share your recommendations, and establish your business is a good fit. If you are able to be reached via phone or text, but being tied to your phone is taking away from your ability to concentrate fully on your work — consider asking your clients to communicate about their project solely via email or your project management system. That way, you can create a boundary and serve your clients better. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to small business ownership, but the the message here is to think outside of the box and remember that, just because something has been done in a certain way, doesn’t mean it needs to continue being done in that way. There is always an opportunity to reexamine and refresh the way you connect with clients, serve your clients, market your business, and beyond. Next time you encounter a problem, ask yourself “Is there a new way I could do this?” Or “What result do I want to experience, and how can I create that result?”
- Outsource. Whether you hire employees or contractors, know outsourcing in areas of your business you would like help in is a sign of strength and strategy — rather than a sign of not being able to manage your business. Help with social media marketing, help with brand and web design, help with newsletter marketing, and help with blog content creation are just a few ways small business owners can outsource. Just like adding systems and resources to your business, when you outsource certain areas of your business, you can free space for the work you love doing most, or the work only you can do within your business. In turn, outsourcing can help you to grow your business with purpose.
- Be kind to yourself. Just like everyday life, small businesses have seasons — moments of growth and change, moments of busyness, moments of ease and joy. We believe, as long as we keep reflecting, learning, changing, and growing — we can continue polishing our business to be both successful and sustainable… a business we confidently know is serving people well. Whether today’s episode equips you to create new to-dos and form new habits, to set boundaries within your business, to explore new systems and resources for your business, or to determine how passive income can play a role in your business — we’re hopeful you’ll be kind to yourself as you create your one-of-a-kind business and your completely unique definitions of success and work-life balance.
Our paths as small business owners aren’t linear — there can be many twists and turns and ups and downs. But with a strong foundation — a clear understanding of your value and worth beyond your business, a business designed with work-life balance in mind — you can lay the groundwork for a business you can love and enjoy, a business that serves other people really well, for as long as possible.