Many motives jump-start entrepreneurs, but romance is rarely one of them. For Gary Schaffer, however, love was the major reason he started On Target Mapping seven years ago in Pittsburgh. Because he was dating a woman who lived in France at the time, Schaffer explains, "I needed to get myself in a position that would give me the flexibility to visit her."
Schaffer, 33, eventually married the woman, who moved to the United States. But family ties still play a role in the business plan of the 25-employee firm, which earns several million dollars each year by providing telecommunications, risk assessment, routing and scheduling data, and software solutions to telecommunications service providers, government agencies and other businesses. The company was recently acquired by MapInfo Corp., a worldwide provider of business mapping solutions and spatial information management systems based in Troy, New York. Of his early days, Schaffer says, "My personal decisions pushed my business decisions."
A more common scenario, however, involves juggling personal and business commitments. Although achieving balance is essential for the survival of both the business and the entrepreneur's family, business owners find it's often like walking a tightrope while being buffeted by the inevitable winds of financial, managerial and personal stress.
"Entrepreneurship is a perspective on life, a way you approach not only your business but your personal life as well," observes Dan Pierce, an instructor for the entrepreneurship program at Northern Illinois University and a marketing instructor at the school's DeKalb campus. "It comes down to a judgment of where your priorities are and where you are in your life."
For example, entrepreneurs with no spouse or young children may feel little pressure to get home "on time" or spend weekends with the Scouts or attending ballet recitals. But while entrepreneurs with family obligations may feel no less driven to spend 60 hours or more each week at the office, they're often haunted by guilt over missed vacations, baseball games and other events. As a business owner, however, you must decide how to make balance a reality--lest the company swallow all your time and energy.
In 1978, when Virginia Hilbert founded Professional Technical Development Inc. in her kitchen as a part-time enterprise, she had four children living at home. Today, the East Lansing, Michigan, entrepreneur acknowledges her company would have grown faster had she not devoted so much time to her children's activities, which included music lessons and tennis matches. "I went to all the kids' affairs," Hilbert explains. "My philosophy is that family comes first."
Although the company's growth was delayed until Hilbert's family grew up and her obligations decreased, it wasn't halted. The $5 million-plus company, which provides computer training to large corporations and state of Michigan employees, has moved out of Hilbert's home and has 90 employees.
Hilbert's experience is not unusual. A 1997 national survey by KeyCorp of Cleveland, a bank-based financial services company, discovered small-business owners were twice as likely as executives at Fortune 1000 companies to create a business culture that blends work and family. In fact, 92 percent of the respondents said "encouraging a healthy balance between work and family" is part of their corporate culture.
Achieving this goal isn't always easy, however. Only 17 percent of male and 37 percent of female business owners gave themselves an "A" grade in striking the right balance.
"Small-business owners realize that promoting a healthy balance between their work and home lives is good for themselves, their employees and their businesses," says Sandy Maltby, vice-chair of KeyBank National Association and head of its small-business division. The challenge is determining a comfortable balance and striving to sustain it.
Eric Freedman teaches journalism at Michigan State University and writes on business, public affairs and legal issues. His latest book is What to Study: 101 Fields in a Flash (with Edward Hoffman), published by Kaplan/Simon & Schuster.