4 Tips to Avoid the Entrepreneur's Curse
All entrepreneurs know the curse.
The agonizing frustration from never having enough spare time to enjoy life outside of your business and the frightening supposition that something is wrong with the business when you do.
My first endeavor into entrepreneurship taught me this painful lesson firsthand. I had just come from an international consulting position where I had learned to artfully augment my vacations by capitalizing on local holidays, layovers and a number of other strategies. More important, while I took my job very seriously, I was adept at turning off the job completely to fully enjoy my holiday.
When I had ventured into entrepreneurship, like most, I had the lofty idea that "being my own boss" would provide me more freedom and independence, and with managers and employees in my business, I would no longer need to apply a complicated algorithm when I took my holidays.
Of course, this perception was nothing like the truth.
From the start, the business beat me up, consuming every minute of my time and every ounce of my energy. Worse, when I actually did have time to indulge in something entertaining -- reading a book, watching a movie or attending a college football game -- it was almost impossible for me to fully enjoy the experience due to the gnawing guilt that I was not at trade show or making a sales call or reconciling the financials.
It was a terribly vicious cycle that almost prompted me to quit.
Over the years, however, I have learned to balance the two, mostly with the help of mentors and good friends. It does take practice and experience to resolve, but here are a few tips you can adopt to help you overcome the curse early.
1. Find a partner.
Many business owners I know feel strongly about not having a partner, namely due to trust issues or the idea that they know better how to lead the company. I understand that position, but I have found that with the right partner in place, as well as the right expectations, having someone in your corner relieves many of the business pressures.
I was fortunate to find a great partner in my first business, and while we had our moments and disagreements, we had shared goals personally and for the business, which always helped us reconcile. More important, when one of us needed time off, the other was always there to cover.
Of course, you should never bring on a partner for the sake of bringing on a partner. Make certain that whomever you are considering shares the same vision for the company (how large, how much risk, future plans, etc.) and the same personal measure of success (wealthy, social impact, freedom, etc.). Be cautious about partnering with family or good friends, and if you do, have the understanding that business decisions are not personal.
2. Hire better people.
One of the most difficult aspects of starting a business is forecasting growth and employment needs. Many times, entrepreneurs find themselves with a new client or a big order, and in the panic of the moment, they hire an employee or two to quickly fill the demand.
Unfortunately, compromising on your hiring practice will cause you far more harm than good. Be sure to spend time considering the needs of the position and interviewing candidates thoroughly to assure they can fill those needs. In a time crunch, it is a difficult balance to manage, but in the end, you will have employees you can retain and who could ultimately be promoted to handle more responsibility.
3. Learn to delegate.
Once you have (somewhat) resolved to trust others more and (hopefully) hired the right people, you need to start delegating more tasks. Administrative tasks should be the first to go, which will allow you the time to prioritize and focus on managing growth, business relationships and strategizing for the future.
For the most part, great employees love more responsibility, although they will need to be rewarded for taking on more. Know your employees and their personal goals, as some may value job security, opportunities for advancement or certain benefits (time off for personal reasons) more than a simple bump in pay. It is just as important to identify the employees that are unable or unwilling to handle more responsibility and consider finding a better replacement.
4. Find a happy place.
Learning to turn off the business from time to time is simple, but the truth is that the business is like your family -- there will always be an inclination to worry about it.
I suggest that you find a "happy place" that you assign as a "no-work zone." This "place" could be a physical location such as the beach, a coffee shop or your former school's football games. It can also be a mental mode, such as when you meditate or during game night with your family. Whatever it is, set boundaries when you are there and focus on the task you have chosen.
For me, it took several years before I was able to "turn off" the business and allow myself to indulge in the pleasure of spare time -- when I had it. Family helped, not only in the support and love they provided, but also because as my kids grew, they became much more competitive -- so there is no room for distraction during family game night.
They are ruthless.
What do you do to help you deal with the entrepreneur's curse? Please share your thoughts with others in the comments section below.