Author Gabrielle Hamilton wrote in her New York Times best-selling book Blood, Bones & Butter that it's pure myth that there can be balance between family life and owning a business. Five years ago, I probably would have agreed. Today, I would dispute that statement.
In my previous life, I owned a television production company in New York for 13 years. The busy, chaotic schedule that came with it was a lot of fun in my 20s and 30s, but when I got married and had children, I felt a new gravitational pull to home and the responsibilities that came with it. Given that my wife was the primary breadwinner and shared the child-rearing responsibilities, I was able to let my entrepreneurial spirit continue to thrive. But, mine had to be a business that would sustain a work/life balance.
Enter Berkshire Natural, a healthy vending company that I founded in 2009 with my business partner, Alden Bourne. As busy parents ourselves, we wanted to provide other children and their families access to healthy food on the go. Our business was one that is local and requires no extended travel. These qualities allowed us to establish a reliable routine, one in which I know when I will be available for work and when family members can depend on my time and attention. We also run the business with our kids in mind. If we wouldn't put a product in our own kitchen cabinets, it won't be for sale in our healthy vending machines.
Berkshire Natural has had over 80 percent growth in revenue on the average every year since 2009. While this has meant healthy, controlled growth for our business, it has also required more time on both our parts than we previously expected. So, how have we managed to get it all done while being there for our kids?
There's plenty of time to fit in work during the school day and after the kids go to sleep. Days are filled with account management, client service, contact with suppliers and contact with the drivers and employees at the warehouse about issues like pricing, equipment management, routes and warehouse management. Nights between 9 pm and 2 am leave time to write social media entries, blog, pay bills, search the web for new healthy products, analyze data and manage payroll.
My kids tell me that they see the balance as being perfect. They get my time after school; they cook with me to prepare dinners; and we read books together before bed. I know that when they’re in college, I’ll have plenty of time to devote more hours of my week to the business and grow it outside of the New England region, but for now, keeping the focus on local, modest growth and continuing to maintain my desired work/life balance is most important. For now, I find "balance" to be the most viable model for financial health at work and parenting at home. So, here are ten tips to staying a business-focused entrepreneur and a dad:
1. Work as much as you’d like, but don’t compromise family time.
I work as many hours as I’d like, often 14 hours per day, but when I’m with my kids, the iPhone and computer are off. I’m focused on my kids. I don’t work in a life-dependent business (on purpose). And I believe that most businesses are the same. I can afford to find out later about an email, text or phone call that I missed.
2. Keep it simple.
Business success generally starts with a solid, intelligible mission statement, clear objectives and realistic financial projections. Your children should be able to understand it.
3. Pick a trusted business partner.
I always start a business with a partner, someone that seems trustworthy and can run things whenever I feel the need to take vacation -- for a week or for six months. You want to be able to participate in your kids’ lives. You can only do that if you can tear your attention away from your business.
4. Hire great employees.
Hiring good people enables faster growth of a business. You can focus on big-picture visionary ideas only if you are comfortable that the day-to-day is being handled correctly.
5. Treat your employees very well.
It costs twice as much to replace employees as to retain them. So make them feel like they are part of a family.
6. Expand your business organically.
Start with a solid idea. There will be opportunities to expand your products and/or services, but the expansion should make sense. It should relate to the original idea.
7. Control the growth throughout expansion.
Companies that expand too quickly can’t control the quality of the work. They have to hire people too quickly and can’t vet them or train them properly.
8. Explore all business opportunities -- even if they might seem lame.
You never know where an opportunity might lead. Think like your kids -- be curious about everything!
9. There’s no client request that is too big or too small.
If your client requests something, you should be enthusiastic about fulfilling their request. Clients want to know that they are being taken care of – just like your kids!
10. Be honest to a fault.
Your clients will value your relationship more. You’ll sleep better. You’ll be able to look your children in the eye.