Yesterday's post, Don't Break Your Life, continues to generate a lot of heartfelt discussion. As micro-business owners, we all want to grow our businesses, and be profitable, but we don't want to compromise our lives, our marriages, and our families. I started my business eleven years ago to make money, yes, but more importantly, I started it because I wanted to enjoy an independent, flexible and fun lifestyle. I wanted to be available to my husband and my children, and that was not going to happen in my traditional corporate job.
I realized that if I was going to have the kind of lifestyle I wanted, I was going to have to create it myself, especially as I started a marriage and began having children. Today, while I manage a thriving business, I am far from being a candidate for the Secret Millionaire reality TV show. Maintaining this integration of life and business is not always easy, but I'm happy to say that I do have a big enough company, perfectly sized for me and where I am in my life right now. Like you, I must be profitable, but not so profitable that I lose the lifestyle I have worked so hard to create. If you find yourself struggling to strike this balance, here are six tips I hope will be helpful.
- Maintain a manageable product line. If you have too many products in your line, especially if you make most or all of them, you will not have the resources (time and money) to photograph them well, package them well, label them well, and market them well. If you want growth to remain steady and measured, resist adding new products unless you have a plan in place to sell them without destroying your life.
- Use technology wisely. Once your marketing strategy is planned, much of it can be systematized using today's amazing technologies. As a bonus, most of these technologies won't break the bank. While they will cost you time, these costs can be managed once you have a plan in place. As long as you know which pieces of technology deliver the most returns (this will be different for each business), you can focus your efforts there. In this way, you can market well without having to employ fancy bells and whistles everyone says you have to use, when those fancy things suck your time with no corresponding financial reward.
- Get some help. There are a million little things that have to be done in your business that someone else can do, freeing you up to do things that only you can do. While you may not want to outsource manufacturing, for example, you may be able to outsource a monthly “keep in touch” phone call to all of your wholesale customers. Calls like those help keep you “top of mind,” but having someone else make them for you allows you to focus on tasks only you can perform.
- Grow intentionally. In his new book, Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul (affiliate link), Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says that, at one point, Starbucks was growing just for the sake of growing. After a few years of this, the company took a nose dive. The book chronicles how Schultz guided the company through its darkest days … how he put an end to the corporation's “grow for growth's sake” mentality.
When you add a new product to your line, do it intentionally. Don't do it only because it's fun. Do it because fun, and have a plan to market it so it does not become a source of additional, unnecessary and negative stress.
- Scale down “big business” advice. While you may not want to become a “big” company, you can still learn a lot from their experiences. By reading blog posts, books and magazine articles by people who lead big businesses, you will learn about how they manage everything from human resources to money to technology. When your business faces similar issues on a smaller scale, you can refer back to those resources for ideas on how to handle things efficiently. There is much to be learned from the mistakes of large companies. (See Starbucks above.) Just scale down their experiences to fit your business, then add your own personal touch as you follow their lead to address your own challenges.
- Plan your financials. Sad perhaps, but true is the fact that you cannot run a legitimate business without keeping track of the money that goes out and the money that goes in. Simply stated, if you don't take in more than you spend, and make enough to beat inflation, you are managing a hobby. There's nothing wrong with that, so long as you own it as what it is, and conduct yourself accordingly.
Decide What You Want To Do, Then Do Only That
If you want to be a hobbyist, be a hobbyist. Remember though, that a hobby should be fun. It should not make you pull your hair out. If you find that your hobby is stressing you out, it may be that you are trying to treat it like a “sort of business,” thus adding pressure that neither you nor your business (and probably, your family) can sustain over the long term.
No, It's Not Easy — And I'm Not Making Light Of It
I don't mean to oversimplify any of this. These are tough issues, and they are made tougher by the fact that there is no blueprint to follow. Just because something works for a friend who shares your interests does not mean it will deliver the kind of lifestyle you want for yourself and your family.
What makes it even more challenging is the fact that there's no real way to find the balance that works for you without trying out some things that are eventually going to stress you out. You won't know you don't like leading a “real business” until you run it long enough to know you don't like it.
The only way to know whether business ownership is for you is to own a business long enough to find that out. That kind of stinks, but it is what it is.
Question: Does any of this resonate with you? Is this helpful? Or does it just stress you out more?