No one works harder than the person who operates a small business. Once you set out to provide for your family through your own ideas, creativity and effort, you're signing on to work harder than you ever worked before.
No one is going to tell you when to stop for the day. No one is going to close the office at 5 p.m. on Friday and send you home to a weekend of family life and routine chores. No one is going to remind you in September that you have vacation time you must use or lose by Dec. 31. No one, that is, except you—the boss, the big cheese, the one and only source of everything that makes up your business.
In the crush of responsibility and the constant nature of your demands, it's actually quite easy to neglect the rest of your life. If you go looking for your 10-year-old son so you can have a catch, only to discover he's now 15 and interested in music you'll never understand, you may have been working too hard.
Add into the mix the other members of your family who are now your co-workers and the lines blur even further. Can you and your spouse go out to a nice dinner and avoid talking about that latest addition to your product line or that potential new supplier? No, we didn't think so. Once you're surrounded by your job and your co-workers 100 percent of the time, you actually have to fight for family time. Otherwise, you risk having a successful business, but a dismal and grinding family life.
Over the years, we've talked with lots of people who have struggled to create a healthy balance. One PowerSeller we met years ago actually rented a brick-and-mortar store so he'd have a distinct quitting time. He took this action once he realized he was no longer being a good husband and father by keeping his business at home. The same eBay sellers who shared their wisdom about integrating family and business in our last article have offered us some good advice about keeping life balanced, too.
If it's your business, it's your baby and you have to attend to it endlessly! eBay is very time consuming
That elusive work-life balance
Recognizing the potential for trouble is the first step in solving any problem. Jewelry sellers Barbara Freundlich and her husband operate as auelox2 on eBay. These two saw right from the start that adaptations to family life would come with their fledgling business.
"Be prepared to be inundated with work," Freundlich warns. "If it's your business, it's your baby and you have to attend to it endlessly! eBay is very time consuming. We always have about 700 to 800 items for sale at any one time. It's always difficult to have enough time for the marriage, the kids and the job."
Skip McGrath and his wife, Karen, who sell on eBay as mcgrrrrr, would agree. "It was hardest when the kids were still in school for the first five years of our business," Skip McGrath says. "We had all the challenges of trying to find time for both the business and the family."
Time and solid family communication helped the couple. "Our kids were pretty good about understanding that when we were working, we were working, even though we were at home," McGrath recalls. As the kids grew older, the couple included them in the business. "We put them to work as independent contractors, helping with packing and shipping, cleaning the office and storage area, and taking packages to the post office. So they earned money working instead of getting an allowance," he notes.
Finding the balance between work and family doesn't always start with the work. Sometimes it starts with the family and home that are potential and constant sources of distractions. The McGraths worked to overcome these temptations, too. Once again, talking it out is a good place to start.
"The No. 1 thing is to agree up front that you will treat your business like a business," McGrath recommends. "It's tempting to grab a coffee and sit down at the computer in your bathrobe. Every morning we get our coffee, get dressed and when we go upstairs to the office, we go there to work. We are dressed for work. There is no TV on, or any distractions."
Andy and Deb Mowery, debnroo on eBay, agree that the boundaries between work and family can easily slip. "It's difficult, if not impossible, to take the emotions and stress from business and leave it at the office door," Andy Mowrey notes. "A particularly difficult day that might be separated from your living room by a high-volume rock 'n' roll karaoke commute for an average worker is not possible. It's 15 feet away from the office, and sometimes those emotions can ruin an evening or weekend."
I would cringe every time people lauded how much time we got to 'vacation' as it was a contradiction in terms
'Working vacation' syndrome
When this stress starts to get to the more conventional workers among us, it's time to schedule a vacation or an attitude readjustment day. You can do that if you work for a traditional employer and you have such a thing as vacation or sick time, and a boss you can phone. But that's not the case for most eBay sellers. Vacations for eBay sellers are especially challenging.
"It's very difficult to take non-working vacations," Freundlich asserts.
The Mowreys have turned to technology to help them slip away for some R&R. When the couple first started their business, the entire operation was desktop-based. That meant that when they left home for a trip, they had to leave their computers on all the time.
"If we traveled, it required a GoToMyPC login, often over inferior Internet connections," Mowery recalls. "It meant that, for 10 years, we never truly had a vacation as we worked from the houses of those we would visit, and even far flung places like Mexico or Alaska. When we would visit family in Chicago, we would have a full day, and often work most of the night. Vacation became synonymous with sleep deprivation—which led to me cringing every time people lauded how much time we got to 'vacation' as it was a contradiction in terms."
Now that the two have their database fully online, they still have to work while they travel. But the connections are much faster and the system is far more efficient.
Make time just for family
Most of the sellers who spoke with us still loved the flexibility that working from home gives them. They may not get the long stretch of a two-week vacation, but the fact that every day can be adapted to meet family needs and the requirements of keeping a home is still a treasure.
"The last issue is to find time for family—or, once the kids are gone, find time for each other that is totally away from work," McGrath suggests. "For example, last Friday was a rare, really nice, sunny day, so we knocked off early and took a drive up into the Cascade Mountains, and did some bald eagle spotting."
The Mowreys agree that slipping away is important. "My personal antidote to this is a combination of skiing and gardening," says Andy Mowrey. "In the cold months, I go skiing once or twice a week, giving Deb the house to herself. The peace and quiet is used by Deb to work on her hobby of cooking, and I enjoy focusing on the beauty of the mountains. In the warm months, I decompress in the garden each evening, and spend many weekends taking my frustrations out in the labor of moving dirt and picking weeds."
These smaller and more frequent getaways can help offset the difficulties of not being able to disappear on a grand adventure once a year. But perhaps nothing is more important than the perspective that allows you to routinely remind yourself of the value behind both parts of your business. If you have a great business but lose your family, what have you gained?
"The bottom line is that having this type of business makes you aware of how valuable the time you get to spend with your spouse is, and we try to make the most of the few non-work moments we get in life," Mowrey explains.
That's great advice no matter where you work, or what you do.
Next time, we'll look at how bringing an eBay business into your home actually changes the structure of that home.