NEXT Insurance is 100% dedicated to making it easy for small business owners and the self-employed to get the insurance they need to take their company to the next level. Autostraddle and NEXT Insurance are pleased to bring you the first installment of “Next Level,” an article series in which successful queer small business owners share how they tackle the challenges of business ownership to live their very best work lives. Today, we’re talking about achieving that oh-so-elusive work-life balance!
One of the most challenging aspects of being self-employed and/or owning your own business is achieving a healthy work-life balance. Every moment seems like a moment you could be doing more work to move your company forward, and it can be hard to tear yourself away and engage with the world around you — like your friends, family, relationships or hobbies. But working constantly can be destructive to your mental and physical health and won’t help your business succeed in the long run.
Since starting my media company, Autostraddle, in 2009, I’ve cycled through so many approaches to work-life balance, and honestly most of them have failed. So, I enlisted the help of a group of kick-ass queer business owners to give you the advice you need to succeed!
The queer business owners quoted in this piece are:
- Kim Blessing and Delena Mobley of size and gender-inclusive fashion brand dom+bomb
- Sheena Lister of short-hair styling products company Barb
- Alyssa Kaliszewski of “vintage shop meets curated boutique” retail collective We Are Doll Parts in Seattle
- Summer Trottier of Missouri-based apparel, accessories, and gifts store Culture Flock
- Tracy Levesque of web design and development company Yikes!
- Jennifer Vinciguerra, CPA, an accountant.
10 Ways To Get the Work-Life Balance You Deserve
Don’t Be Afraid To Give Yourself a Break
“Taking breaks” is just as important as “working” when it comes to manifesting quality work. You’ll bring more commitment and focus to the time you spend working if you carve out time for decompressing, too.
“We’ve had to practice saying ‘I’m exhausted and need a break,'” said Kim and Delena of dom+bomb. “As business owners, we all have a tendency to feel guilty if we’re not working on the business 24/7, but you can’t be successful if you don’t rest.”
Work Non-Traditional Hours
Sheena Lister, Barb‘s CEO, tries to work hard when she’s not with her loved ones, so she can give them her full attention when she is. “It’s not always easy,” she advises, “and in order to achieve this, I may have to work ‘unusual’ hours.”
For Summer and Brittany at Culture Flock, it means breaking out of the “millennial mentality” that real jobs are the kind you work from 8-5. “We work in a field where creativity is paramount,” Summer explains. “and that means a different set of rules than your typical desk job.”
Set Boundaries With Clients
It can be difficult to gain the confidence to start setting boundaries with clients to maintain a work-life balance, especially when you’re first starting out and you feel like you have to say “yes” to everything.
At Yikes, they ensure their employees can unplug by ensuring clients are aware they don’t work nights and weekends.
Kim and Delena of dom+bomb committed to being off on Sundays and Mondays, and they hold each other accountable for sticking to it.
For Jennifer Vinciguerra, CPA, “a big part of the ‘right fit’ [with a client] is someone who respects my boundaries outside of work hours, and understands my family comes first and foremost.”
Set Boundaries With Co-Workers
At Doll Parts, they admit that work-life balance “is definitely the hardest thing to balance as business owners.” But, “we make a point to have one day off a week and tell each other we won’t text/discuss work unless absolutely necessary.”
When you’re using platforms like Slack or even e-mail to communicate with your teams, it’s important to set strict in and out times after which it’s not expected for you to be available for work or work conversations.
When you become friends with your co-workers, work and life can get blurry. Doing your best to keep personal conversations to text rather than in your online office can make a big difference. At Autostraddle, we had a company culture that often involved being on Slack at night or on weekends in a social capacity — but we had to dial that back because even though we were talking about The Bold Type and not our to-do lists, it was pulling us away from building lives outside of the office.
Create a “Results-Only Work Environment”
Another key to work-life balance is measuring results by work accomplished, rather than hours worked. At Yikes, employees know that as long as they hit deadlines, do good work, make clients happy and are pleasant to work with, they can take off as much time as you want. “We have a very generous PTO policy,” Tracy explained, “but it’s also fine if someone wants to leave early or take the day off for whatever reason, as long as they’re doing a good job.”
Set Different Expectations Around a Busy Season
Jennifer said having kids changed the way she approached her work/life balance — she didn’t want to miss one minute more of time with them than she had to. But tax season is another story. “Tax season is the exception to this rule for me and is a large part of the reason I try to be super flexible the rest of the year,” Jennifer said. “I know the sacrifices that I force on myself and my family during those 3.5 months, so once we’re out of that window, they are my priority.”
If you have a busy season coming up — like an annual event run by your company or an annual fundraiser — schedule quality time like a date night or a weekend trip with your loved ones before and after crunch time.
Busy times can be a chance to forgive yourself for not balancing work and life and get that workaholic urge out of your system, as long as you keep it temporary. Still; year after year of seasonal busyness can eventually overwhelm you.
“I have no problem saying ‘no’ anymore,” Jennifer said. “And I’ve also begun the process of cutting back on my workload so that even tax season is less stressful.”
Share The Load
Work-life balance can be much easier to achieve if you have a business partner or employees to share the load with you. Part of why I started Autostraddle in the first place was ’cause managing my blogs alone was too much work, and I knew I needed other brains in the room to help it grow.
Becky and Alyssa from Doll Parts divide tasks and regularly communicate to avoid getting burnt out.
“It’s much easier to do in a business with two founders,” said Kim and Delena of dom+bomb. “We can ‘tap out’ when one of us needs to. If one of us gets sick, or has a family emergency, the other can cover.”
Recognize Your Limitations
When Jennifer first started her business, she felt like she couldn’t say “no” to any client who reached out. “When prospective clients would reach out they typically provided loads of detail in their initial email,” she remembers. “Many times this would include horror stories about their experience with a previous accountant, and other times it might include a personal tragedy that left them overwhelmed and needing intense financial guidance. I wanted to help everyone!”
After a decade, she understood she had to be truthful about her abilities and practical about the limited time she had available.
Don’t Do Now What You Can’t Do Forever
Those first few years of running a business can be an “all hands on deck, all the time” situation — but once you strip away those “getting off the ground” tasks, what’s left needs to be a sustainable workload. Start planning now for how you’ll eventually reduce that workload before your clients or audience get used to an unsustainable level of output. Sketch out the elements of your job that you’ll eventually need to wrap up or offload to someone else, with goal dates and the amount of money you’ll need to make those adjustments.
Even in offices with unlimited PTO, like ours, it can be tough to take time off as an owner or a self-employed person without feeling guilty — but time away from your day-in day-out work is just as important to your process as the work itself. Model this behavior yourself and encourage your employees to unplug entirely as often as possible.
It’s smart to not just tell your employees (and yourself) how much time they’re allowed to take off, but to require they take a certain number of weeks off, too. Our new CEO, Kylo, knew I hadn’t taken a day off for six months and asked me every day what dates I’d picked to take the vacation they knew I needed until, finally, I scheduled a long weekend trip around my birthday. (We also require our employees to take their birthdays off.) I’m glad they encouraged me to take the time, because it helped me shore up energy, remember that I had a body, and come back to work with a fresh perspective.
The best way to get out of the office at a reasonable hour is having another place you’re supposed to be. Make plans for dinner, schedule volunteer work, play pickleball with your friends. It can be tough to tear yourself away from your desk but once you’re out there on the court you’ll be glad you did.
Ultimately, looking for work-life balance in the early years of starting your own business is an elusive, slippery goal. “Most of our brainpower on a given day is related to the shop; even on days one of us isn’t “working” we’re working, or thinking about work,” says Alyssa Kaliszewski of We Are Doll Parts.
But starting your company with an immediate eye on work-life balance can go a long way. As Sheena Lister of Barb so helpfully put it: “I find that I am my happiest self when I feel fulfilled in both my work and personal life. So it’s important that I approach both with the same level of passion and love.”
Do you have any tips for keeping a healthy work-life balance? Let us know in the comments!