In Nicola Barron’s household, the first year of Homemade London is referred to as the ‘dark age’
Year one is when the work is the hardest, the sacrifices are the greatest and the fear is the most overwhelming. And at the end of every week you can expect to be poorer than you were at the start. When you’re losing money, it’s tempting to work every hour available because there’s always something more you could do to make the business a success. I’d regularly arrive home from work at midnight and start answering emails, going to bed at 2am before getting up again at 8am to take the children to school – I was exhausted.
I still remember very clearly going to meet my bank manager for the first time before the approval of my start-up business loan. He told me that he was as much interested in me as my business plan, he wanted to know whether I had the enthusiasm and desire to make a success. I was also questioned quite extensively about my family life, my children, childcare arrangements, how I felt about working weekends. I felt certain that a male applicant in my position would unlikely to be questioned in such a way and said as much in my answers. From the start, I went into business feeling like I had to prove I could be a successful businesswoman and a successful parent quite seamlessly, but unsurprisingly that’s not been the case.
This year, I’ve probably worked as hard at achieving a work-life balance as I have at the business itself. There’s part of me that feels ashamed to even say this, because being a woman and a mum, I feel open to the accusation of running a “hobby business” – as if anyone would put themselves through the torture of end-of-year accounts for sheer fun. But finding some equilibrium has not only been beneficial for my home-life and personal sanity, it’s reaped rewards for the business too.
In striving for a balance, it’s made me much more efficient and focused during my working hours as I consider time to be a resource. When you’re constantly tired, your pace slows, (adrenaline will only get you so far,) you’re irritable, often a terrible manager and it’s a hindrance to creative thinking. What’s more, you’re probably incredibly unhealthy too.
So here are the top things I’ve learned about achieving a work/life balance:
Prioritise work that’s likely to make you money
It may sound obvious, but as there’s always too much work to do, don’t waste too much of your time on activities that don’t generate revenue. We’re constantly being presented with opportunities, but unless there’s a real likelihood of them making you money, leave well alone. This doesn’t always apply to PR opportunities: if you’re offered a TV, newspaper or magazine opportunity, bite their hand off.
Force yourself to take a day off
When you run your own business, there’s no distinction between work and home life; they seem to merge into one. I try now to take off at least three evenings a week, two Sundays a month and I’ll work from home two days every week. It may not seem like a lot but it means that I have some legitimate time away from work, and I feel much more involved in my children’s day-to-day lives.
Surround yourself with great people
This goes for work and home. I tend to follow my gut on this one. I’ve managed to find a team of very dedicated, talented people who really care about the business. They now tell me when I need to take a break and I can trust them to find solutions when things don’t go to plan.
With childcare, it’s even more crucial – my husband and I have had our fingers burnt a few times with this over the last seven years: one au pair stole my favourite cashmere jumper and a diamond ring, another would pick fights with the school secretary (a far worse crime than the former). But our luck changed with our current live-in au pair who’s been with us for the past year. She is adored by our children and knows us well enough to remind us more than once about an upcoming school trip or parents’ evening.
My final advice about trying to achieve a balance is to never lose sight of why you went into business in the first place. The path may be filled with uncertainty and sometimes frustration – but nothing beats the feeling of being in charge of your own destiny.