My husband and I had our first child last year. The very same day he returned from parental leave, he resigned to start our first business. In some ways, it was like having twins with very different personalities and their own unique set of problems (and blessings, of course).
Now we’re having a second baby, and I feel… fine. Well, maybe it’s one of those situations where the pressure will suddenly hit me and I’ll have a complete meltdown (which is often the way with me — I’m fine, until I’m not!). But honestly it’s been one of the best, most challenging, rewarding and inspiring times of my life.
When business and family life are one-in-the-same
People often comment, “I could never do that” when they learn my husband and I work in our business together. But for me, I couldn’t do it any other way. I LOVE being involved, in the detail, the strategy, the dreaming — and the funny thing is that I never expected I’d be getting genuinely pumped about financial advice.
However, just because I can’t help but be involved doesn’t mean sometimes I wish I wasn’t. Just because we work well together and somehow complement each other’s work styles doesn’t mean we don’t have hard conversations. And just because I’m passionate about our business doesn’t mean I’m not checking our bank balance and stressing about having to buy yet another $30 box of nappies.
The nature of running your own business is that your work and life become integrated in a way that just doesn’t happen when you’re an employee — home life, finances, your relationship, even friends and family. Naturally, we’re having to find new ways to manage this new dynamic in our growing family, because we have split priorities. I’ve always wanted to be “present” as a parent, but running a business requires sacrifices on both sides.
How I manage the stress
Communicate, communicate, communicate
As an external processor, it’s absolutely essential for me to communicate regularly throughout the week about the business. But when I say communicate, I don’t just mean chatting about things in bits and pieces as they come up (although this does happen, of course). I’m referring to actually sitting down and having “business” chats, where we put “life stuff” to the side for a moment and clear up all the things we need to discuss about the business for the time being. Having a more segmented and deliberate approach to our communication as a couple allows me to then enter back into the life stuff, without carrying the stress of unresolved business issues.
While I can only speak from my own experience, I do think that developing some clear channels of communication between yourself and your partner is vital to managing the stress of running a business together. Life and business integration is inevitable, but by striving to manage business concerns more intentionally, it makes it possible to live life without having business on the brain 24/7.
Getting our priorities straight
I’ve found that being really clear with each other on what our priorities are — for our life and for the business — has been one of the most important things we’ve done for managing stress. At the very beginning of our business journey, we sat down together and figured out where we wanted the business to fit within the broader story of our lives. What I mean by this is that we never wanted the business to become our life, or vice versa. If we didn’t have a family, maybe this would have been different. But we want to be present as parents, and that is something you have to fight for in the world of business.
As passionate as we are about our vision for the business, it will never take priority over our family, because that’s not the type of business we want to build. If the business is ultimately not able to adapt to our family priorities, then we don’t want it. This approach takes a lot of work because we have to strategize and plan for the business to succeed — not just financially, but in terms of how it works for us. We built the business to serve us, not the other way around. Practically, this means we work really hard to preserve fairly standard work hours because time with our little boy is a priority.
Of course, priorities are always a balancing act. Arguably, the more time we put into the business, the faster we might expect to see success. But we decided that “success” in our life would mean having a business we’re passionate about and a family life that we were present for. This might sound like a “having our cake and eating it too” scenario, but being ambitious doesn’t phase me in this respect. In fact, it helps me manage times of stress better because it brings a larger perspective to our approach where life isn’t “all about the business.”
Keeping business and personal finances separate
We’ve also ensured that our personal finances are structurally separate from our business finances. That is, we’ve made a personal financial commitment to the business based on “what we’re willing to lose” and what the business needs, but we’ve kept at least some of our personal savings from being absorbed into it.
Again, this is a conversation that we had at the beginning of our business journey and have revisited several times throughout the process. We looked at the cash we’d saved (originally for a house deposit) and determined how much we were willing to invest in the business, with the full knowledge that if we went belly up, it wouldn’t magically reappear in our bank account. This conversation needed to account for all the things in our life that we also wanted (like traveling or buying a home) but were going to need to put on hold, or at the very least, extend the timeline for.
We also had to analyze what we calculated the business would need to get it going and to sustain it, both in the best-case and worst-case scenario. We then had to match these two different factors — our personal financial capacity with the business needs — and come up with the figure that we ultimately decided to invest in the business, for better or worse!
When you’ve just had a baby, a new little person enters the picture who you need to consider in these sorts of decisions. The age-old advice of “hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst” rang true for us here. This is psychologically important for me because I know that if we ever had to start from scratch again, it would be hard and humbling, but we would be okay.
Starting a business at the same time as having a baby is a big leap, and both of these life-changing events cause you to deal with the tension of conflicting priorities. The benefit of doing it all at once is that, while there are small readjustments made over time, the big upfront shock is dealt with at once. The tussle of priorities finds its natural balance more quickly, allowing the business and your family to grow into a mold that works for you from the get-go.
Communicating, working through your priorities, and keeping your finances separate are, I would argue, some of the key things you can do when running a business together and trying to manage family life at the same time. It’s hard, it requires work, but it’s worth it.
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