DEAR GURU: After years in the corporate world, I recently left my job to start my own business. My wife is complaining that I'm spending too much time building the business, and I can tell my kids aren't happy about all the hours I'm putting in. How can I explain to them that I'm working so much because I have to?
THE ANSWER: The Rolling Stones once sang, “Time is on my side.” They were not small-business owners. Like you, most people who decide to launch a start-up expect some seriously hellish hours and soon realize their expectations were wrong: Things are way worse than they thought they'd be.
“You put a lot of personal time in to make the business run. Your vacation time is virtually nil. You're in week-in and week-out,” says Rob Benson, owner of Corydon Hardware in Winnipeg.
That often means missing out on social functions with friends or, in your case, forfeiting quality time with your family.
Your family was behind you when you left the corporate world, so they will be behind you again. You need to sit them down and explain that you weren't happy in your previous job and you're trying to build something you can all be proud of. Make it clear to them that you will reduce your hours as soon as you can, whether it means hiring additional staff to help out or putting the pedal to the metal on that paperwork.
But that's not a free pass to spend all your time at your desk and none at your dining room table. It's up to you to make time for your family, even if it means getting home for dinner and then heading back to work after dessert. Remember, as much as it might seem like you're the one doing all the work, you're all in this together.
DEAR GURU: My partner and I are arguing about whether to expand the business. She's all for launching a second location, but I'm hesitant. We're finally doing well after many years, and I feel like we can relax. I worry that if we open another outlet we'll have to take on debt and deal with all kinds of other headaches, such as location scouting and staffing. Are my fears justified?
THE ANSWER: The good news: By simply talking about this stuff, you're already ahead of the game.
“It's great that they're asking this question, because often what happens is people just fight and disagree and the relationship gets worse and worse,” says Rob Mitchell, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business.
So what's the bad news? You still have a few difficult questions to sort out, starting with this one: Even though you're comfortable now, do you really think you will be a few years down the road? “To sustain a business, there needs to be that entrepreneurial mindset that you're always looking for those next opportunities,” Mitchell points out.
Now you need to ask yourself why you started the business in the first place. If it was just to earn a tidy profit, perhaps it's time you bought out your partner, or vice versa. If you hope to one day pass the business on to your kids, but you don't want to deal with the headaches of expanding, you could revise the ownership structure so that your partner is responsible for the burdens of growing the empire while you control the original location.
But if you go that route, be sure you and your partner agree on, and are comfortable with, the arrangement. If your partner is solely responsible for a new location that proves to be wildly successful, will you be okay with that?
“If you make it explicit and you get it in writing and you're all very, very clear about what might happen...you'll save yourself a lot of heartache down the road,” says Mitchell.
This feature originally appeared in the June, 2011 issue of Report on Small Business magazine. Send Guru questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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