Carol Fines remembers many Christmases when she would come home from work just in time to say goodbye to her dinner guests.
"They would thank me for the great time they had, at the party I had organized but could not attend myself," recalls Ms. Fines, a former airline employee whose job as airport manager often meant last-minute changes to her work schedule. "I was always working holidays, and when there were emergencies – like when 9/11 happened – sometimes I needed to stay at the airport for two, three straight days."
Today, Ms. Fines is still a frequent presence at the airport, but it's no longer for work. Twelve years ago, after being laid off from her airline job, she started an interior design and home staging business. Her steady stream of clients keeps her work calendar full most months, but she puts a cap on the number of projects she accepts to make sure she has enough time to travel with her fiancé.
"I took four trips last year," says Ms. Fines, who runs her company, Carol Can – Decor With Cents, out of her home in Hamilton, Ont. "I've travelled more in the last five years than I did in the 16 years I worked for the airline."
Work-life balance is often cited by entrepreneurs as one of the main reasons they started a business. But as they build their company, many entrepreneurs find themselves spending even more time at work then they did when they were toiling for an employer.
A 2013 Bank of Montreal survey of 500 entrepreneurs across the country found one in five worked 60 hours or more a week. A large majority – 70 per cent – said they wanted to work less so they could spend more time with family.
"When you're trying to grow your business, achieving work-life balance is often a challenge because there aren't enough resources to allow you to pass the work on to someone else," says Lisa Princic, a business coach in Squamish, B.C. "Once you achieve a certain level of success, then it becomes easier to support the next phase."
For lifestyle-conscious entrepreneurs like Ms. Fines, that next phase isn't about achieving more growth in the business, but rather enjoying the rewards of being their own boss. When she won a project with BlackBerry Ltd. in Waterloo, Ont., to design the interiors of the company's residential properties – used to house visiting or relocated employees – Ms. Fines could have hired a few people and parlayed her big win into contracts with other big-name companies.
Carol Fines, a former airline employee whose job often meant last-minute changes to her work schedule, started her own business 12 years ago. (Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail)
Instead, she asked friends and family members to help her with the BlackBerry job. When the project was done, Ms. Fines continued to accept work as it came but did not go out looking for other big contracts.
Preserving work-life balance isn't just about maintaining a manageable volume of projects, Ms. Fines says. It's also establishing boundaries and setting the tone with clients.
"At the start of a project, I'll often ask my clients, 'Are you flexible with this deadline, or does it really have to be this date?'" she says. "My clients know if it's something urgent I will be there for them no matter what, but if it's something that can wait until a day when I'm already planning to be in the area, most of them are okay with that because we had that chat."
Ms. Fines relaxes in her home in Hamilton. (Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail)
Tim Rudkins, a Toronto small business coach, says entrepreneurs seeking work-life balance should bake this goal into their business. This means sitting down and working out the details, he says.
"Ask yourself what your lifestyle goals are and figure out how much money you need to achieve those goals," he says. "Then think about how many hours of work you actually want to put in and what part of the work you want to do."
Instead of trying to do it all, it's a good idea to delegate less enjoyable tasks to employees, or to seek help from freelancers such as virtual assistants, Mr. Rudkins says.
"There are a lot of services out there that will allow you to free up your time and focus on the work that you like doing," he says. "Some entrepreneurs and solopreneurs can be control freaks, so they need to learn to let go."
Ms. Fines has had many opportunities to grow her business, such as a contract for BlackBerry Ltd., but has kept quality of life in mind. (Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail)
Ms. Princic says it's a good idea to set up partnerships with trusted competitors who can take any overflow business. This helps customers who might otherwise be scrambling to find another vendor.
"Passing off the work to someone else rather than turning business away is a better choice," she says. "You're taking care of your customers and building strategic relationships with your competitors."
Entrepreneurs determined to lead a balanced life by keeping their businesses small are more likely to succeed with this goal if they focus on their best customers – the ones who bring repeat business and don't try to haggle down prices, says Ms. Princic.
These high-value customers also tend to be easiest to work with, she notes. Business owners would be wise to ensure their products and services are always in step with the needs of this important group.
"They like you – which is why they're repeat customers – so they're not a drain on your energy," she says. "Follow your best customers' journey and evolve your offerings according to their changing needs."