If you’re like a lot of other business owners, a large portion of your time and thought goes into solving hiring challenges. Finding the right talent is the issue that never goes away.
A Small Business Trends study done by Guidant Financial and LendingClub found that out of the 2,700 small business owners surveyed, 351 (13%) named recruiting/retention of employees as their top challenge.
Understanding the problem is easy. You know that better employees = better company. Great teams start with great people, and business success hangs on the people you hire.
But it’s the solution that’s harder to distinguish. Your business can’t afford to settle for anything less than A-players, but how do you actually find those those A-players?
Where do you start?
Well, to quote the old adage,
“If you do what everyone else does, you get what everyone else gets.”
So, it’s time to rethink the recruitment and hiring process. It’s time to get serious and develop a strategic approach to consistently finding and hiring the best people.
How do you do that?
How do you single the winners out of the crowd of people just interested in getting a paycheck? How do you keep from repeating the same hiring mistakes you’ve made in the past? How do you find talent and recruit the individuals who can make a real difference in your business?
Here are 9 tips to get you started…
Tip #1 Start with the right attitude.
I’m not totally sold on “The Secret” and all that law of attraction stuff, but I 100% believe that attitude is everything. Having the right attitude may not magically draw top notch employees to you, but having the wrong one will certainly repel them.
So it’s time to take a quick look inward…
Are you holding onto the belief that you’ll never be able to bring A-players into your business because of the industry you’re in? Maybe you do construction or you’re a service business and you believe that the hard-working A-players out there are already running their own businesses, not working for someone else.
Or maybe you, like this fellow on Quora, have written off an entire generation of potential employees because you’ve reached jaded and bitter “Get off my lawn!” old man status.
Tough truth coming your way: The Millennial generation consists of people in their 20s and 30s. So, if you think everyone in that age group is a lazy piece of trash, your company will die with the Baby Boomers.
Plus, it’s just not true that allllll Millennials are B-players, C-players, or worse. What is true is that every generation is essentially the same. There were good and bad apples in the 1920s and there will be good and bad apples in the 2020s.
So don’t make the mistake of putting people into boxes and letting your preconceived ideas and stereotypes prevent you from finding the diamonds in the workforce.
Treat everyone you interview with respect and possibility, and you’ll have much better luck finding the people from every generation worth investing in.
Tip #2 Create clear, non-generic job descriptions.
Okay, this sounds pretty simple and obvious, right? But how many generic job postings have we all seen and created?
We throw in all this industry lingo and write in a utilitarian way that does a great job of telling potential employees, well, not much of anything.
Job descriptions like this are a dime a dozen:
Establishes sales objectives by forecasting and developing annual sales quotas for regions and territories and projecting expected sales volumes and profit for existing and new products.
Implements national sales programs by developing field sales action plans.
Maintains sales volume by tracking changing trends, economic indicators, competitors and supply and demand.
Completes national sales operational requirements by scheduling and assigning employees and following up on work results.
What if instead of this sleep-inducing, generic gobbledygook, we wrote a no-fluff job description to attract exactly the talent we wanted?
What if we gave people a better idea of not just what their day-to-day would look like, but what kind of growth and fulfillment they could expect to experience?
What if we showed them how their job would directly impact their community?
When you go to write a job description, think about all the awful, boring copy your potential hire has already seen. How will yours stand out and make them stop in their tracks? How will yours attract the A-players and repel the C-players? What would you want to read?
Get creative, but keep it clear, so there’s no guessing whether or not they have what it takes to be a good fit for your company and the role you’re hiring for.
Tip #3 Ask better interview questions & dig out the stories.
“The difficulty in identifying qualified candidates is by far the biggest problem small business owners cite. More than half (52 percent) say this is a challenge…”
“Forty-three percent of small business owners say they have difficulty knowing how well job applicants will do once they’re hired.”
Well, that’s a problem, especially considering the time and resources it takes to hire, onboard, and train someone.
So why are we all so bad at figuring out which candidates are going to be the best fit and excel in the job we’re hiring them for? Maybe because we’re asking the wrong questions and focusing on the wrong things.
Let’s see, which tells you more about a person: a bullet list of skills and accomplishments (aka resume) or a story?
Ding, ding, ding! You guessed it: A story.
Unless you’re interviewing The Most Interesting Man In The World, a resume is about as exciting and enlightening as a teeth cleaning. And the resumes you’re using to judge candidates may not even be accurate.
Cyrus Kennedy, Chief People Officer & Partner at XQ Innovation shared on Quora,
“We conducted a study of 80 clients in various industries and all levels of the corporate ladder: 64% of all applicants were found to blatantly lie about something on their resume.”
Eek. No wonder the interview and hiring process feels a bit like guesswork.
What if instead of just looking at resumes and asking the same boring questions that candidates have well-rehearsed, scripted answers for, we tried something different? What if we asked better questions and paid more attention to what their answers really revealed about their personality, culture fit, and job fit?
Throw out the boring questions and come up with a new list that will dig out the values and traits of the individual, so you can get a better idea of how right or wrong they are for your company.
Look for the stories that will tell you about their initiative, their ability to overcome challenges, their work ethic, their level of humility, the way they treat those with authority over them and those they have authority over…
What you really want is to ask questions that peel back the onion and get to the candidate’s true character. And make sure you’re paying attention to the subtleties of their answers, attitude, and mannerisms, because your customers will pick up on all of those things in a heartbeat.
Here’s a killer question that will tell you so much more about a potential hire than a resume will:
“When was the last time you can remember helping someone in a way you felt really made an impact on their life?”
Here’s why that question is such a win:
There’s no way your potential candidate has prepared for that question, so they’re going to tell you whatever pops into their mind first. That means you’re catching them in an authentic moment and not getting some cookie cutter planned answer.
Because their answer won’t be scripted, you’ll get to see how quick they are on their toes. Can they problem solve and come up with an answer quickly? That may be a good sign they’ll be a good fit for the job.
What they choose to share will tell you a lot about what is important to them. For example, if they answer “Tutoring my niece so she could pass her Chemistry test,” you know that family is important, they’re a patient and effective teacher, they care about the success of others, and they have some chemistry knowledge. No matter what they answer, I guarantee it will be more telling than any scripted answer you get.
Psst. I got this great question from Eric Flathers, a Business Consultant who shared it on Quora.
Tip #4 Know your dealbreakers and have an objective measuring stick.
If you want to avoid hiring mistakes, you can’t just have an “idea” of what you want in a potential hire — you’ve got to know exactly what you’re looking for.
The best way to do this is to come up with a succinct list of qualities that you’d like your new hire to have. You should know these before you ever come into contact with the potential candidate, and they should be broken down into “critical” and “nice to have” categories.
When you take the time to think about what’s a dealbreaker and what isn’t, you’ll be able to measure your new candidates in a systematic way. That way, you’re not getting distracted or hiring based on emotion.
Once you’ve got your list, you’ve got to stick to your guns and measure candidates against your predetermined standards. Too many people rely on their gut instead of using an objective measuring stick to size up the candidate. So keep that list of “critical” and “nice to have” traits and qualities front and center, and use your interview questions to check for those traits and qualities.
It may take some time to come up with your dealbreakers, but how many hours have you wasted training the wrong person for the job? Just think of it as time redirected and energy better spent.
Tip #5 Hire with the things you fire for in mind.
Business owners often hire for experience, technical skills, and interviewing skills. But you know what people fire for? Bad attitude, poor communication skills, bad culture fit, poor customer service, and a lack of various “soft skills.”
So why are soft skills important enough to fire over but not important enough to be a part of the hiring process? Why are technical skills and experience always the dealbreakers instead of attitude?
I get it, it’s easier to test for technical skill than it is to test for soft skills, and technical skills are important. But in pretty much any job under the sun, soft skills are equally important. So, you’ve got to make them a priority during the hiring process.
Don’t hire the guy with the most experience if he’s got a lousy attitude and thinks most people are idiots. If you do, you’ll waste time and resources on someone who won’t be with you long.
It’s far smarter to hire when the soft skills are there but the hard skills are lacking than it is to hire when the hard skills are there and the soft skills are lacking.
Tip #6 Consider role, team, and culture match equally.
Culture match, team match, and role match are all equally important to the success of your hire, so look for all three! And for the love of God, have higher standards for what a “match made of heaven” is than this girl.
Will your new hire enjoy the work and thrive in the position you’re hiring for, or is there some other position that might make more sense for them?
The reality is: people are built differently and the person that may make the top sales rep may make a terrible project manager. Having the right people onboard and in the right roles is incredibly important.
Ensure the best candidate is chosen for the position by assessing personality and passions, and making sure they’re a good match for the position you’re looking to fill.
Cultural/core values match:
When asked what surprising negative impact hiring a new employee had on her business, one of our clients, Deb Catura of Jack Pixley Sweeps answered,
“When the hire was not working up to company values, it affected morale and added more stress.”
And she’s not alone in that experience…
When you hire someone without considering how they’ll fit with the company culture, other team members, and the core values you have in place, you’re setting yourself and your team up for some rough seas. It’s just not worth it.
So share your core values and culture with the potential new hire, and ask interview questions that will help you assess their alignment and fit with the things you and your company hold dear.
We all want to work with people who make our work life more enjoyable, not less. People who love their jobs, strive to make a difference, and positively impact those they work for and with.
So don’t look at role match alone. Introduce your potential hire to the team and make sure they’re a good fit before you say “Yes.”
Your team will thank you for investing the time and valuable energy into making sure the next hire is a good fit, a productive player, and someone who will be a positive and valuable contributor to the team.
Tip #7 Show potential hires a clear trajectory.
It’s true: Some A-players will go out and start their own business, but not all of them. You can attract A-players to your business and gain their loyalty by showing them a clear trajectory for growth within your business.
“If you have the mindset that you want to train people to the point where they are good enough to go out on their own and you empower your employees, you’re probably going to attract better people.”
Don’t just recruit A-players, keep them by developing them into the future leaders of your business. Help them be successful in their career. Take them down a path and set them up for success by giving them the training they need to succeed in their role.
Deb Catura of Jack Pixley Sweeps does this with her employees. She has a clear path carved out so there’s no guessing whether there’s potential for growth.
Deb shares that all new hires begin work as “helpers” in the Repair Division for several weeks. During this time, they get on the job training under the Training & Development Manager, a senior tech.
There are certain attainable benchmarks that need to be accomplished before practice tests, and while the Training & Development Manager trains and prepares the new hires, he also evaluates for work ethic and common sense. Those that show Chimney Technician strengths move to that part of the business.
Smart! New hires know exactly what to expect and how to get to the next level. No guessing. No trial and error. A-players like to know what is expected and how to advance, so they’ll find this incredibly attractive in a business.
Tip #8 Always be on the lookout for A-players and make your business attractive.
Many companies are trying to create something great, but they have the wrong ingredients. They settle for B- and C-players and don’t start the search for top talent until they’re so desperate for help they’ll settle for anyone.
It makes sense, but it’s a reactionary mindset that can lead to some bad hiring decisions.
Truth is: filling a position starts long before an opening. You need to always be on the lookout for potential A-players, whether you’re actively interviewing or just out and about. You never know where your next new hire will come from.
But you need to make sure that you’re what they’re looking for as well.
That starts with treating your people well. Like hangs out with like, so if you’ve got A-players on your team and you’re treating them right, when you do have an opening, there’s a good chance one of your A-players may know the perfect person for the job.
Deb Catura of Jack Pixley Sweeps shares that,
“Referrals from employees and their friends found us the best hires.”
And she’s certainly not alone. Here at Spark Marketer, we’re one big incestuous friend pool. It seems every hire has come through someone else already on the team.
Now for the big question: To Incentivize Or Not To Incentivize?
Some people may encourage you to incentivize employee referrals, giving employees gift cards or financial rewards for referring people they know, but that’s not really necessary. If you’re doing a great job of providing a healthy and rewarding environment and career for your employees, you shouldn’t need to incentivize them. After all, we all want our friends to be happy, too.
On the flip side, even if you have a financial incentive, if you’re a terrible leader and your employees can’t stand their jobs, they’re not going to tell their friends to join in on the misery.
Okay, aside from employee referrals, where else can you look for potential A-players?
Many people have luck with LinkedIn, Facebook, associations, and even Craigslist. Be open and keep your eyes peeled! Your “dream” employee may even wait on you at dinner this Friday or make your coffee on Saturday morning.
Here are some tips for making your company attractive to the A-player-types you’re hoping to attract:
Celebrate your team on social media and on your website.
Showcase how you’re different in your marketing. Give them a glimpse into what the job’s like and what it’s like to work for you. One great place to do this is on your Now Hiring page. Instead of making it a long boring list of job requirements and tasks, make it entertaining and informative — a “day in the life of _______” kind of thing.
Make your job listing stand out. Think about all the boring out there. If you’re really different, then show them in your job listing!
P.S. Here are some quick tips and insights from Taylor on building a team of A-players and holding onto those winners…
Tip #9 Cut your losses faster.
Take your time when selecting a candidate, but be quick to let them go if it’s not a good fit.
We thought we’d do something a little bit different here on the ol’ Spark Marketer blog and feature a small business. Getting a look at things from the POV of those in the home services industry helps us stay informed, so we can better serve our clients. The moment we stop listening and being curious about what our clients are going through, what their challenges are, and what their goals are, is the moment we become unhelpful and irrelevant.
So, let’s dive in for a quick interview with Michael Shepard, owner/operator of Shepard Painting Solutions, an interior and exterior residential painting company in Louisville, OH.
Full disclosure: I’m sleeping with him. He’s my husband.
Introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about you, your business, and how you came to be the owner/operator of Shepard Painting Solutions.
My name’s Michael Shepard and I’m the owner/operator of Shepard Painting Solutions, a full service interior and exterior residential painting company servicing Louisville, OH and all surrounding areas.
Painting was a summer job for me — starting out about 15 years ago — that I always went back to between touring with my band. I worked for a local company that did interior and exterior residential painting and new construction here in Ohio. And that was really how I learned the skills of the trade. I never thought of it as a potential career until much, much later.
I guess at some point in time it sort of switched over and became something that I enjoyed doing. I began to enjoy the craft of painting instead of just thinking of it as a means to a paycheck. And I think that’s when I first started considering painting as a profession — when I learned to appreciate the skill of the craft and trade of painting.
What do you think changed? What flipped that switch for you?
I guess by random occurrence it was from doing a few jobs on my own, where I got to interact directly with the customer myself, and do the job start to finish. So everything was completely dependent upon me.
Do you think that made you take more pride in the work?
What do you think business owners can do (if anything) to make employees feel that sense of pride and ownership?
Trust your employees enough to give them more responsibility and relinquish some of your control, so that they can feel the satisfaction of doing the job completely themselves. Still oversee everything directly, but assign more responsibility to employees to where they’re held accountable directly for their work. Reaping the reward of hard work will kind of force your employees to respect the work more.
So, perhaps where business owners fail is that they readily place the blame on employees when things go wrong, but the ownership goes to the boss for a job well done? They have all the risk but none of the reward?
If I had an employee and their skill was at a level where I thought they were ready to experience that feeling of ownership and satisfaction, I would do the introduction between the painter and homeowner, but I wouldn’t necessarily do anything else. I’d assign the job to them, let the homeowner know I’m here to oversee everything, but that he’s an excellent painter and he’s going to take care of the job from start to finish. Then I’d let him do the work.
If my boss had brought me to a job, introduced me to a customer and said, “This is Michael, he’s an excellent painter. He’s going to be painting your bedroom today. I’ll be back at the end of the day to make sure everything is perfect, but he’ll take great care of you.”…that would make me feel like, “I can do this. The power to satisfy the client is in my hands and I need to make sure it’s done well.”
Do you think that empowering your employees and letting them get a taste of that feeling would actually cause them to leave? Maybe they would realize they can do everything themselves and don’t need you?
Maybe. Maybe not. Not everyone is in the game to start their own company. I guess it totally depends on your mindset for your business, but I think it’s worth the risk. If you have the mindset that you want to train people to the point where they are good enough to go out on their own and you empower your employees, you’re probably going to attract better people.
If they can see the job as an opportunity with a clear trajectory — going from no skills to getting the training needed to potentially go out and start their own business — they’re going to find that attractive, I think. Kind of the same way people think of college…when I get out, I’ll have more opportunities. It’s the same concept, just more practical.
“If you have the mindset that you want to train people to the point where they are good enough to go out on their own and you empower your employees, you’re probably going to attract better people.”
Speaking of the switch from a summer job to a career and the feeling that you get to experience with a customer, can you think of one of your earliest or most memorable times when you felt that?
Yeah, actually. I don’t remember the client’s name, but the painting company that I worked for in Nashville, my boss there was kind of a shady character and I didn’t particularly like working for him. And I feel like the clients didn’t particularly like him either — or at least a lot of clients didn’t.
But I remember that one specific job, I was sent to do the job, and the client commented and said that she really liked my work but she didn’t really like dealing with him. So she asked if she could just hire me directly and work just with me. I think that was the first time I had the thought that, “Wow I should just do this myself.”
So, even though you’re the type of person who had the drive and the self-motivation to run your own business, you may not have thought to leave and go out on your own if the company you worked for was better?
Well yeah, because I had no idea. To me that wasn’t even a possibility. I didn’t know how to just go out and get clients. I never thought about it before. I feel like that was the starting out point, because that happened on a few different occasions working for that company, where people liked my work, they liked me, so they wanted to work with me directly and not work with my boss. That’s how I got my first few clients in Nashville, and from there, word spread word-of-mouth and I was able to go out on my own.
What was the toughest part of that transition from being an employee to being everything?
Not knowing where the next job was gonna come from. Being uncertain of your paycheck.
What has been the biggest surprise to you as your business has grown?
The biggest surprise? That it’s far simpler to have a really great business than I thought it would be. At least in this type of industry, a skilled trade industry. Because someone’s paying you to do a job that, essentially, if you do it well, you do what you say you’re going to do, you treat your clients with respect, and you’re professional, then I mean, that’s it. It’s easy to excel. Ok, maybe I shouldn’t say it’s easy, but the bar is set pretty low. It’s unfortunate that the bar’s set so low in the painting industry, but it’s like, if you’re clean cut, you’re responsible, and you’re honest, you’re better than 90% of the other businesses out there.
“It’s unfortunate that the bar’s set so low in the painting industry, but it’s like, if you’re clean cut, you’re responsible, and you’re honest, you’re better than 90% of the other businesses out there.”
What has been the toughest lesson you’ve learned going out on your own and growing your business?
The toughest lesson I guess is probably more on the technical end of the job, in regard to the business stuff. Like understanding how to schedule, how to keep jobs flowing so that you don’t get bogged down. Being able to spread things out enough, but not keeping clients waiting at the same time. That’s been the hardest thing to sort of figure out and balance, I guess.
Would you say that’s the biggest challenge at the level you’re at?
Yes, I would say that’s the biggest challenge for me right now, given that I’m the owner/operator and I have no employees. So I’m doing all of the scheduling and doing all the work. To make sure I’m not spreading myself too thin and that I’m able to accomplish jobs in a timely fashion. Basically, avoid burnout.
What are your goals for the business? Some people like to stay small while others want to grow to like 10, 20 trucks. Where do you see the business going?
I actually don’t know yet. I’ve heard cautionary tales from other contractors that I’ve worked with who have gotten their businesses so big that it was too stressful and they had to downsize. Which sounds like a good problem to have, but I feel like it wouldn’t be. So I’d rather grow slowly and just bring people on that I know and trust, and then see where it gets to, and how I feel about it.
Because it’s such a foreign concept to me, I can’t fathom the idea right now of having 10 Shepard Painting Solutions trucks running around doing 70 jobs. I just don’t know how I’d handle that. Right now I like the idea of having a small crew that’s going to cut down my job time from say, a week that it would take just me, to two days because I have three helpers. That, to me, is appealing. I think the most important thing is to never lose that intimacy with the clients. So that would be the challenge of growing…keeping that intact.
“I think the most important thing is to never lose that intimacy with the clients. So that would be the challenge of growing…keeping that intact.”
When you are ready to hire or bring on that first person, what will you look for?
One major one is what their intention is for work. I wouldn’t want to hire someone who is just like, “Oh yeah, I just need a paycheck.” Because I feel like to be a good painter and to stand out in this profession, you really do have to have a sense of pride in what you’re doing. To do it well. Because there are corners that can be cut. But what makes you good is choosing not to cut them. Especially when no one’s watching.
There’s the type of person that wouldn’t cut corners just because they’re afraid of getting caught or because their boss is watching. And then there’s the type of person that won’t cut corners for their own pride. They won’t do it because they know it’s not the right thing to do. Their own convictions won’t allow them to cut corners. That’s the kind of person I would want.
But I think that would be the hardest trait to judge in a person. There’s probably a test I could come up with. I’ll have to figure it out.
I feel like some people are like, ‘Oh, you have to cut corners to go fast.’ That’s not true. Finding ways to be more efficient is my daily goal. I try to figure out ways to do things quicker, but still keep the quality at the same level. It has nothing to do with cutting corners.
Other things I would look at are appearance, professionalism, and how well spoken they are.
So many times I’m in situations where I go into people’s homes, and it might even be our first job together, and a lot of people just trust me. They give me the garage code and say things like, “I trust you.”
But I feel like they do that because I’m very professional. I act professional. I look professional. I know what I’m talking about. And chances are they’ve gotten a recommendation from someone they know. So if I send someone in there on behalf of my company, they have to be an extension of me. They have to be trustworthy and professional.
My first two questions would be 1. How long have you been painting? 2. Are you a smoker. If they said they were a smoker I wouldn’t hire them, flat out.
“Because I feel like to be a good painter and to stand out in this profession, you really do have to have a sense of pride in what you’re doing. To do it well. Because there are corners that can be cut. But what makes you good is choosing not to cut them. Especially when no one’s watching.”
Would you hire someone without experience if they were a total package otherwise?
Yeah. If they had the right attitude, I would train somebody. In a lot of circumstances I could see how that would actually be preferred, instead of un-training somebody with a lot of bad habits.
BrightLocal’s 2019 Local Consumer Review Survey revealed that visiting a business’s website is still the most common next step after reading positive reviews. So having a solid, high-converting website is still a must. Here are five other reasons why businesses of all sizes (even small) still need a website.
#1 No website = no chance of ranking organically or locally
Service businesses and small businesses typically serve their local communities, which means they need those in their local communities to be able to find them in search results. The problem is, businesses that rank high organically are more likely to show up in the Google local pack and map results, and without a website, your business can’t rank organically. If your business doesn’t show up when customers search for your services, how will they know you can help?
#2 Your website builds your credibility
One of the biggest hurdles service businesses and small businesses face is trust. Unlike larger, more established brands or businesses that don’t send people into the homes of their customers, you have to work to earn the trust of your potential customers and establish brand authority. How does a website help you do this? Studies show that consumers believe a ‘clear & smart’ website gives a business more credibility. More credibility means more trust, and more trust means more customers.
But your website doesn’t just build credibility with customers, your website is also the citation that Google trusts most for confirming your business’s name, address, and phone number (NAP). The more sure Google is of your NAP, the more confident they are showing you in search results.
#3 Your website is permanent and more controllable than your social media profiles
We all know social media platforms (especially Facebook) change more frequently than a teenage girl before her first date, and the reach and control you have with your social media profiles is impermanent to say the least. Your website, on the other hand, is the one place online where you have total control over the customer experience and the story you tell.
Some business owners believe that simply having a Facebook page for their business is enough, but what happens if the giant is ever slain? All those ‘likes’ are already mostly useless, but when you lose your only means of communicating with your customers and your only real platform for telling customers about you and your services, well, that’s no good. Don’t leave such an important thing in the hands of an external party whose sole purpose is to make more money (Sorry Facebook, but let’s be real).
#4 Your website acts as a main hub that potential customers can access 24/7
Sure, some consumers are only looking at reviews and doing less research on a business before making the call, but it’s still important that you provide all the extra information those customers who are researching want to know. Listing sites and social media profiles don’t give you the space or control to really say everything you may feel you need to say about your business and your services, while your website provides you somewhat limitless space and a somewhat limitless platform for introducing yourself and informing potential customers. Having all of the information and answers your customers might want in one place makes it easy for them to get a good idea of how you can help them and why they should consider choosing you over a competitor.
And since your website is up and running 24/7, your customers can get answers to their questions and research your business when it’s convenient for them, not just during the hours you’re open and answering phones.
#5 Your competitors have websites
Last but not least, the majority of your competitors will have websites, which means if you don’t have one, they have a major advantage. They have a chance of showing up in search results, answering the questions your potential customers have, and getting the call from customers you could be serving. Business is tough as is — don’t give your competition such a massive advantage.
Ah, the work-life balance: Is it just a myth for small business owners or can you actually have a successful business and an enjoyable life? Well, it is possible if you just accept a couple of things:
Work and life will never be totally separate.
If you want to be able to completely abandon your work the moment the clock hits 5:00PM, owning a small business is not right for you. The reality is, your personal and professional life will always overlap. You may be in the middle of dinner with the family when you get an email or an idea for how to make the company more efficient. You may be in the middle of a job when you remember you still need to get a babysitter for Friday night. Accepting the overlap and learning to manage it and remain in the present is the key to feeling balanced and centered. What do we mean by “managing” the overlap?
Let’s say you did have an idea for how to make the company more efficient mid-dinner, mid-conversation. You could sit there, half-listening, while you mull over your new idea in your head, OR you could say, “I’m sorry but I just had an idea for work. Do you mind if I jot it down really quickly so I can give you my undivided attention?”
Most of the time, your significant other, kids, or whoever you’re having dinner with will appreciate the fact that you want to be completely focused on what they’re saying and will allow you the time to do what you need to do to clear your head. And you don’t need to scramble to find a notepad — you have one in your phone (which we know is always with you: you’re a business owner). Quickly jot down your idea or make a reminder for yourself, and then let go of it so you can focus on the present.
What about when you’re on the job and you remember you need to find a babysitter for this week’s date night? Stop what you’re doing (if possible), and set a reminder on your phone for your lunch break or for the end of the work day. Once you’ve set a reminder, clear your head and get back to business.
You may also want to try the notepad or reminder method when your mind is racing in bed. It’s easy to miss out on much-needed sleep when you’re a business owner, but if you aren’t rested, you can’t bring your best to the business, to your employees, to your customers, or to your friends and family. It seems that bedtime is when all of the ideas and reminders of what you should do, need to do, or needed to do come flooding in. But don’t lie there trying to hammer them all down or spend hours worrying about whether or not you’ll remember them in the morning — jot them down in your phone or in a bedside notebook and let go of them. They’ll be there for you in the morning.
The scales will tip more heavily to one side at different times.
Wait, doesn’t balance imply that the scales are always evenly weighed? Yes, but the realistic business owner will need to be a little more flexible with his or her definition of balance. Some days, the scales may weigh more heavily on the work side of things, while on other days, they may weigh more heavily on the personal life side. The scales will always shift from time to time, but how you prepare for and handle the shift will make all the difference in how balanced your life feels during these changes.
For example, if you know you’re heading into your busy season or something at work requires you to put in several long days of deep focus, let your family and friends know. If you tell your significant other, your kids, and your good friends that you’ll be M.I.A. for a week or two (or a season), they’ll be much more understanding than they would be if they were left in the dark and feeling ignored. Remind them of how important they are to you and how important your time with them is, and make plans to get some quality time in before or after your focus session.
Of course, no one can survive a long period of ALL work and no play. To avoid burnout and feelings of being off-balance, make sure to set aside at least some time in your day and week for family, friends, hobbies, and relaxation. Whether that means a crossword puzzle with your morning coffee, 30 minutes of pleasure reading before bed, a lunch-time phone call with your wife or husband, or a scheduled movie night with the family, make it happen. Sometimes, as little as 15 minutes of unwinding can make the buckled-down days feel a little more balanced.
So yes, in our opinion, a balance can be achieved. Is it a perfect balance? No, not by a long shot. But you can truly have it all if you just set your priorities, communicate with the special people in your life, and remain flexible and realistic about things.
What do you do to maintain a feeling of work-life balance? We’d love to hear from you!