“Stop trying to achieve it all.”
That bit of wisdom may sound surprising, coming from the head of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). After all, you might expect the head of a prominent women’s business organization to advocate for trying to achieve everything you can possibly achieve.
But Darla Beggs, the National President of NAWBO, is NOT saying women should stop pushing for business success or settle for something other than their dreams. On the contrary — Beggs is an impassioned advocate for women and their success.
Her point is that business women today should feel comfortable making personal choices about the paths they choose to follow toward success. And when it comes to work-life balance specifically, there’s no such thing as the perfect balance:
- Instead of trying to live up to a perfect ideal, we as women business owners should find what’s right for each of us individually at any given stage of our lives.
- How you define success — and how I define success — may be very different. Our life circumstances differ from one person to the next. Our individual circumstances may even change at different stages in our lives.
- Trying to live up to some external standard of perfect work-life balance, is the very thing that may prevent women from achieving it.
These thoughts and more came out of an interview I held recently with Beggs. We discussed the results of a recent survey of men and women business owners that NAWBO conducted in conjunction with Ink from Chase (see results below). That discussion soon blossomed into a more philosophical discussion about the definitions of success and happiness in our lives — and how to achieve a sense of satisfaction from our careers and our businesses.
Beggs offered guidance for women business owners (applicable to men, too, I might add):
1. Quit striving for “perfect” 50-50 work-life balance.
Perfect 50-50 work life balance is unattainable. “Life doesn’t work that way,” says Beggs. One day you may need to place more attention on your business and your work — more than 50%. The next day, you may need to give more attention to family because of commitments to your kids and loved ones.
In commenting on the survey results, where 54% of women said they found it challenging to manage time or delegate work to better balance work and family versus only 45% of men, Beggs said, “As a woman, I’m not proud of that number.”
But, she added, women may feel less balanced due to the very fact of trying to live up to some external ideal of work-life balance.
“I don’t think a perfect balance is possible. It’s really an individual question. It’s not a matter of finding the perfect mix of work-life balance, but what is the right work-life balance for you as an individual business owner — in your life,” Beggs adds.
In her experience, women business owners, more so than men, tend to put more self-imposed stress on themselves. Beggs would like to see that change.
Her advice: Get comfortable with and understand the level of work-life balance that’s right for you. Let it be more fluid. Set aside any external measurements of “perfect” work-life balance. It will free you.
Additionally, you can look to newer technologies to support your level of work-life balance by helping reduce back-office workload. Laura Miller, President of Ink from Chase, who I also interviewed to discuss the survey results shared how mobile phone technology is enabling small business owners to do just that. For example, there’s the ability to take a picture of a receipt with your mobile phone, and capture the data on it, tag it to a specific job or client, and transfer the information electronically so you have it for your accounting and tax records. Not long ago, that capability didn’t exist — or at least was not widely available. Today, it is available to anyone with a smartphone. Companies like Ink from Chase are making that capability and much more possible through free apps like Jot.
2. Stop the perpetual to-do list.
A difference she observed between men and women in the workplace is that men tend to do better at finding activities to release stress in the midst of their workdays.
“Find those small things that don’t take much time, but give you a mental break. For instance, I work with my husband, and the men in my office have a fantasy football league. But the women don’t have anything like that. There’s no fantasy pedicure league,” Beggs pointed out as a humorous example.
Getting serious again, she urged women to seek out activities that could be fit into the workday. “Stop the perpetual to-do list. Take some time for yourself,” said Beggs.
Make a few minutes of time for yourself a priority, instead of something you do after everything else is done and everyone else is taken care of, she added. Think about your morning routine. A woman might have a million things to do to get the kids ready and off to school before work. And then at the last minute she might sit down with coffee, but feel in a rush and pressured. On the other hand, her husband might sit down and make time to have coffee and spend a few quiet minutes looking at the newspaper every morning. The difference is, he makes those few minutes for himself a priority.
3. Admit you can’t know everything about running a business.
One of the fascinating parts of the survey is how many business owners said they are influenced by mentors (51%), peers (67%) and other small business owners in general (53%). Yet, according to Beggs, seeking help may depend on the stage of your experience as a business owner.
In the first six months to a year in business, women business owners actively seek advice. But after that, she says, we go through a period of not asking for help thinking we’re supposed to know everything. Beggs encourages women to set those feelings aside, and reach out for help.
“People ask me what it takes to be successful in business. What it takes to be successful is knowing what you don’t know — and finding experts to help you. There’s no way you can know everything in running a business,” she added.
So whether that’s finding an insurance agent to help you or a speaking coach for public speaking, or an accountant to close the books, you have to be willing to reach out. “It’s highly unlikely you’re going to be excellent at everything,” Beggs pointed out. Not only that, as you grow your business you’re going to need to bring on help. Look for subject matter expertise among the employees you hire, she advises.
Miller echoes this sentiment and emphasizes the importance of tapping into your peers, vendors and others as a growth strategy for your small business. For instance, asking peers what strategies they are using to find capital to expand, or vendors what tools they can offer or suggestions they can make. “Not only can you learn practical advice and ideas you may not have thought of — but you can get moral support from others to keep you optimistic,” Miller adds.
4. Realize that others are going through similar situations.
“One of the things that I was very very happy to see is the optimism people are beginning to express — about the economy, their businesses, and their ability to grow their businesses. I feel like for a long time people just didn’t want to talk about anything even if they were having a bit of success for fear that the other shoe would drop. Business owners are expressing optimism, and I was really excited to hear that,” said Beggs. A majority (57%) are looking to expand geographically, and an impressive 61% plan to invest in more marketing in the coming year.
Beggs takes comfort even in the concerns that small businesses in the survey expressed, for what keeps us up at night. Speaking as a business owner herself (she runs Abba Staffing and Consulting), she said, “No matter what type of business we’re in — a CPA, a staffing company, whatever your business is — we all seem to worry about the same things. In a way, it makes me feel better about what I worry about, because I feel like I’m not alone. I would hope we all worry less in the future, but it gave me comfort to know I wasn’t alone.”
In other words, if you’re worrying about growth or finding good employees or marketing your business, it’s not just you having those kinds of concerns and desires for your business.