raising a family while running a small business

When Karen and Keith Miller started Plumbing 911 a decade ago, Karen was home with a two-year-old and newborn baby. It probably wasn’t the ideal time to launch a business, but the Millers dove in anyway.

The couple now has four children, ages six to 12. They also employ seven full-time plumbers and service seven Ohio counties from Plumbing 911’s Northeast Ohio headquarters. Although challenging at times, the Millers (who are featured in the photo above) have learned how to juggle running a small business while raising their children. According to Karen Miller, it’s crucial to set realistic goals that encompass both your household and business responsibilities.

To help you balance the demands of your small business and family, take a look at 4 top tips from Miller, as well as other entrepreneurs who have been there, done that.

1. Stay laser-focused on your goals

We get it: everything seems important when you run your own business. But the truth is, some things are simply more important than others. The key is to prioritize those tasks and focus, focus, focus.

Keep your eye on the ball,” says Beth Santos, mother of 13-month-old Nora and founder of Boston-based Wanderful, a rapidly-growing home sharing and travel site for women.

Santos uses a Google spreadsheet to break down her goals annually, monthly, weekly and daily. During her regular work day, she commits to tackling three high priority tasks for 60 minutes each. Santos says this helps her stay on point and accomplish more in less time – freeing her up to be with her baby.

“If you have eight hours to complete a task with no boundaries, it’ll take you eight hours. If you have one hour, you’ll find a way to make progress on it,” she says.  

tips for raising a family while running a small business
Robyn Parets, owner of Pretzel Kids, with her two sons.

2. Hire help

If you want to grow your business or run your household more efficiently, perhaps you should consider hiring help or at least outsourcing certain tasks.  

At your business, this may mean hiring an employee or outsourcing particular jobs, like bookkeeping services or social media management. Perhaps the best piece of advice is to prioritize the jobs you really want to do and bring on experts to do the other tasks. This year, for example, I hired both an accountant and social media strategist for my Boston-based start-up, Pretzel Kids.

Pretzel Kids offers children’s yoga and fitness classes and events, as well as kids yoga certification courses for adults. As Pretzel Kids grows and I focus on expanding the online platform, hiring experts is instrumental to the company’s future success. Another plus: I gained back valuable time to focus on projects I enjoy both at work and home. When I turn off for the night, I can instead take a walk in the evening with my dog or enjoy a stress-free dinner with my husband and children.

Talking about home life, hiring someone to help run your family can be just as important as outsourcing work responsibilities. For Miller, this meant hiring a a babysitter and a housecleaner.

I am not superwoman. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have the support I needed to run our business and house. One person can’t do it all,” she says.

3. Learn to let go

While hiring help is certainly effective, there will also be times when you have to simply let go.

This may mean setting a cut-off time at the end of the day to stop dealing with work. It may also mean waiting until tomorrow to finish something you started today. Likewise, there are some things at home that you may have to forego as well, such as the fifth soccer game that week or folding the laundry. I often have what my husband calls a mounting “laundry situation.” This is when my clean laundry pile continues to grow until I have time to fold it and put it away. For me, folding laundry is low on my priority list. As such, I often let it go – and grow – in lieu of finishing up a much more enjoyable project at work or home.

Kathryn Rose, founder of wiseHer and mother of two, says it was important to build her business at a pace that worked for her family – even if that meant setting boundaries.

“I used to work until 1 am and get up before the kids got up. I was exhausted all the time,” says Rose.

Achieving work-life balance when dealing with “cognitive overload” is a personal mission of Rose’s. It’s what led her to start wiseHer, which is developing an app to offer on-demand advice for women in business, career and life.

When it comes to working way too many hours with a family at home, Miller can commiserate with Rose. She also used to work round the clock, answering phones 24/7. Not anymore.

“There needs to be a cut-off mode. At 5:30 pm, if it isn’t done, I shut it down,” she says, adding that she lets her employees and call center handle the nighttime scheduling.

4. Be flexible and embrace technology

Operating a business is indeed demanding. At the same time, it’s your company and you have control. So, why not build flexibility into your day to help you achieve more work-life balance?  

According to Santos, when you’re juggling your business with your children, you have the power to adjust the way you work to accommodate your life.

You don’t need to be sitting at your computer all the time. I can have a (phone) meeting while chasing my toddler around the house, no problem,” says Santos, who recently blogged about how to get work done as a start-up mama.  

As a parent, you can work in blocks of time around your kids’ schedules, or learn how to work more efficiently to get tasks done in less time, says Santos. Some of her favorite hacks include using Calendly to schedule meetings and appointments, eliminating back and forth emails. She also dictates her emails into her phone to maximize her time while she’s on the go.

Miller also believes in building flexibility into her daily schedule no matter where she is, and she’s a big fan of streamlining her workload. “We love camping and we can handle our business needs even when we’re on a camping trip – via our scheduling system, phones and Apple watches,” says Miller.

“This is our life: we own and operate a business. We’re also a family.”

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