For Entrepreneurs: A Cautionary Tale

If your business gets your best, and your all, who keeps the home fires burning? Guest poster Elizabeth Creith shares advice on work/life balance born of painful and personal experience.

Those of us who run our own businesses know how difficult it can be to pay more than lip-service to that old work/life balance. Sometimes our own families can seem like interlopers in that intimate relationship between us and our work. It’s easy – and tempting – to relegate one’s private life to “later*.

Between 50% and 80% of new businesses fail in less than five years. I’ve closed two myself. If you’ve put your all into that new business for several years and put your family on hold, what happens when the business collapses? What kind of support system will you have? I’m currently dealing with that very experience.

In 2005 my husband opened a pet store. During the six years before financial concerns forced him to close it, the store took the majority of his time and attention. Because of the distance between our home and the store, he was only home three nights a week.

I worked in the store for part of that time, but retail is not where I shine. For some of those years I worked at home as a writer and editor. I enjoyed having time to work and think, but I missed my husband badly. Even when we were together, the business intruded. This was particularly true in the final couple of years before he had to close the store for financial reasons.

At the beginning he put off plans for us “temporarily” because he felt he couldn’t take the time off. Later there was no money, either, and my writing had to pay the household bills.

When the store finally closed, he believed he was coming home to the marriage we’d had before. I, meanwhile, had spent several years living mostly with my art and my dog, keeping the bills paid and waiting for the golden future moment when my husband and I would do something fun together. It was a shock to both of us to find how little we had in common anymore.

I’ve spent a huge chunk of my working life as an entrepreneur, and I saw my parents run their own business, too. I know how an independent business expands to take every scrap of time, attention and money available, if you let it.  I believe this understanding is the reason I was (more or less) patient about the whole thing. I wonder if someone without this experience would have put up with six years of neglect.

We are finding common ground again, but it’s a lot of work. It would have taken less effort to keep things together between us while running the store than it’s taking now to put them back together. To complicate things, we now both have outside jobs (while I try to maintain my writing business) to deal with debt. Our time is no longer our own, and a failed business can still eat a lot of money.

The biggest perk of being an entrepreneur is the control of your own time. Use some of that time to maintain marriage and family. Those relationships will – or should – last longer than the business, and maintenance is much easier than repair. You can take it from me.

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