Entrepreneurs don't have safety net luxury

Written by  AAP

There's nothing more exciting than breaking free of a cubicle and starting your own business - until you discover the drawbacks.

While entrepreneurs make their own rules, set their own hours and decide how they want to do business, they almost inevitably discover they lack a safety net when their personal lives get challenging. Many tackle divorces, medical setbacks, childbirth and loss of loved ones while still handling deadlines, tackling customer issues and making payroll.


Jackie Velazquez tried to keep her 13-year targeted direct marketing list provider business operating while undergoing surgery to prevent breast cancer.

"The first thing that goes across your mind is: 'How can I accomplish this and not miss work?'"

Velazquez planned ahead, asking clients to place requests by a specific date and informing them that she would be hard to reach for four days. She'll do the same for upcoming surgery with a longer recovery.

Meanwhile, she tried to adjust client expectations and answered email from her hospital bed, but still worries that clients will go elsewhere, or tasks will go unnoticed.

"There is never a good time to be gone from work when you are a business owner. If your phone is ringing and you're not answering it, money is not coming in."

Undoubtedly, running a business, especially in today's economy, is not easy and comes with stress. Most entrepreneurs say they work long hours - an average of 55 hours or more - and 97 per cent work on weekends, according to a 2013 Small Business Pulse survey by The Alternative Board, a business consulting firm. Handling life's upheavals can be a serious concern for entrepreneurs whose jobs extend well beyond 9-to-5 hours.

Even with the flexibility of working for themselves, few female entrepreneurs report giving themselves the luxury of three months maternity leave after childbirth.

The larger the small business, the more challenging it can be to balance the rigors of running it with the demands of life and unforeseen events. A 2013 Small Business Annual Survey by US Bank found that owners with employees are less likely than solo entrepreneurs to have enough time for friends and family and more likely to have their life defined by their business. But the successful ones understand the role their team plays.

Lisa Cann said her team is the only reason that her cupcake/dessert business remains open. For the past few years, she's juggled marriage counselling, health issues and financial concerns.

She's relied on her employees to handle the day-to-day tasks while she focuses on the higher level work.

"I had to get them to realise we're a team. I don't want clock-punchers. I want employees who are happy to be here and want the business to survive."

Still, some entrepreneurs resist handing off simple tasks to employees as soon as the company starts to grow, according to a third of 619 business owners surveyed by The Alternative Board. Those same do-it-yourselfers find that when life events shake up their schedules, they are not prepared to handle the disruption.

Mark Amarant, a second-time entrepreneur, learned the hard way. This time, he has built his business with the safety net that eluded him the first time around - a strong senior team.

The lack of balance as chief executive of his previous company affected his lifestyle and left him in bad shape - overweight, depressed and a heart attack candidate. After selling STS Telecom, a VoIP provider, in 2011, he spent two years concentrating on weight loss and healthy eating.

Now, Amarant is back in business as founder of Whoa.com, a nationwide cloud-service provider. He is 36kg lighter and has carefully selected a senior team on which he relies, allowing him to work out regularly with a personal trainer and slip into the company's relaxation/meditation room while still managing the business.

"I have a business plan that shows me who needs to be hired and when," he explained. "I see this growing into a billion-dollar company. But to do that and stay healthy, I know I have to have faith in the team that I put together."

Leadership expert Sharon Hadary believes that most entrepreneurs have the mentality that if they aren't eating, sleeping and breathing their businesses, they aren't working hard enough to succeed. But the most stable businesses have two things in common, her research shows.

First, the owners know their values and act on them when their personal lives get complicated. "Values help you make decisions and set priorities," she said. Next, they understand their time constraints. "They realise they can't do everything themselves and learn to delegate responsibly."

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