Creating a work-life balance: advice to female business owners

Running a business requires a great amount of work, and the nature of being an entrepreneur may mean that your work hours differ to that of a nine-to-five job. This may be considered more of a challenge for women who are also raising a family. Despite widespread belief, female business owners are not doomed to be engulfed by their businesses forever and often experience rich personal and family lives.

Gugu Mjadu

Gugu Mjadu

This is according to Gugu Mjadu, executive general manager of Business Partners, who says that with careful preparation and experience, female business owners are able to lead a balanced and successful lifestyle between work and home.

However, Mjadu says it is necessary to be realistic. “Don’t expect a good work-life balance during the first five years of a startup business. Having a lengthy and leisurely holiday during that time is also unlikely and late work nights are frequent with a young business, similar to that of a baby who needs constant attention.”

She adds that this can pose a problem for female entrepreneurs who also have flesh-and-blood babies. “While it can be done, it is certainly more difficult to balance both kinds of ‘babies’ at the same time.”

Time your startup

Mjadu explains that often the challenge for women is to choose the correct timing to start their business. “To build a company from the ground up requires tremendous focus, drive and commitment. Women need to decide between starting a business earlier in life, so that the business is established before passing the traditional age of having children, or instead have kids early, in order to ensure that children have grown up and are attending school when the business is ready to be founded.

“This decision is a difficult matter, complicated by the fact that entrepreneurs need to concentrate on their corporate careers in order to gain experience and assets before they start a business, coupled with the added pressure to remain in a secure job once they do have children.”

She says that Business Partners’ figures suggest that most of its female clients, who are typical South African lifestyle business owners, tend to start their businesses when their children are past their toddler years. “Most of our female clients fall in the 46- to 55-year age bracket.”

Appoint the right people

Mjadu says that one such way for entrepreneurs to work themselves free from the structures of an overwhelming startup business is by appointing the right people. “It is important to recruit staff on the basis of trainability, trustworthiness and reliability as fully trained staff, those who are able to work independently, are often unaffordable for a young, small business.” While your employees need training to the point where they can work relatively unsupervised, the business owner herself also needs training in how to delegate and how to plan and set up business systems that can run without her continuous presence, she says.

She adds that the staff and controls entrepreneurs need in place for a business to ‘self-run’ when they go on an uninterrupted holiday are exactly the same fundamentals that are needed for a healthy, sustainable business. “Taking a two or three week holiday is therefore a good test for any owner of a business older than five years, as if you cannot take the holiday, it is likely the business needs a review of its systems and processes.”

Plan at work and home

Mjadu says that because of the pressure that a business can put on the life of a female business owner, it is necessary to use the same planning discipline at home that is practiced in the business. “It is important to not only plan for your meetings at the office, but to also plan your activities at home thereby ensuring a balance between the two environments.”

She adds that that modern technology, like online shopping, can significantly help when you are trying to juggle business and domestic logistics.

Just as issues such as wages and supplies need to be negotiated in the business, female business owners need to negotiate support and sharing of domestic work with partners at home, says Mjadu.

“Many entrepreneurs start their own business driven by a desire for a better work-life balance. It’s something many of them achieve, but the first few years of a new business can be an incredibly challenging time, juggling business and family commitments.

“Once this balance is achieved however, there are many personal benefits and in some cases, children often become inspired by their entrepreneurial mothers and develop an understanding for business at an early age,” concludes Mjadu.