How do you balance business and family responsibilities?
Three small-business owners share their experience and insight of running a business whilst bringing up a young family
Matylda Setlak is the founder and managing director of London-based marketing communication agency, All 4 Comms. Her son, Max was born in 2011, just as her business was taking off. “I was a bit worried about how it would affect the business,” she remembers. “Two days after my son was born, I was back at work. I’ve never taken maternity leave,” she confesses.
“I have two children now, and twice I’ve had to juggle babies and business, but sound planning have helped and I’ve used childminders when necessary. At work, I’ve delegated tasks so I could focus on a few key accounts.”
Matylda feels slightly guilty about not devoting more time to her children when they were babies (Max is now almost seven, while daughter Gabriela is four). “Being able to do some work at home enabled me to take care of my motherly duties. I’ve certainly become much more organised since having my kids,” she smiles.
“It’s a balancing act. My kids still need lots of attention, but I can’t always give them all of my time, because I’m working hard to build a better future for us all. I also think it’s important to have some time to yourself, because you can get very stressed otherwise. Having supportive people around and reliable staff makes a big difference.”
So, what advice does she offer to other business owners about to have children? “Try to stay positive and allow yourself to fail,” Matylda replies. “We learn from failure, not just success. If you can access support from others, it can make a big difference – so ask for it. Also, try to apply some business management techniques to your family life. Stay organised, create lists, keep a diary of key events and commitments so you don’t miss anything important.”
Husband and wife, Natalie and Dan Reynolds, set up Essex-based Fred & Noah in 2014. It makes luxury clothing for boys and girls aged up to six years. “We share the business and family life 50-50, so, if one of our kids is unwell, we just prioritise who needs to be in work,” Natalie explains.
“We’re lucky because we’re a home-based business, so if the kids are home, they’re only in the next room. It’s a very different scenario from when we had our old jobs and had to take time off work.”
The Reynolds’s have clear boundaries between business and family. “When work finishes – it’s family time,” says Dan. “Normally, we don’t work weekends. However, if we’re very busy, for example, before Christmas, we have to juggle things a bit more. There are times when we have to put the cartoons on for the kids in the studio and work around them,” he confesses.
Natalie adds: “At the weekend, I try to avoid looking at my phone, so I’m not distracted by business emails. You have to try to devote quality time to your kids and your business. You must prioritise tasks and make the most of the time you have available. If we’re going on holiday, we have to work very hard in the weeks before, so that all orders are processed and customers aren’t let down.
“If we never had any quality family time, we might resent the business, but we love our jobs. We’ve never worked so hard in all our lives, but that’s why we’re successful – while still enjoying a happy, healthy family life.”
Design for life
“Balancing running your own business with looking after kids is challenging enough, but it’s tougher when you’re battling a deadline or your child is off school sick,” admits Andy Cothliff, managing director of Liverpool-based branding and graphic design studio, ABC Design & Communications.
With wife Debbie, a full-time hairdressing salon manager, Andy has two children, Aaron (aged 11) and Amelia (eight). “We share the school-run,” he continues. “And I can work from home, which is handy if one of the kids is ill. Debbie doesn’t have that flexibility. We’re also lucky, because our families are very supportive, which really helps.”
Being well organised is essential, says Andy, while technology makes it much easier to stay in touch with work emails while being with the kids. “You have to compromise,” he stresses. “If I need to take time off, usually I have to make up the time at night, but I never let my customers down. Sometimes I have to work at weekends when I’d rather be with the kids. It’s about trying to strike the right balance and making sacrifices with your own time and social life.”
Although his business and its customers are extremely important to him, ultimately, Andy says, everything comes second to his children. “Customers understand that – most have their own kids,” he smiles. “I’m always honest, and if I need to take a week off with the kids, I give customers plenty of notice.”
Andy admits that he used to feel guilty about taking time off, but not any more. “You need to find time to be with your family – for your wellbeing and theirs. Your business benefits too, because you feel better, which makes you more productive. You can’t just work all of the time. And you shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations, because it creates stress and inevitably leads to failure. There are only 24 hours in a day and you can only do so much. We all have to accept that.”