I recently had the opportunity to interview Outspoken Media, Inc., Chief Branding Officer Lisa Barone by e-mail. Her responses to my questions about small businesses balancing work and life are below. Enjoy!
1) We’ve spent a lot of time recently exploring why many small business owners are reluctant to take vacation, or outright unable to. Why do you think that is?
Lisa Barone: There’s an extraordinary amount of guilt that goes along with being a small business owner. You start this business and you’re immediately overwhelmed with the idea that it’s success or failure rests on your actions. And that can consume you. When you’re working in your business, it can make you feel distracted like you’re never doing enough, which means longer hours. Or, if you dare take a day off, you spend the whole time thinking about your business and feeling guilty that you’re not there. This is especially true for those of us that work online.
Because the Internet never closes, we feel like WE should never close.
But that’s not healthy, for yourself or the business. You have let yourself sit on the beach and mentally BE on that beach. Even if it feels uncomfortable at first.
2) With the economy slowly recovering, job growth more or less stagnant and lending a concern, do you think small businesses are as stressed out now or more than they were during the heart of the recession?
Lisa Barone: Well, I think small business owners are always going to be pretty stressed. They’d be bored otherwise. That said, the latest Merchant Confidence Index showed that small business owners were proceeding optimistically, but cautiously. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they expected revenue to increase over the next few months, but they weren’t hiring new bodies or investing more money into marketing campaigns quite yet. I think they want to give themselves some time to catch their breath and mentally recover from the toll the recession took on a lot of SMBs. We’re starting to come out of this but it’s going to take time for some to find their legs…or to feel comfortable using them.
3) Can you provide us with a handful of concrete steps small business owners and their employees can take to balance work with life outside the office?
Lisa Barone: This may sound silly, but the first step in creating a work/balance is to realize you need one. Many small business owners wear their 14 hour days like a badge of honor, without realizing the damage their doing to their health, their relationships and even their business. The first step to getting off that bus is to realize that you’re on it and that it’s a problem.
From there, I recommend a few things:
Create a Weekly Plan: Go into your week knowing exactly what you hope/want to accomplish. It’s really easy for an SMB to work 14 hours days because there’s always something that needs to be done. And while it’s important to keep moving forward and to stay on task, it’s also important you don’t burn out. By creating a realistic schedule of what needs to get done that week you make sure you’re knocking things off your checklist but also that you’re leaving when the job is done.
Delegate Smartly: Delegating is difficult because there’s this idea that no one can do X the way that we can, but typically what that means is that they don’t do it the same way as you do. Learn to delegate tasks so that you can lighten your plate of the non-essential tasks and focus on the ones that are.
Learn to Manage Distractions: Whether it’s a Twitter, a needy friend or the red blinking light on your Blackberry, there’s always something trying to creep into your day and throw you off. Not only does this break your flow, but it tacks on more hours to your day. The better you can get at managing distractions and carving uninterrupted work time, the quicker you’ll be able to achieve your goals and get out the door.
[If you need something to help you stay on task, I recommend an egg timer. I use mine religiously to manage my own time.]
Disconnect: Set time for yourself to be away from your business – and actually BE away from your business. You’re not taking time away if you’re still checking email or looking at Twitter. Your body and your brain need the down time, so make yourself take it. If you get that million dollar idea while you’re enjoying a day off, write it down somewhere and then go back to what you were doing. Don’t head for your laptop.
I’m a really, really big productivity freak (which I think enables me to have a real life) and shared11 ways I increased my own productivity. If you’re looking for some additional tips, I’d recommend that post.
4) Should those involved with small business take longer or shorter vacations, or does it greatly depend on the business?
Lisa Barone: I think it depends both on the business and yourself. Do you feel more focused after a long weekend or do you prefer to disconnect for an entire week and then jump in full force? Can you business afford to shut down for a solid week or are a few long weekends a better practice? We offer employees two week vacation time and, historically, they’ve taken it in week-long blocks. I typically do the same, but I won’t be this year for completely unrelated reasons. I think it depends on the person and the nature of your business.
5) Please tell us a little more about yourself and your work with small businesses.
Lisa Barone: I’m the Chief Branding Officer and co-founder of Outspoken Media, Inc., a full-service Internet marketing agency located in Troy, NY. We work with clients to build marketing strategies that combine SEO, branding, social media, online reputation management, etc, into one package because we believe it’s that integrated strategy that provides the best results. We work with more national-level companies than small business owners, but we try and provide resources for SMB owners in the Outspoken Media Blog.
A hearty thank you to Lisa Barone for taking the time to speak with us.Please weigh in on the interview in the comments!
Photo credit to Outspoken Media.