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What Does Work-Life Balance Look Like When You’re a Woman in Small Business?

Last Updated: December 7, 2021
6 min read

Small business owners typically devote an above-average amount of time and energy to growing their business. And women small business owners may often take on even more: managing households, raising or helping raise kids, taking care of aging parents, serving on boards, volunteering, pursuing hobbies, and running marathons. How do women juggle so many roles and still maintain a work-life balance?

The number of women juggling more than one role has grown tremendously. Currently, women run four out of every 10 small businesses in the United States, according to Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). That’s a jump of 58 percent from 2007.

To ensure you have the energy to continue to grow your business, make sure to budget time for yourself. Here’s how a few small business owners maintain their own work-life balance.

Does work-life balance exist?

Generally, work-life balance means balancing time spent working with time spent on personal endeavors: time with friends and family, exercise, travel and hobbies. Put another way, it means choices. You decide how to prioritize your time based on your values, goals and the challenges at hand.

“To me, it means, at the end of the day, is my mind still turning or do I sleep comfortably?” says Tara Spalding, founder and president of Hen House Ventures, a software incubation firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Hen House startups don’t necessarily take breaks on weekends, which means Spalding doesn’t either. However, she’s learned how to prioritize her work, family, and personal time.

Nicole Witt, executive director of the Adoption Consultancy, in Brandon, Florida, views work-life balance as the ability to set her own schedule. Because adoption is an unpredictable field, Witt keeps her schedule flexible. To others, it may seem as though she works nonstop, but she does set boundaries. She sees her kids off to school in the mornings and greets them when they get home, “even if that means I have to stay up late working,” she says.

What does work-life balance look like?

Work-life balance is a subjective concept. Rachel Schromen worked about 90 hours a week when she opened her own law firm, Schromen Law, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her colleagues considered that average. Her friends asked, “Are you okay?”

“When I was just out of law school, someone asked what my hobbies were,” Schromen says. “I just stared at him. I didn’t have any.”

Over time, Schromen developed hobbies as well as a rigorous self-care routine. That includes daily meditation, biweekly massage and acupuncture, and regular exercise. She also stopped meeting with clients on Saturdays.

She fits in self-care around a reasonable 50-hour work week, about four hours per week mentoring young lawyers, managing the household (including cooking all meals for her and her husband), nonprofit volunteer work, taking care of a dog and two cats, and occasional travel. 

How does she fit all that in? By setting boundaries, delegating and learning how to say no — as well as not answering work emails at home.

Spalding learned to put her business on pause to spend time on herself and with her family. She starts her day with yoga or some other type of exercise before her kids wake up. She “pauses” to have breakfast with her kids before school. As soon as her husband and kids leave, her workday begins.

When they come home, she puts her business on pause again. After dinner, she may check email, but will only respond when something’s urgent. Otherwise, it’s family time. 

It can also help to realize that making time for relationships doesn’t equate to lack of commitment. In a recent GetResponse survey, when women small business owners were asked how they would spend an extra 10 hours a week, growing the business and education were the top two picks.

The sacrifice of the working parent

Many women business owners worry they’re not doing enough, either for their family or for their business. The feeling of guilt can eat away at emotional health.

Spalding grew up with working parents, so she understands what her kids experience. Her entrepreneurial spirit may even benefit her daughter. A study from Harvard reports in the United States, women with working moms earned an average of 23 percent more than women whose moms didn’t work when they were children.

“One of my core values is quality over quantity,” she says. “Yet, there are moments when I have to make a heartfelt apology. In that case, what I feel is remorse. I’m accountable for that remorse and for explaining it to my daughter.”

Witt’s worries eased as her kids, now 14 and 15, became more independent. “When they were younger, I felt like I wasn’t doing something they needed even if I was near them,” she says. “Now they’re usually playing or have homework after school, so I don’t feel any guilt.”

How to achieve work-life balance

Retaining control and setting boundaries help many women achieve that elusive balance. Try setting priorities through the day and sticking with them — take control of your life, your business and all the wonderful responsibilities that come with running your own show.

Schromen says her commitment to self-care and to finding non-work-related activities helped her find a calm that boosted her productivity. “I worked as much when I first started my business as I did when I was in law school,” she says. “My business grew very quickly, but it wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been. When I stepped away, my anxiety and stress lessened and I became more efficient.”

Spalding jokes her life revolves around incubation: her children, her family, and her 14-year marriage. Open communication is key to ensuring all those things thrive. “I have to be willing to tell my family, ‘I’m not going to be available at this time because I’m doing a deal for these companies.’ When people assume I’m available, and when I assume they know my plans is when things fall apart.”

Women statistically take on and complete more work than men according to a Hive survey. And the study doesn’t include all the tasks they take on at home. To balance a demanding career with a full personal life and still have time to sleep, Witt suggests women find tasks they can delegate.

If you’re a “solopreneur,” consider hiring a virtual assistant to handle basic administrative and bookkeeping tasks. At home, if budget allows, hire a babysitter to give yourself more focused office or personal time. Think about hiring a housecleaner a couple of times a month and consider taking advantage of meal and grocery and delivery services.

In 2018, women-owned about 39 percent of the 28 million small businesses in the United States, according to a report from Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). If you’re one of them, know that work-life balance is absolutely possible.

Balance doesn’t mean you’re feeling perfect all the time,” says Witt. “It’s a bigger-picture mindset that overall, you’ve got that balance even if you don’t have it every single day.”

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