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Managing a business through personal challenges

A friend of mine recently lost her mother. She confided in me that some mornings, she's so grief stricken, she can't get out of bed. It's a problem because she runs a business and relies on it for her income. When we think about work life balance, many of us tend to think it's all about juggling work and children. But sometimes, it's about juggling a business with unforeseen events in one's personal life. 

I tackled the topic in my Miami Herald column today. The biggest take away for business owners: learn the art of delegation!

 

For entrepreneurs, life events can disrupt business, too

 

 
Jackie Velazquez is a business owner who is just returning from surgery and now continues her busy schedule.
Jackie Velazquez is a business owner who is just returning from surgery and now continues her busy schedule. 
CARL JUSTE / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
 

BY CINDY KRISCHER GOODMAN

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.

Earlier this month, Jackie Velazquez tried to keep her 13-year 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, owner of Miami-based Smarttarget Marketing, planned ahead for her business, creating targeted direct marketing lists. She asked clients to place requests by a specific date and informed them that she would be hard to reach for four days. She will do the same for an upcoming surgery with a longer recovery.

Meanwhile, she tried to adjust client expectations and answer email as much as possible from her hospital bed. Still, she says, she 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 that they work long hours — an average of 55 hours or more — and 97 percent 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.

One such challenge is childbirth. Even with the flexibility of working for themselves, few women entrepreneurs report giving themselves the luxury of three-month maternity leaves. “When you are dedicated to your business, you simply cannot in good conscience check out completely,” said Jessica Wilcox, founder of MoneyClip Direct, a direct mail advertising publication for businesses in South Miami-Dade.

Wilcox quickly learned that juggling isn’t just a metaphor. After giving birth, she gave herself a short one-month maternity leave before returning to sales calls with baby in one hand, invoice in the other. “If I’m not working, money is not coming in and the company is not growing,” she said.

Most importantly, she adjusted her expectations to sustain the business rather than build on it, holding on to existing advertisers rather than courting new ones. She worked just enough to handle “all those little things that can fall by the wayside if you’re not paying attention.” Now that her son is 1, she has hired child-care assistance and recommitted to expanding her business.

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 U.S. 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 Pembroke Pines cupcake/dessert business remains open. For the past few years, she has juggled marriage counseling, health issues and financial concerns. “It has been so stressful,” she says. Throughout, she has relied on her employees at Royal Treatz to handle the day-to-day tasks while she focuses on the higher level work.

“I had to get them to realize 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.”

Cann said she scaled back some, closing a kiosk in the Pembroke Pines mall. She continues to operate her storefront/party room with eight full-time staff, whom she relies on to handle sales, communicate about inventory and decorate cakes. “I’m one person wearing lots of hats. But if you hire well, train them right and build trust, your employees will run the business when you can’t.”

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Click here for the full results of The Alternative Board Survey.

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