How to run a small business and still have a life

Many people dream of running their own business because they want the freedom to control their own destiny.

While being your own boss certainly has its perks, it often means that work ends up taking over life. So, how do you run a successful small business and find the time to do the things you love?

We spoke to award-winning business owner and martial-arts enthusiast, Yvette Thomas from First Class Accounts, about how to strike the right balance.

The Pulse: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Yvette: I studied commerce and accounting at the University of Tasmania before working as a senior management accountant for nearly 20 years in Australia and overseas. In 2011, after working as Head of Finance at Tatts Group in Sydney, I decided to take a redundancy rather than relocate my family to Brisbane — where the company wanted to move my department. I used the redundancy to start my bookkeeping business.

The Pulse: What was the transition from employee to business owner like?

Yvette: I was fortunate to join a great franchise that offered me excellent support and a wonderful mentor. This gave me the confidence, camaraderie and information I needed to start a winning business. In 2012, I was awarded ‘Best Emerging Franchisee’ so the transition was pretty good. And I certainly enjoyed working from home rather than battling a three-hour commute each day.

The Pulse: What impact did starting your own business have on your family?

Yvette: Working close to home means I can be flexible for my kids. If they need ferrying around to school activities then I can set my hours and book my clients around their needs — which is amazing. I think this will become more important because as they get older they seem to require more of my time due to sporting and school commitments.

The Pulse: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing business owners who are trying to manage work and family life?

Yvette: I think the biggest challenge is weighing up what’s important and getting comfortable with the fact you can’t do everything. For me, I know there’ll be some school events I can attend and some I just can’t because work has to take precedence. While it’s not easy, being really open with my partner and kids about my decisions helps manage their expectations so they’re not too disappointed.

While building a work schedule around the family is great, it can be a bit disruptive, so I find sticking to a timetable helps me stay on track. But some days it all goes out the window and I feel pulled in a million directions – and on days like these, I just try to adapt and prioritise.

READ: Women in business: Online-savvy and happy with work-life balance

The Pulse: Do you think work-life balance is a bit of a myth when it comes to running a business and raising a family?

Yvette: I think work-life juggling is a more accurate description of what running a business and raising a family is like! I’ve had to work out how much time and effort I want to commit to my business and life, and then create a routine that allows me to juggle everything.

To do it successfully, I’ve had to get comfortable with change (because you always get curve balls that force you to adapt quickly), and the fact that life and business don’t always fit into separate, neat little boxes that are balanced.

The Pulse: What strategies and tools do you use to help you keep all the balls in the air?

Yvette: When I first started my business, I worked long hours and clients would expect me to be on call 24-7. I soon learned that this wasn’t sustainable so I set firm limits on my hours and when clients could contact me. This stopped me from drowning in work and gave me the time to invest in the things that energise me.

Good communication and a family calendar can really help. We list all our commitments – including the kids’ stuff – on the calendar and work out who can help with pick-ups and drop-offs. Sometimes we have to rope in other family members, but I’ve found being organised means they’re more likely to help out.

Finally, having a physical outlet is important. For me, that’s toodokan (karate). I started this in 2012 after being in the business for a year and it brought much needed stress relief. I’m now a black belt, and an assistant instructor, which is fantastic as my kids love it when I help out with their classes.

The Pulse: Would you ever go back to working for the man?

Yvette: Not if I don’t have to. I love having my own business because I can be as successful as I want to be. I can set my own goals and choose to achieve those goals, or change as needed. I can choose to go to toodokan for a morning class, or go see a friend during the day if I want to. The business allows me to have the life I want and to be there for my family.