I have often heard it said, “Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.” I’ve always been skeptical however, and since a recent encounter that I had with one entrepreneur whose Business had failed seven years previously, I would definitely think twice about the truth of that statement, especially in the area of how to balance work and life.
The encounter happened while on a short trip around Wales, when my family and I booked into a Bed & Breakfast. It was a beautiful house, run by an elderly couple whose names I have changed to George and Katie.
Katie was a brilliant hostess, welcoming us, helping us settle in, advising on options for dinner and what to do while staying in the area. At breakfast the next morning, we got chatting about the story of their B&B business.
Katie told us that they’d purchased the property from the profits of George’s profitable business. It was their family home until 2007, when they decided to convert it into a B&B after George had had to close down his business.
As a career coach, interested in teaching entrepreneurs how to reach their potential and how to balance work and life, I found this detail fascinating. Katie passed the story to George, who, as it turns out, had been an early pioneer in the digital revolution, with a business in servicing and converting analogue printers into digital ones.
George was a nationally respected technician, with a company pushing £1m turnover every year, However his business proposition was ultimately undercut by the graduation cessation in production of analogue printers, and he closed the business in 2007.
How to Balance Work and Life & Other Lessons from a Life in Business
I asked George if he would be prepared to share the three primary lessons he had learnt in his life as an entrepreneur. Happily, he obliged, and I share those lessons with you. Business owners ought to pay particularly close attention to George’s views on the question of how to balance work and life. While his other points are equally valuable, George will never be able to recapture time missed with his family, or recover from the physical constraints he now faces, due to his focus on a company that, in the end, died a slow death over three years, with George helplessly watching his European client light-board map, the bulbs representing his clients going out one by one. Rather than speak for him, I have decided that these three points, including his thoughts on how to balance work and life, should be conveyed in George’s own words.
1. “Commit to your Clients.”
“The one thing that defined the success of our business was our commitment to our clients. Our clients knew that we would never let them down and would always be there to support their machines. This often meant on-the-spot decisions to fly across Europe and fix machines — and stay there until they were fixed — which could take over a week. Our clients kept coming back because they knew they could rely on us.”
2. “Get Help.”
“I remember there was a time when I used to smugly boast that my business was recession-proof and that I had a business that would reach the £1m mark. The printers we serviced were used to print packaging materials for big name cereals and confectionaries, and these would still be needed when the economy was down. Through the long, hard days of putting one foot in front of the other, I did not even pause to think that getting outside help or some sort of business mentor for experienced advice could actually make my life easier, and my business better.”
“One of the things that destroyed my business was a deal that I agreed for a customer to become a potential distributor of our cutting-edge product. I signed off distribution exclusivity to them and they did nothing for two years on my product – time in which they were able to build a competing product and get it entrenched into the market!”
“I was the best at changing analogue printers to digital. Everything else about my business, I learnt along the way. I realise now that not only did I not do a lot of things that a good business should do, but also several of the things I did, I did after making expensive mistakes that I could have avoided.”
3. “Don’t Forget to Live Life.”
“I remember once when I was running at the airport to catch a flight, and I shoved past someone to reach the check-in counter. I got a tap on the shoulder and the person I had just shoved aside said, “You need to slow down, mate! You’ll have a heart attack!” I laughed it off then, but as I reflect now on the time I missed with my family, and the physical constraints I now have to face… I do realise that while clichéd, there is a lot of value in that single piece of advice: slow down and enjoy the journey.”
George was wistful, with tears in his eyes, as he recounted the last part of his story. “The manufacturers moved to digital printing and our whole line of business was wiped out,” he said.
“We used to have a map of Europe with little lights for all our clients. I saw the lights go off one after the other over the final three years of my business and there was very little I could do. Firing the people I’d worked with for decades was one of the toughest things I have ever had to do.”
“I don’t think I have it in me to do it all over again now. This B&B is really Katie’s business – I only help her run it.”
As we left the B&B, I thought of all the entrepreneurs I have worked alongside as a business coach in London, and recommitted to helping them ensure that they get the best of what they deserve, in their lives as well as in their businesses; and that they understand and appreciate the importance of addressing how to balance work and life, as much as all other aspects of running a successful business.
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