How to have it all: Growing a start-up and a family, without losing either

Phil Rothwell, marketing director of SellerDeck, discusses the art of sustaining a business and a family at the same time.

As you read this article, the one thing I really don’t want you to think that is that I am some sort of lifestyle guru who has it all together. I do have some credentials; I have been involved in a couple of start-ups while, with my wife, raising a family. However, I have to admit, at times my life has more resembled a struggle for survival rather than a graceful glide to success. When it comes to business and relationships, the work never ends and the threat of failure seems ever-present.

There are some good reasons to be paranoid, starting with the bare facts. If only 60 per cent of marriages endure two decades and as many as 40 per cent of new businesses fail in their inaugural year, then the challenge of growing both at the same time is clearly a biggie.

But don’t linger on that thought; success is a possibility, so where do you start?

Family comes first

Perhaps one place is with the acceptance that both projects are closely related. It is widely acknowledged that the enemy of marital and family harmony is stress, especially from the financial side, and pressure is an inevitable by-product of setting up a business. You need to face up to this before things kick-off and identify what is really important.

You should realise that there are four possible outcomes to this project; success or failure for business and family. Have you considered how you’d feel if your business was a success and your family a disaster zone?

When we set up our company, I wanted the thrill and challenge of growing a business, but not at the cost of my family. Luckily the people I worked with and for shared that value, so I’d recommend anyone else to do the same.

Organise yourself

Family life and business life both generate endless task lists. It doesn’t matter if you are a single- or dual-parent family, with, or without kids, you will need to be well organised. In business, there are some things you have to do on time, or you can end up in trouble. And on the family side there are duties that, if forgotten or ignored, you’ll end up regretting when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Make sure you know what they are and prioritise them accordingly. At times it will seem like an endless slog, so expect there to be periods of stress as well as satisfaction. Having a routine in place will help you to get through the good and bad times.

Communicate well

A stiff upper lip and other kinds of unreality aren’t great for relationships. Perhaps at times it’s right to shield employees and loved ones from issues they don’t really need to be concerned about. However, many relationship breakdowns are down to poor communications .

What you will find is that the load your ear gradually seeps into your behaviour enabling events at work to impact relationships at home. That’s why it’s wise to share your concerns. Even if your family can’t help, they can at least understand what’s happening. It also gives them the opportunity to say what they think, which many find hard to do, for fear of upsetting your feelings. Hence the more stressed you are, the harder they find it is to talk to you about it.

Do something you enjoy

If you are thinking of building a business around your lifestyle, then ideally it should be based on something you enjoy. Be careful though, nothing undermines commercial judgment quite like a sense of destiny. Just because you have invested emotionally in some product or activity, it’s not a given that others will want to do so as well.

That’s another reason why it’s important to have people you can talk to who are able to retain an objective perspective; people who are happy to ask a few difficult questions from time to time. However, I find that successful business pioneers tend to ignore the doubters and find their own way; you need a bit of arrogance to succeed.

Good things can happen

Retain an optimistic outlook. Although there are numerous challenges to both business and family history offers plenty of cases of people who have trodden this path before. One of our customers, Helen Beer, is one such example.

She worked in an accounting job in London commuting from Chatham for more than 12 years, but the birth of her son changed that. She tried juggling the two for a couple of years but found it impossible to fit her job around her toddler’s busy timetable. As a result, in 2003 she decided to take the plunge and start an e-commerce business. She now makes over twice as much as she took home from her London job and runs three jewellery websites.

Helen’s five tips for other budding online mumpreneurs are:

1. Be organised and plan when you will run the business. Stick to that routine

2. Find a niche in the marketplace

3. Sell what you know about, or what you have experience in

4. Good customer service is a must. Ensure the out-of-hours answerphone is working and reply to email enquiries promptly

5. Keep an eye on your competitors.

Finally, enjoy your moments of certainty, but keep them under control. I believe Kipling was right, success and failure are both imposters. Enjoy the good times when they last and when things aren’t going so well, remember it’s unlikely to always be that way.

Further reading on work-life balance


Phil Rothwell

Phil Rothwell is founder and CEO of digital marketing agency EcomEvolve.

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Women In Business

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