Why ‘accepted business wisdom’ should be challenged

Entrepreneur Jonathan Richards discusses why popularised mantras should not always be followed in business.

Accepted business wisdom? Thanks, but no thanks.

There is so much advice around for owners of growing businesses that goes under the title of accepted wisdom. Much of it has some validity but nearly all of it is rubbish and way too simplistic.  Two that particularly bug me are ‘work life balance’ and ‘work on, not in your business’.

For starters, ‘work-life balance‘ is actually impossible; work is part of life. Of course, I know what it means; get a balance between all of parts of your life and don’t let work take over, but that’s not what we are told. I firmly believe that ‘work’ time should be more flexible and blend with other aspects of our life. Yes, I was working at eight o’clock last night but then I wouldn’t dream of missing my daughter playing in the end of year school celebrations this Friday afternoon.

For an entrepreneur work can consume life and that may be completely appropriate and healthy. In this country we are too tied up with the 9 to 5 mentality. To get a business off the blocks and growing takes immense amounts of passion and often total ‘head space’. In the lead-up to launching my business I was working at pretty much every available moment but my family knew how important that time was and supported me. The last thing I wanted was some business expert trying to put me on a guilt trip. Now that the business is growing fast I can often be found in local coffee shops at weekends, laptop in hand. I set a number of ground rules for myself to make sure this doesn’t get too out of hand.

The first rule is that I have to be happy doing it, as if it becomes a burden then something is wrong with the business. For me, work done over weekends should move the business forward rather than turn the handle. Of course this isn’t always possible as there are rush jobs or an occasional need to catch up but too many of these should be a signal that something is out of balance.

My second rule is the hardest and one I don’t always get right: if it’s family time then I should be (near) 100 per cent with my family. There is nothing worse than trying to mix family and work at exactly the same time. I will always remember travelling up to London with my daughter and her friend to go on the London Eye. I was on the phone taking a work call when I heard the two girls discussing whose father spent the most time taking work calls! We laugh about it now but the lesson wasn’t lost on me.

The last and maybe the most important rule is, don’t moan about how much work there is to do.  Being an entrepreneur is hard but it is also a privilege; to have that idea and the vision of how to make it real is very special. We make the decision to go down the hard path and no amount of complaining will make it easier. I accept that it is important to confide in someone when it all gets too much but you and I know the difference between that and a thoughtless moan. It won’t help our family and friends and it will certainly won’t make it better.

Nothing great ever happened by following rules and as entrepreneurs we love breaking the norms.  So the next time someone ‘helpfully’ shares a piece of business wisdom I suggest you smile, say thank you and then go your own way.

Further reading on entrepreneurship

Jonathan Richards

Jonathan Richards

Jonathan Richards is an experienced non-exec director and CEO at HR software provider Breathe.

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