Building a Business That Supports Your Life
The last four months have been very interesting in the Kaufman household.
My book is selling extremely well - it’s been the #1 bestselling business training book in the world since launch, and it was the overall #1 bestselling business book at WH Smith in the UK for the past few weeks. General business training is difficult to write about, so there’s not much competition - I expect to hold #1 in the category for quite a while.
I recently spoke at Google and IBM; my reading at SXSW was a big hit. My coaching business is exploding. My online course and live training programs are selling briskly. I have several exciting new projects on the horizon.
It’s lovely when planning and effort pay off.
Kelsey, my wife, is a successful entrepreneur in her own right - she produces online yoga training programs. Her first project, YogaAnatomy.net, is changing how yoga teachers around the world learn the basics of their craft. She also has several promising new projects in the queue.
On top of it all, we welcomed Lela, our first child, into the world four months ago - 10 days before my book was published. Caring for an infant in the midst of two major product launches was quite the experience.
In many ways, our new daily schedule is crazy-making. Lela requires constant attention from at least one of us pretty much all the time. We’re largely past the new parent sleep deprivation phase, but setting aside large blocks of uninterrupted time for work is difficult.
Kelsey and I are each running a full-time business on ~20 hours per week, plus whatever time we’re able to sneak in when Lela is napping.
It’s not easy… but it’s worth it.
One of the primary reasons I left the corporate world was wanting to spend a significant amount of time with my children. I knew way too many co-workers who kissed their sleeping children on the forehead at 6:00am before heading off to work, only to kiss them on the forehead at 9:00pm when they arrived home.
I didn’t want that life.
Now that Lela is here, I spend every morning with her while Kelsey works. We read books and sing songs. We practice sitting and standing up. She bounces in her bouncy chair while I grind coffee beans. She takes a nap strapped to my chest as I do laundry. In the morning, I’m 100% dad.
In the afternoon, Kelsey takes care of Lela, and I work with my clients, write, do interviews, answer email, and make progress on projects. Evenings consist of dinner, family time, reading, and an early bedtime.
Spending time with Lela involves a tradeoff. We could certainly afford to hire a nanny so we could work more - we’d certainly make more money if we went that route. But that’s not a life that appeals to us.
Kelsey and I have structured our businesses to support the life we want to live. Time with Lela comes first, not last. If tradeoffs must be made, they are made in her favor. We work within these constraints as best we’re able, and experiment to find ways to make day-to-day life easier. It’s often difficult, but it’s working.
I had a conversation along these lines with one of my clients recently. He’s been feeling psychological pressure to keep growing his company, even though he’s very happy with the current size and workload. As a successful CEO, he feels driven to keep pushing as far as he can go, even though the company is privately owned and under his full control.
The truth is he can run his company however he sees fit. The company is financially sufficient and very profitable, is small enough to be managed efficiently via a flat organization, and everyone works as a team. The current business structure is working very well.
Growing the company would require bringing in more work, which would require hiring more employees. More employees means more financial overhead and more communication overhead. More overhead means big changes as the business structure and company culture changes to accommodate the workload.
When I asked my client whether or not growing the company would help him live the life he wanted to live, the answer was an immediate no. Seeking to make the company larger might add to his bottom line, but it would subtract from his soul. Having capacity for creative side projects and not freaking out over payroll every month is worth more to him than an incremental dollar.
There are all sorts of ways to improve a company other than revenue and number of employees. By focusing on finding ideal clients, it’s possible to optimize a business for things other than profit maximization, like enjoying the process of working or having a high return on invested time.
Some things are worth more than money. Structure your business to serve your life, not your life to serve your business. The tradeoffs are worth it.