It should go almost without saying that working too many hours for too long is bad for your health and the well-being of your family—two things you absolutely need to nurture to have a chance to thrive when the economy finally recovers. Many overworking, and as a result, overstressed, business owners say they would love to work less, but argue that they can't because they absolutely know that without their 60-hour weeks they would quickly go broke. Even in a tough economy they are almost always wrong.
It's our experience that owner overwork is actually a big reason why a potentially successful business closes. If you can scrape by only because you lay off key employees and work 60 to 70 hours per week yourself, you need to face the fact that your business is not financially viable. You are not really in business at all. Instead, you have hired yourself, at a rotten wage, to do a task no one values enough to allow you to generate a decent profit.
Fortunately, even when the economy is tanking, in most instances overwork isn't necessary. Businesses that really meet customers' needs offer many opportunities for an owner to be more productive in less time. By learning to concentrate on the activities that count most, most entrepreneurs can achieve the same results in up to one-third fewer hours.
Most well-run small businesses become more profitable—often far more profitable—as they age. True, an economic downturn can temporarily interrupt this steady growth trend, but it's nevertheless important to realize that if you make good decisions, an economic downturn of a year or two won't derail long-term success. In fact, because an extended recession will flush out weak competitors, once it ends your business is likely to quickly grow larger and more profitable.
In short, growing a successful business is like running a marathon, not a hundred-yard dash or even a mile. To go the distance, you must adopt a work schedule that lets you pace yourself. Many new small business owners, especially those who face a profit-killing recession, fail to understand this and as a result burn themselves out and quit, in some instances just when their businesses are poised to make good money.
EXAMPLE: Sal and Patricia, each a 30-something mother of young children, open Z-Pot, a business that imports and wholesales large glazed pottery planters from Southeast Asia, and immediately begin making a solid profit wholesaling their unique wares to about 25 nurseries and half a dozen indoor garden shops. In addition, they open their own retail outlet to profitably dispose of overstock and slightly damaged goods.
Now working reasonable hours, Sal and Patricia are content to keep overhead low in their smaller operation so they stay in the black. They both know that when the recession ends and sales jump back to historical levels, Z-Pot will be positioned to achieve significant profits.
But two years later, the economy turns down, and Sal and Patricia have to lay off a couple of employees and begin working much longer hours themselves. On top of their family responsibilities, this leaves both women feeling exhausted and even depressed much of the time. Patricia's husband, whose own career teaching at a university is going well, begins to strongly suggest that their family life would improve if Patricia sold her share of the business and stayed home with the kids for a few years. â