Meeting both business and personal demands has long been a juggling act for women entrepreneurs. Between the long hours, travel, meetings and employee and customer challenges, there’s little time left for personal needs. Still, leading a rich, well-rounded life is as essential to your business success as it is to your sanity.
We asked Canada’s leading businesswomen to tell us how they effectively manage work/life balance. Each issue we’ll bring you the tactics and strategies that help women grow their companies and careers, while still finding a little “me” time to help deal with the personal commitments of life.
Sandra Wilson founded Robeez Footwear Ltd., a Burnaby, B.C.-based manufacturer and marketer of soft-soled leather shoes for infants and toddlers. Since starting Robeez in 1994, Wilson has grown it from a home-based business to an international success with offices and distribution throughout North America, Europe and Australia. Earlier this month, Wilson sold the company to U.S.-based Stride Right Corp. for $30.5 million. She will remain with the company as a consultant.
There’s no cookie-cutter solution for balancing personal and work life, but Wilson, 46, has tapped into one common truth: “It’s all about making choices.” For her, balance has come by deciding what’s important, then setting personal limits and defining boundaries.
“It’s important for me to have time for myself and time to spend with my family, and to be fulfilled at work,” she says. While that’s a harder balance to strike when you’re in the early stages of building a business, she admits, she’s now found a formula that works for her.
She works on the computer from home each morning while her 13-year-old son Robert (after whom the company is named) wakes up and gets ready for school. She arrives at her office between 9 and 9:30 a.m., and returns home by 6:30 p.m. “I’ve got a great husband who does the afternoon shift and prepares the meal. That’s a big help,” she says.
Wilson protects her weekends as sacred “family time”, and takes almost every Friday off to shop, run errands, do renovations or other home stuff that doesn’t get done on the weekends. Exercise is also important to Wilson so she rises at 6 a.m to go running with friends. “That might not suit everyone, but that works for me.”
To help set boundaries, Wilson limits others’ access to her during non-work hours. E-mail is never far away, but she won’t carry a PDA, calling some people’s need to stay in constant touch with the office “an addiction”.
The key to keeping work and home separate is creating a business that can run without you. “It’s been very much about building a team around me, one that I can rely on and trust and I know are passionate about the business, knowing that I can leave it in good hands. So when I’m not here, I’m not fretting about the business,” she says. “I think a lot of entrepreneurs have trouble doing that.” She shares pressures and tough decisions with her two partners, trusts her employees and can rely on family and friends for support as well.
As a result, she’s only missed a handful of her son’s hockey games over the past seven years: “That’s a priority for me. I love going and I want to be there.”
Feeling fulfilled doesn’t necessarily mean splitting work and personal time 50-50. The important thing, says Wilson, “is having the two in balance – or at least a balance that you can live with.”