Parenting Your Business
It's been more than a year since I left the august position of publisher of Quality Digest. During that year, my life has changed dramatically: I have two more children--a boy and a girl who are now eight months old, in addition to my five-year-old son--a business that is growing in ways I never imagined, and a new perspective on raising a family and growing a business.
Raising your family is a never-ending job full of worry, excitement, laughter and anticipation. Growing a business is very similar: There are high expectations when it's being developed, birthing pains when it's launched, and the same mix of worry, excitement, laughter and anticipation while it's growing.
Of course, while I was at Quality Digest, I was also running a business. I always treated my job at Quality Digest as if the company were my own because I always believed that that's the only way to work. Now that I've left, I realize my folly. Of course, it wasn't my business, so no matter how much I acted that way, I couldn't be fully invested. So while I worried and planned and hoped, I was always worrying, planning and hoping for someone else's business. I realize now that it was kind of like babysitting. (And sometimes, it really felt like I was babysitting.)
Now that I have my own business to run full time, it's like raising my own children. The parallels are remarkable:
• You can't be a part-time parent or part-time business owner. They are both 24-hour, seven-day-a-week jobs. If the baby cries at 3 a.m., you are there. If your alarm system goes off at your office at 1 a.m., you are there. Waking up in the middle of the night worrying about meeting payroll or worrying about paying for college results in the same lack of sleep.
• You must constantly adapt. The skills I used to parent my five-year-old son Ian are very different from the skills I used when he was two. Not only have I learned from my mistakes, but he has grown and developed. My business is very similar. Now that I have more employees, different products and services, and different income needs, I must run my business differently.
• You must invest for the future. Right after each of my kids was born, I opened a college savings fund. It's not always easy to see that money being siphoned away, but I know it has to be done if I want my kids to have a shot at a decent college education one day. The same is true for my business. I am constantly investing in new technology, new product development and expanding my skills.
• You must clearly define your expectations. It's silly for me to get angry with my child because he does something I don't like if I haven't clearly defined the expectation. The same is true for my business. What aren't sometimes so obvious are the expectations I need to set for myself. As a parent, I need to be clear about what I need to do to meet the goals and objectives I have for my family. As a business owner, I also have expectations for myself.
• You must make education a priority. Mornings at the Paton household are chaotic at best. It's my job to get Ian to school while my wife, Heidi, looks after the twins. Every weekday I somehow manage to deliver a somewhat reluctant five-year-old to his kindergarten class complete with backpack, snack, sharing item, library book and whatever else he needs. After school, Heidi helps him with his homework even though he'd rather be playing soccer, watching TV or riding his scooter. At night we read stories before bed and practice our letters. It's amazing to see his progress. Now, I don't read stories to my employees, but I do my best to help them grow in their job skills. It's not easy for a small business to send employees off to training seminars or have them attend a Webinar or take online training, but it's essential for employee development and the growth of your business.
• You've got to have faith. As a parent I sometimes just have to let go and have faith that everything will be OK. When Ian goes off to his grandma's house for the weekend, I have to hope that he will behave, be safe and have fun. The same is true for my business. Although my business never goes off for a weekend with grandma, it is run in large part by my employees. I have to have faith that I've hired the right people and trained them well.
• You have to work hard, very hard. Face it, raising kids isn't glamorous and sometimes isn't very fun. The same is true with running a business. Sometimes you want to quit. But if you're fully invested in your business (as you have to be with your kids), you can't quit. In fact, the thought can't even enter your mind. You have to be in it for the long haul or you won't have the level of commitment you need to succeed. The good news is that even though your business probably won't give you the same thrill as seeing your baby take his or her first step, it can be very fulfilling to see the results of your hard work come to fruition in a new product or the extraordinary work of an employee.
As I've said, these are just a few of the parallels. Share your thoughts on running a business or raising kids (I need all the help I can get) at www.qualitycurmudgeon.com.
Scott M. Paton is Quality Digest's editor at large .