Second Sunday Series — Editor’s Note: This is the ninth of 12 columns on starting a business — one on each second Sunday of the month, from September through August. Last month’s column described systems to establish, while the months before discussed making the first sale, ways to choose the startup’s focus, goal-setting processes, key startup steps, burnout, the entrepreneur’s personal assets and weaknesses, and self-employment as a career choice.
Today’s business startup column covers a topic of importance to every entrepreneur, but especially so for women: Staying focused, and not giving away time to non-startup activities.
Ready? We’ll start with a quiz: Which is more important when starting a business, funding or the owner’s time? You already know the answer: The owner’s time is the only immutably necessary ingredient when starting a business. Every other variable can be adapted for the circumstances.
For proof, think of all the famous startups that blossomed even when no funding was available. (Apple, anyone? Medtronic?) Next, think of startups that thrived without the owner’s attention. If you’re drawing a blank, that’s because it doesn’t work that way. Whether it’s one hour or one hundred hours, owners must allocate time each week to building an enterprise from their idea, or it won’t happen.
Now that we have that straight, here’s another quiz: When both work the same number of hours, will mothers spend more time on household activities, or will their male counterparts? Hmmm. Tough one … How about gendered patterns in households with no children? Goodness, the answer is the same: With or without children, households use up to twice as many hours of labor from women than from men.
If we assume the women aren’t spending that time cleaning up messes of their own making, then it appears they’re cleaning up after someone else. Guys, if you’re wondering what to give that special mompreneur for Mother’s Day, one suggestion would be a housekeeper, or else more of your own time spent on cleaning so she can focus on her business without guilt.
Speaking of gifts, one thing not to give her would be grief over having high standards and the “choice” she’s making to do the housework. Not that you don’t have a point; it’s just that adults don’t settle things by making one person entirely responsible for solving a shared problem.
Which brings us to the women in this equation. Here’s a truth you need to accommodate if you want to build your business: You’re almost certainly doing more non-essential things at home than you realize.
Clothes can be worn more times without being washed, floors can go longer without scrubbing, dinner can come from a box more often, and in all cases, some of what you’ve been doing can be outsourced, whether that’s to the kids, your partner, or someone outside the household.
What’s more, you aren’t the only person who can handle a crisis. You’re just the first person everyone calls because you generally say yes. That’s not something you’ll be able to do when your business is up and running, so you might as well practice saying no right now.
To make this easier, ask yourself: Who would this person call if you were in the hospital? So, that’s the person they should call now. Will you feel guilty? Oh, yes. But don’t you always? At least now you’d have something to show for it, in terms of time spent building your dream.
I’m convinced that nearly every statistic showing women’s businesses to be smaller, less funded, less profitable and generally just less than men’s businesses is rooted in this issue of whose dream gets the most attention in a household. Both men and women need to eliminate distractions and give adequate focus to building their startups, but women may need to work harder to achieve this.
Male or female, here’s your business startup assignment for May: Review your calendar for the past two weeks and identify which non-startup activities you could have skipped or given less time to. Building on that analysis, now review your schedule for the next two weeks. What can you cut out, to provide more time for your startup process?
Remember, if the answer is “nothing,” you’re effectively removing business startup from your activity list. Even two hours a week helps keep your dream alive, but zero hours will starve it to death. For best success, schedule your business time first, then fit in other activities around those hours.
Try out your new schedule and track your results. Then come back in a month for the next Second Sunday installment, where we’ll dive into more steps to guide your business startup journey.
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.