How I balanced my family and business commitments

Mother and child

April Browne was a busy woman. Not only did she run Crystal Jewels – an online bespoke jewellery business – she also managed to hold down a day job and look after her two children. How did she do it?

"I'm based in Bristol. I sold jewellery online, which I designed and made by hand. My business was formed in 2008, but I was making jewellery as a hobby for about seven years before that.

"People who run their own small business definitely face more pressure. There's so much more riding on it – not least, generating enough money to pay your wages and possibly those of your employees. It's a big responsibility.

"There are so many tasks to take care off, often things that are difficult or I disliked. The hours can be long, too. Your business is always there in your thoughts – you can't just get home and switch off.

Work-life balance

"Getting your work-life balance right is always a challenge, especially for people with children. It's bad enough as an employee, but with the added demands of running your own business, it can seem impossible.

"The risk is you put so much effort into your business that your family life suffers. A partner or children can start to show resentment. That said, failure to devote enough time to the business usually proves disastrous. The business owner suffers, too. Not being able to manage domestic and other responsibilities can produce feelings of guilt, while failure can damage confidence.

"As well as running my business I had a day job and I was a full-time single mum to two children. Obviously, the children came first and I enjoyed my job, but I also loved making jewellery. Often I worked very late nights and most weekends. There were times when trying to fit it all in led to mistakes, but everyone makes them, especially in the first few years of a business' life.

Family matters

"How did I make sure my business didn't impact on my kids too much? You have to draw a line. You can't expect them to put up with you not spending time – quality time – with them, it's just not fair and it's likely to create problems sooner or later.

"Business-wise, I tried not to do anything that needed my full attention while my children were around. If it was really urgent, I explained this to my kids and asked them to entertain themselves for a short while. I'm lucky – they're usually very understanding. Failing that – bribery can help!

"I couldn't really rely on others to share childcare responsibilities, which makes things less stressful for other parents running their own business. I had the odd weekend where the kids are away, which helped. Oh – and I couldn't live without my smart phone, it's invaluable.

"We had 'family days', when business wasn't allowed. My son hated that tag. Apparently, it's not 'cool'. We did something they wanted to do, maybe go to the park, cinema or bowling, play computer games (even though I'm rubbish at those) or just get crafty with glue, paper, paint, etc. My phone was put on silent, but not turned off.

A woman's work

"Running your own business inevitably involves making sacrifices. Starting and establishing a new business takes a lot of hard work and commitment.

"Probably my biggest sacrifice was sleep. It also affected my ability to see friends as much as I'd like, but it also opened up new social aspects of my life. I don't have a partner, however, from past experience I know how hard it is to make time for someone when you have kids and a job, and that's without running a business, too.

"Although there's less social stigma now, I think women in business with children still face more pressure than men. It's also fair to say that more men have become willing to help out at home and share childcare responsibility, which makes it easier for some women to run their own business.

"Balancing the demands of running a business and looking after your family and home can be done. It isn't easy, different things work for different people and you can't expect to get it right all of the time, but it can be done."

April's three key lessons

  • "Don't overstretch yourself – an easy mistake when trying to get a business off the ground. You risk making mistakes and burning yourself out."
  • "Make lists. I know it sounds stupid but I find I get so much more done – business, job and domestic tasks – if I've made a list."
  • "Take time out. You'll be surprised at how much energy and inspiration you can get from spending quality time with your family."

Update: This case study was first published in January 2010. In February 2013, April Browne decided to close Crystal Jewels. She said: "Crystal Jewels has been a long and winding road, full of ups and downs. It has given me many lessons, great pleasure, as well as being character building and a huge eye-opener. If you were to ask me if I would do it all over again, I'd more than likely say, 'Let me think about it'."