Expert Advice & Knowhow

No work-life balance for business owners? That's the job I'm afraid


A quarter of small business owners took fewer than five days' holiday last year

New research by Hitachi Capital Business Finance has revealed that a quarter of small business owners took fewer than five days’ holiday last year – while 15% took none at all.

The study is part of a wider effort to examine the health, happiness and wellbeing of employees, and how working hours influence this. It’s a well-intentioned study, and it’s well proven that for some people, being overworked has a negative impact not only on happiness but performance.

However, I think it’s worth making a very important point here: if you start and run your own business, working long hours and forgoing holidays for a few years is a necessity. There’s a reason not everyone starts their own business – it isn’t the easiest way of making a living.

The working patterns of an entrepreneur

I’ve started many businesses, and for at least the first few years of each the way I’ve worked has been roughly the same: 12-17 hours a day, 5-7 days a week, all year round. Admittedly I normally had Christmas Day off.

As your business grows and a management structure is implemented, you can start to find a little more free time. Until then, you simply have no choice. But I’ll bet you won’t find a single successful business owner in the UK who regrets not taking more time off in their formative years.

If you focus 100% on your business, then your business takes care of your life. And if the consequence of that focus gives you a lifestyle you can’t handle, then running a business isn’t for you. There’s no shame in that either; it’s about understanding what suits our personalities.

But if you’ve started a business and you’re struggling with a lack of so-called work-life balance, that’s a clear warning that this might not work for you. In the early days of my career, I essentially worked any time I was awake, and yet I never felt like I worked a single a day in my life. Work-life balance is irrelevant if you’re building your dream.

Work-life balance means different things to different people

It will come as no surprise that farmers work the most – and 50% of them had fewer than five days’ leave last year. Meanwhile, business owners in the North of the UK, where the economy remains a little more challenging than the south, take less leave than those in the South.

Interestingly, female business owners took less leave than men, with 27% taking fewer than five days. Studies like this are also a reminder of how much harder it can be for female business owners to manage family life – and in particular, for new mums. We’re collectively getting better at ensuring women can find a balance without compromising their careers, but we have a long way to go.

All in all, this research is a useful reminder that work-life balance means different things to different people; there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. We all need to identify what kind of lifestyle suits us, and find the kind of working pattern that accommodates our needs. There is no right or wrong answer.

But know this: if you want to create a successful business from the ground up, there are no short-cuts or cheat sheets, and there will be no work-life balance. You will most likely need to invest most of your waking hours in your dream.


Christian Nellemann is the Founder and CEO of XLN, a provider of low-cost phone, broadband, energy and card processing services exclusively to small businesses. A serial entrepreneur, he’s a two-time winner of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and one of only 17 inductees into their Global Hall of Fame. He is passionate about small businesses, and is a featured columnist for Follow him on Twitter @christianxln