The Cornerman by Chris West
by Chris West
January 18th, 2023

The Art of Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is something that I struggle with to this day. I know the cliché phrase, “Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone to pay me to lay on a beach and sip a margarita, so here we are.

No Sleep

I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, doing odd jobs growing up as a kid and then through school. I always had a side hustle/business. So when I stumbled upon paint protection film (PPF) in 2003, I thought, “This is my chance to grow a true business.” I left my engineering career and built my business with big dreams and aspirations.

Life is all about balance. How do you find yours?

Fast forward seven years, and I had just worked 87 days straight (a minimum of 15 hours a day, weekends included). My longest stretch without sleep was 38 hours. I was exhausted and burnt out. I didn’t talk to family or friends since I felt terrible telling them I couldn’t see them because of work.

I didn’t care about the cars, customers or even the money. But I just kept booking work, doing most of it myself … hating every day more and more.

Making a Change

So now—13 years later—I like to talk about the takeaways from that time in my life. What put me in that position, and what did I change?

I originally started my business motivated and hungry. I was in my early 20s. I cashed in the retirement funds, sold my rental properties and got to work. I quickly expanded, opened a second shop and had 10 or 11 employees. After looking at the bottom line and going through a few slow seasons, I wasn’t making any money. I downsized back to the basics and leaned the crew down to just a few guys. I started installing more and more myself. Although it meant working in the business and not on it, the margins were better, and I made more money. In my mind, it made sense.

As I continued to grow sales, rather than scale back up with labor, I worked harder and made my guys work harder. I figured they were like me and wanted to make as much money as they could. Well … I burnt them out too.

Their wives and girlfriends hated me, and the installers could only give so much. I had one quit. We were already at max capacity, but rather than scale back sales, I told myself I could work harder. Before I knew it, I was miserable. I hardly wanted my business anymore.

My Takeaways

1. Have a plan for scaling – In my case, I scaled too quickly in anticipation of increased sales but didn’t have the revenue and funds to support it. I then scaled back too far without having a process for growing as I increased sales. I did more of the work myself, which didn’t allow me to train and hire the next wave of installers properly.

2. Your employees must have a work-life balance – I didn’t do this with my guys. I pushed and pushed and dangled carrots and money in front of them, and I burnt them out. I lost some excellent employees. It is better to lose some sales and tell the guys to go home and enjoy the weekend than burn them out and lose them forever.

3. More hours, less productivity – The more hours we or our installers put in, the more productivity decreases. I generally use a rule of thumb of 40-50 hours as a decent sweet spot for employees. This allows employees to be away from the shop and enjoy their families and hobbies, and I find that I get improved focus and production from them during those hours.

4. As an owner, you have to take breaks and disconnect – I didn’t do this for so many years because I micro-managed everything and didn’t trust the people I had in place. I finally forced myself to start taking a few days off and eventually a week. And lo and behold, my managers and installers did amazing. Let the people shine that you have hired; if they don’t, they either need further training or you need to find someone new.

Wrapping Up

I still struggle with work-life balance and find myself working on a holiday or through a weekend. But I am much more aware of how important your employees need this balance, and I am much more self-aware that if I start to feel like I don’t want to go to work, it is time to disconnect. The business and work will still be there if we run them correctly.
Having a life outside of work doesn’t equate to a failed business.

This blog is from Focus on Film, the weekly e-newsletter that covers the latest news regarding window film and related products, including paint protection film. Click HERE to sign up—there is no charge. Interested in a deeper dive? Free subscriptions to Window Film magazine in print or digital format are available. Subscribe at no charge HERE.

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