18 business principles I learned from being a single parent

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This month marks a double milestone for me. My daughter turns 18 years old and my new business reaches the 18 month mark.  I’ve been reflecting on my experience both as a parent and as a new business owner. I’ve traveled through memory lane, through the momentous, the mundane, the hilarious, the embarrassing, the mistakes, the joys, the terror, the anticipation, the frustration, the satisfaction—and all that these experiences have meant to me.

What surprised me was how many similarities I discovered between parenting my child and running my new business. What is parenting really but providing the care and support that nurtures a life as it grows until it becomes independent in the world? By the same token, a business owner has the opportunity to nurture and support the business entity’s growth and maturation.

I have been such a newbie in business, coming into it with great enthusiasm but no previous experience and so very much to learn. I have had to learn as I go, much the same way I learned when experiencing the newness of mothering. Turns out that many of the lessons I learned over the years as a parent apply equally as well to running my own business. Who’d a thunk it?  To mark this milestone, allow me to share with you 18 of my personal parenting principles that I have found apply equally well to running my own business.

1. Both demand authenticity

Parenting involuntarily stripped away every role, every mask and every pretense that I had. While I could keep up pretenses and play inauthentic roles in other areas of my life, my parenting experience was as raw and real as it could get. It stripped me to the core of my being and required me to really be me. Not the “me” that I wanted to be or thought I was, but the real me—the good, the bad and the ugly. It was my first experience of consistently showing up authentically. Reflecting on this 18 years later, what stands out is that when I’m willing to be authentic, I’m able to create something amazing. There is nothing I am more proud of in my life than my daughter, who she is and the woman she is developing into.

When starting my business, I figured it couldn’t be too hard to take an existing skill set and create a business around it—a business that aligned with my soul’s calling. I expected to approach this in the way I have approached every other area of my life–strategically. Turns out…not so much. As a mentor of mine says, “You can’t build a soul-based business while trying to hide your soul”. Uncovering my soul and allowing it to be seen has required an enormous amount of personal work that I wasn’t expecting. Eighteen months later, it’s clear to me that when I consistently show up authentically, incredible things happen and I am able to create the business and life that I want.

2. Everyone has an opinion

When you are a new parent or a new business owner, everyone and I mean everyone will have an opinion on what you should do and how you should do it. People emerge from the woodwork eager to dispense advice. Sometimes opinions and advice are backed by experience and sometimes they’re not.

The fact that some people don’t have any experience and therefore haven’t earned the right to dispense advice won’t faze them at all so it shouldn’t faze you either. Be polite. Thank them for sharing, and go right ahead and ignore whatever they say.

The best advice comes from those who wait to be asked and when they are asked, they will share their experience while respecting that you, and your child or your business have unique needs. Advice and opinions are easy to come by. Time and experience will determine what works for you—and that’s the all-important thing to find.

3. New = Crazy. Time = Mastery

Whether you’re a new parent or a new business owner, the steepest learning curve will be in the beginning. When so much newness hits you all at once, there is that period of time when the best you can do is fumble and bumble your way through.

As time passes, you will learn everything you need to know. You’ll start developing systems that work for you and ultimately you’ll get things down to a science. Whether it was developing a strategy for how to keep the diaper bag stocked, so I could leave the house without spending an hour preparing, or developing my business’s unique strategy for acquiring and following up on leads–learning anything new takes time, and involves trial and error. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. If you keep at it, you’ll discover and then develop the systems that work for you.

4. Sleep when the baby does

One of the best pieces of advice an experienced mom gave me when I was a sleep-deprived new mom (is there any other kind?) was to sleep when the baby did. During that crazy initial period when there was no routine or schedule whatsoever, my instinct was to use the time she was sleeping to do something I couldn’t do when she was awake and needed my attention–work, clean, cook, etc.  There was always more to do, and I learned pretty quickly that everything went more smoothly when I got the rest I needed by sleeping when she did.

This strategy works just as well for me as a new business owner. When a client cancels an appointment, or my afternoon suddenly clears and I unexpectedly have some time available, my instinct is to catch up on my email, make those follow up calls, send out that invoice or somehow fill the time with one of the many hundreds of things that need doing. Over-working my already over-extended self is always a poor choice. I “sleep when the baby does” by giving myself permission to take some “me” time. I take a nap, or watch a movie, get a pedicure or go for a walk. I do something that I consider replenishing or nourishing.

5. No one will be as invested as you

Friends and family will be willing and often happy to help out, but as the mom, your baby always comes back to you and you are the one ultimately responsible for your child and the decisions that need to made and the actions that need to be taken. Nowhere is this more keenly felt than as a single parent—which I have been the whole time I have been a parent.

You may pay someone to help you, to babysit or tutor your child, or, as a business owner, you may pay for the help of an assistant or someone to coach you around your business, or help you strategize and implement. Their help will be invaluable, but they will never be as invested as you. At the end of the day, when their job is done, they leave and it’s still your baby! Hoping other people will be invested at the level you are is a recipe for disappointment.

6. They are unpredictable

Small children and new businesses are both unpredictable. Kids have a way of articulating precisely what they think in front of exactly the wrong person, or displaying the full range of their emotions in the most inconvenient places, and they are notorious for not performing as expected right at the moment that you’re hoping to show them off.

New businesses are unpredictable in their own way. It might show up as the worst month ever income-wise following your best month ever, or technology failing you the very moment you needed it to perform at a high level. This kind of stuff happens. Smile and laugh about it if you can. You can be sure that these moments are going to make the BEST stories sometime in the future. Above all, never let an embarrassing moment prevent you from carrying on.

7. Manage your expectations

Just like you can’t expect your two year old to behave like a 10-year-old or have the same level of ability, you can’t expect an 18 month old business to operate and behave the way a five-year-old business would. Expecting a level of ability that is not congruent with where you are is going to make you miserable. Businesses need time to mature and develop just like children do. And whether you’re looking at a person, a business or the mighty oak tree, growth simply takes time and you can’t skip stages.

8. Prodigies are the exception

Has any other parent besides me harbored the hope that perhaps their child would be a prodigy? The next Mozart, Pascal, or Bobby Fischer? I most certainly hoped my business would burst onto the scene like a prodigy child–that it would be one of those shockingly fast-growing businesses, breaking all the rules and limitations that constrain ordinary business growth. I wanted my business to be extraordinary in every way. Prodigies do happen, in children and in business, but they are the exception, not the rule. And when they occur, they present their own set of challenges. The reality of life—whether growing a child or a business—is that you have to put in the time, and go through the process to get the results you are looking for.

9. Choose your battles

In parenting, choosing one’s battles becomes a necessary skill to hone. That can look like letting something go that you really want to see change in order to focus on something more important. If you’re anything like me, this can feel like a lowering of standards or “conceding defeat”. It’s actually understanding your limits and choosing to focus your energy on what is most important. Business requires you to frequently say no to the good in order to say yes to the best. This is this business version of choosing your battles.

10. Comparison is the thief of joy

The first year of my daughter’s life I was constantly on the lookout, measuring my daughter’s growth and progress to other babies her age and stressing out if it didn’t seem to match up. I don’t believe I was the only new parent with this affliction. Eventually it gets old and you get over it—right around the time your child starts hurling “But so and so’s mommy lets them do it” at you, and you’re prepared to stand behind responses like: “It doesn’t matter what so and so’s mommy does. I’m your mommy and my decision is…”.

I think I’m just beginning to move out of the early comparison phase in my business. I’m less concerned with how well my business is doing in comparison to someone else’s. When the insecure part of me raises the comparison flag, the parent part of me is better able to stand behind the decisions I make that are in my business’s best interests.

11. Perfectionism be gone

There’s nothing like being a parent to knock out huge chunks in one’s desire for perfection. It’s simply impossible to do everything that needs doing and be the perfect mother always. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the process.

For some reason it was easier for me to accept this about parenting than in my business. With perfection connected in my mind to professionalism, it’s taken time and some suffering before I was ready to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to be perfect in running my business or in the work that I do. Everyone tells you that the secret to success is to be willing to fail often. I knew that in my head. Embodying it was a different story.

12. We’ll get there when we get there

“Are we there yet?” These are the stereotypical words that come out of the mouths of most children during any long trip. As a parent that travelled extensively with my daughter, I can’t count the number of times I’ve responded to this question with a, “We’ll get there when we get there.” When it comes to business, I frequently find myself feeling like the child weary with the long journey and desperately wanting to get there already–wherever “there” might be for me.  I’m the one wishing teleportation was already invented, so that I can magically transport myself to the destination. I would do good to take my own advice, recognize that the journey is going to take as long as it will take and sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

13. ROI is never guaranteed

Children and new businesses require large investments of time, energy and money. There is no way around this. As a parent or new business owner you do the best you can. You do your best to make smart choices about how you invest, but there will never be a 100% guarantee of return on investment and you can’t expect to see that return immediately. When all is said and done, these realities can’t prevent you from making the investments that are needed to grow either your child or your business.

14. Small problems ignored turn into larger ones later

Whether it’s the finger sucking that you hope she’ll grow out of or the hope that an effective bookkeeping system will magically appear and remove all fear of looking at your numbers. Any small problem ignored will grow into a bigger problem, and when you eventually deal with it, it will take more of your time, energy and effort than if you had taken care of it when it was small.  Address issues. Directly. As soon as you notice a problem forming.

15. Stay sane. Keep your friends

Spending all your time either with your baby or working on your business will drive you crazy. Even during the times when curling up under the covers and getting some sleep feels like the biggest need, make an effort to keep in touch with your friends and actually spend time with them. Grown-up conversation is a necessary commodity of life.

Oh, and try not to be that annoying person that only ever talks about their kid or their business. Find some fellow parents or business owners you can obsess with.

16. Don’t forget about fun

One thing I wish I would have done more of when my daughter was small, was play with her. Regrettably, play was too often lost in the mass of things to do and take care of.  Eventually, kids grow up and don’t enjoy a parent’s company the same way they did when they were young. Little kids could care less about the functional part of life, they just want to have fun and play.

When it comes to business, I believe that if you’re not having fun in your business, something is missing. The early months and years of business are chock full of discovery, exploration and learning—all things that I enjoy. One day this phase will be over and I don’t want to regret not enjoying these early years and having fun in the process.

17. Time puts mistakes into perspective

There are some mistakes that you can’t recover from or that have long-term consequences (both in parenting and business), but most mistakes—especially those made early on—which feel like the end of the world will very likely not be overly significant as time passes.

For example, turning away for a moment while changing my six month old daughter which allowed her to roll off the bed. At the time, it seemed like the most horrible thing I could have allowed to happen. It wasn’t the worst and certainly not the last parenting mistake I ever made and it seems rather insignificant 18 years later. By the same token, mistakes that I’ve made early on in business—an investment that did not work out as hoped, trusting someone who ended up being untrustworthy—though I certainly feel the impact of them now (emotionally &/or financially), chances are very good that 18 years from now it’s not going to be that big a deal in the overall landscape of my business.

18. Celebrate the milestones

There is something incredibly satisfying about watching your child grow and pass milestones—all of them significant in some way–first tooth, first step, first Christmas, first birthday, first day of school, first time child tells you she hates you, driver’s license, highschool graduation, first job.

A business will have amazing milestones that are just as much cause for celebration—first client, first recommendation, first website, first speaking engagement, first successful launch of a program, first expensive lesson, first month your business is fully supporting you

The firsts as a parent begin the day your child is born. The firsts in my business began the day I created my business entity and became a business owner. Creating an entity ensured that I was 100% in. A hobby, a part-time thing or a hair-brained idea ceased to be an option. My business became its own entity that I was responsible for, and as such, I derive enormous satisfaction as time and milestones pass.


Comments: 2

  1. Helen Allen January 6, 2014 at 1:45 am Reply

    This is beautiful. Reminds me of when my children were little. And reminds me of the impatience I feel at times with my business. I will reread often… <3

  2. John January 11, 2014 at 3:17 am Reply

    Gosh – how succintly put.

    As a parent and business owner both, what you’ve spoken of is perfect.
    The twins are nearly 17 now and present a whole world of different challenges as to when they were young’uns, as does my new business – the corollary is spot on.

    Our nearly 12 year old daughter is a whole different beast – as is learning the tools and techniques that will move us all forward in the years to come.
    Her thinking she is 28 is of no help at all by the way – as is me thinking I know how my business plan will play out. :-)
    Food for thought.

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