Work Life Balance For Small Business Owners

I have a love hate relationship with Facebook. On one hand, Facebook allows me to keep in touch with and keep track of what my friends are up to.

But on the other hand, I often leave Facebook with a healthy dose of jealousy and feelings of inadequacy.

For example…

  • One of my Stanford classmates just sold his company for over 500 million dollars. (Me: I feel like a slacker)
  • Another friend is living it up by taking time off and travelling the world. (Me: Why am I working so hard?)
  • My buddy J is doing all this cool stuff with his children while I’m working on my businesses. (Me: I’m a bad father)

As a result, I often wonder what I’m missing out on and where I should be spending my time.

Should I grow the heck out of my businesses at the expense of time with family?

Should I be out there enjoying life more rather than working?

Do I have the proper balance between work, play and other activities in my life?

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Where Are You Spending Your Time?


As it turns out, I’m not alone. Every single day, I get emails from readers who hate their jobs and question whether they are making the right decisions with their time.

Recently, I had one reader who complained to me that he works a decent paying job (>100K) that occupies his schedule from 6am to 10pm every day (That’s a 16 hour day btw in case you’re counting).

By the time he gets home from work every day, he feels exhausted and anti-social. As a result, his social and personal life has suffered over the years and he often gets depressed.

But at the same time, he does not feel like he can quit because he’s become accustomed to living a certain lifestyle that he does not want to give up.

In addition, he has a hefty mortgage that he needs to pay off.

What’s funny is that these emails usually end with…

“Steve, I think starting an ecommerce business could be the answer. Can I start an online store on the side in my spare time and how quickly can I make (insert dollar amount here) so I can quit the job that I hate so much?”

Now how would you respond to this question? To me, the answer isn’t entirely obvious and it doesn’t necessarily involve starting an online business.

You Can’t Have It All


Those of you who have followed me for a long time know that I have 2 kids, an ecommerce store, a blog, an online store course and an entrepreneurship podcast.

And on top of all of this, I also run an annual ecommerce conference called The Sellers Summit.

Editor’s Note: Up until recently, I was doing all of the above in addition to working a full time job as a microprocessor designer. But here’s why I decided to quit

While I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, I still wonder whether…

  • If I focused 100% of my time on a single business, could I create a billion dollar company? Could I create something that changes the world on a grander scale?
  • Would my life be more exciting and exhilarating if I took the family and traveled the world?
  • Would my kids turn out better if I spent even more time with them and put less emphasis on my businesses?

Here’s the thing. I know that I can’t have it all.

Every choice and every minute that I’m spending on a certain activity is a minute that I could be spending somewhere else.

The Real Question You Should Be Asking

So the real question is…

“What do you value the most and what is your order of priority?”

My kids and family are my number one. I want to spend time with them and take an active part in their lives.

And to facilitate this, my wife and I created our online store in order to have the flexible schedule that raising kids necessitates.

On the personal front, I love solving technical problems so my other priority is to keep my brain active and stimulated.

When I was working full time, my engineering job fulfilled this purpose even though my salary was a very small portion of our household income.

But last year, I came to the realization that my kids were going away to college in less than a decade (it creeps up sooner than you think). And I wanted to spend more time with them while they still wanted to hang out with me.

So I finally quit cold turkey:)

Healthy Sacrifices

Want Need

Now from the perspective of someone who always strives to be the best, balancing the growth of my businesses and my family has been extremely challenging.

After all, you can’t achieve explosive business growth unless you are willing to put in the work and time. And truth be told, juggling my businesses and spending time with the kids has required a fair amount of sacrifice on my ambitions.

I take a lot of pride in what I do but I full on admit that I would love to do some of the things that my peers are doing. I would love to accomplish what some of my friends have accomplished.

But my priorities in life have made me realize that…

  • I will not be creating the next 100 million dollar company if I’m only willing to devote 15-20 hours per week on my businesses. Anything beyond a lifestyle business requires serious dedication and a huge time commitment that I’m currently not be willing to bear.
  • I will probably not be traveling the world and living out of my backpack for months at a time anytime soon (at least not while my kids are living at home):) More date nights should be feasible however.
  • I most likely will not become Vice President or CEO of a large company. When I was a director of engineering, I believe that I’d already reached my ceiling given how much time I was willing to devote to my job.

But despite these sacrifices, the upshot is that I will always be close to my family and I will never miss any important life changing event or achievement in their lives.

Work Life Balance – What’s The Right Answer?

Now I’d like to take a moment and go back to my reader’s original question. If he hates his job but doesn’t want to give up his existing lifestyle, then what’s the correct course of action? Should he start an online business or quit his job?

Well for one thing, he could suck it up, not sleep, and start a business on the side. But after working a 16 hour day, I doubt that he’d have any time or energy left over. For this reader, I would probably have him sit down and figure out what his priorities are.

Is living a lavish life style more important than personal happiness? Is owning a nice house worth the pressure of working a job that you despise?

If I were him, I would NOT add a new business to the mix. Instead, I’d pick one aspect of my life that I want to improve, focus on it and drop everything else that does not contribute to my goal.

For me that one thing is my family and kids. As such, it’s fairly straightforward for me to make decisions on what to add or drop in my life.

But the reality is that we all have to give up something. Is affording a nice house and living a lavish lifestyle more important than being happy 16 out of 24 hours in the day?

The answer seems pretty clear to me.

photo credit: balance scale and pattern blocks Late Night Mathematics

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About Steve Chou

Steve Chou is a highly recognized influencer in the ecommerce space and has taught thousands of students how to effectively sell physical products online over at

His blog,, has been featured in Forbes, Inc, The New York Times,  Entrepreneur and MSNBC.  

He's also a contributing author for BigCommerce, Klaviyo, ManyChat, Printful, Privy, CXL, Ecommerce Fuel, GlockApps, Privy, Social Media Examiner, Web Designer Depot, Sumo and other leading business publications.

In addition, he runs a popular ecommerce podcast, My Wife Quit Her Job, which is a top 25 marketing show on all of Apple Podcasts

To stay up to date with all of the latest ecommerce trends, Steve runs a 7 figure ecommerce store,, with his wife and puts on an annual ecommerce conference called The Sellers Summit.  

Steve carries both a bachelors and a masters degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Despite majoring in electrical engineering, he spent a good portion of his graduate education studying entrepreneurship and the mechanics of running small businesses. 

20 thoughts on “Work Life Balance For Small Business Owners”

  1. Dale Reardon says:


    Thanks for the great blog post.

    I have been getting your e-course as well which is great. Do you happen to have an affiliate program?

    Luckily my wife is working with me on our business ventures online.


  2. Millo lailang says:

    that’s a good question brokeblog. And I’m finding myself lately getting obsessed with my business and success. But the demerit is getting cut out from other important things like family.
    I often feel worried about not spending enough time with family, friends and society and ponder whether it is worth it to spend so much time on my business. But maybe I would think the same thing vice versa if I were spending more time with family. I would be worried about finance and success.
    Aaa. Finding it hard to balance time both sides 🙂

  3. JJ says:

    This is exactly why I only check Facebook once a week or so. (Tim Ferriss recommended checking your email as infrequently as possible but I pretty much applied this to Facebook instead.)

    There’s also a study that people who spend too much time on Facebook end up feeling depressed for the very same reason. People who focus on an internal rather than external locus of success tend to be happier in life.

    As for your prioritization, I feel it’s great you’re admitting your priorities and taking charge instead of trying to do too much. I guess one of the great things about running a *successful* business is that you may be able to outsource some parts so your business stays strong while you spend more time with your family. Depending on the ROI of the outsourcing, this may be something to look further into.

  4. Tamela Lewis says:

    I appreciate the wisdom in your reply and writing. When we operate on the wrong premise (“I can have it all”), the conclusion is always wrong too. Life is about choices–oftentimes really difficult ones. Thanks for making that so clear.

    I had a realization somewhere along the line that comparing myself to others was always a losing proposition. Depending on the point of reference, I can feel good or depressed depending on who I decide to compare myself with. It’s entirely subjective, so I decided to avoid it as much as possible. This saying has helped me: “Swim in my own lane.” It’s an obvious analogy to swimming and popping my head up to look around just breaks my concentration and flow. I admit it’s easier said than done.
    Your emails have been a blessing to me many times. Keep writing. You are making a difference.

    1. Steve C says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Tamela.

      Every time I start longing to do something else, I take a look at my little ones:)

  5. Chi says:

    Great article Steve. Its easy to get caught up in other people’s definition of success. We forget that no one has it all, and that all success comes at some price. Keep up the great articles.

    1. Steve C says:

      Absolutely brother. See you soon.

  6. Quinton Hamp says:

    I love how candid this post is.

    For myself, I do find those huge success stories to be inspiring, but at the same time I have such a firm idea on what make me happy and what I want out of life that I almost never envy others.

    I’m looking forward to reading others take on this.

    1. Steve C says:

      It’s tough to figure it out actually. But once you do, your decisions get a lot easier to make

  7. Gen Y Finance Guy says:

    Yikes, how lavish could this readers lifestyle be if he is working 16-hour days.

    Doesn’t sound like he does anything lavish during the week. I hope he doesn’t work on the weekends as well.

    Maybe I have a different definition of Lavish.

    Anyways, you hit the nail on the head with this one. Everything you do leads to an opportunity cost. And the best way to deal with it is to figure out your priorities.


    1. Steve C says:

      That reader I believe was in some sort of investment or finance. 80 hour weeks, living in the office.

  8. Michelle @ Greedy Gourmet says:

    I think one toxic thing western society does is to compare yourself with others. If you do that, you’re never going to be happy. Admittedly, I get a bit green at times but then take a step back and rather focus on myself. What was I like a year ago? Have I evolved and grown as a person and made progress following my dreams? Most of the time the answer is yes. A self-congratulary pat on the back is then given and I go about my business as usual. 🙂

    1. Steve C says:

      That is a great way to think about it Michelle!

  9. Athena says:

    I loved this post. For one, I am happy to see other people have this same problem and have to make tough choices.

    I really enjoy my day job as a site coordinator for a non-profit and although I wont’t become a millionaire, I still really enjoy how rewarding it is for me. I also really enjoy continuing my education and still making sure I have time to relax and read. I know I won’t have an uber successful blog but sometimes I just need to be honest and admit I want to focus my time elsewhere for the moment.

    1. Steve C says:

      What makes you think that you won’t have a super successful blog?:) Harlan can help you with that!

  10. AndyC says:

    Great post Steve! I can definitely relate to what you’re saying.

    1. Steve C says:

      Thanks bud

  11. Jake Hamilton says:

    Great points on Facebook Steve. Any credible article I’ve read about spending too much time on Facebook basically points to the same conclusions.

    I think anyone who actually knows the “Facebook Stars” that post all the time about what awesome things they’re doing, can see the true side. I know a few of these people beyond Facebook and they’re as equally f’d up as the rest of us. Based on the few “Facebook Stars” I know, I’d say they’re probably worse and longing for attention.

    There’s nothing wrong with showing the world what you’re doing. Our close friends and family like to keep updated occasionally, but for some it’s become all about projection and image. Just be wary of that when feeling the FOMO people.

  12. Dave in Sunny FL says:

    When looking at Facebook, remember that it’s apples and oranges to try to compare your behind-the-scenes documentary with other peoples’ highlight reels.

  13. GYM says:

    It’s been over a year since I stopped Facebook and it’s great! I don’t regret it one bit. It definitely helps with the FOMO. I think people have low self esteem these days and rely on social media for the instant gratification and ‘pats on the back’ or “likes”.

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