Blue Rock Director Peter Lalor knows as well as anyone the challenges of balancing a young family and business. With four boys under nine (including a set of identical twins), his own professional services firm and a host of hospitality businesses ‘on the side’, Lalor says good planning and delegation are essential for maintaining an even keel.
Lalor had his first dabble in the world of entrepreneurship at the age of 26, while working as an accountant at Grant Thornton. “I decided that in order to help my clients better I needed to have my own business, so I started a bar called Murmur,” he says. From there, he set up Australian Bar Holdings, an umbrella company for a number of hospitality venues. He continued to run his hospitality business “at nighttime and on the weekends” alongside his regular accounting job.
Four years after his first foray into hospitality, he and his wife welcomed their first son. At the time, Lalor had just started a new job with Lettens Chartered Accountants. Then, after 18 months at Lettens, he made the decision to start up Blue Rock. That was May 2008, just one month after the arrival of his twin boys.
Planning for success
Starting your own professional services firm with a toddler and twins in tow – and a growing hospitality business to boot – is not for the feint hearted. Lalor says the key to making it work has been planning and time management. “You’ve got to make sure you’re using the scarce amount of time you have effectively.” For Lalor, this means getting into work early and trying to leave by 4.30 every day to spend the evenings with his kids. It also means taking advantage of small windows of opportunity – like responding to emails on his phone when he’s sitting with his boys while they go to sleep, as well as culling non-essential meetings.
It helps that he also has the support of a dedicated wife and stay-at-home mum to their (now four) boys. “She’s the yin to my yang, the one who does all the hard stuff,” he says.
Sharing the load
Critical to his success has also been Lalor’s self-proclaimed “amazing” delegating abilities. “I couldn’t run the businesses I run unless I had strong management teams underneath me.” According to Lalor, one of the most common pitfalls for new business owners is trying to take too much on. “The mistake that people make is they equate support with dollars and generally they under-resource things. I go the opposite way, I over-resource and create capacity and then I leverage off that to create opportunity.”
Kylie Ostle, Director of mum-focused recruitment and networking events company Mum Society, agrees that delegation is key. However, as a start-up without a huge pot of financial resources to draw on, Ostle has limited capacity to take on staff. That’s where outsourcing comes in. The mother of two says her “newfound skill” of outsourcing has been crucial in allowing her to focus on the areas of the business that she does best. By delegating functions like admin support, book-keeping, copy-editing, business analysis and web development, Ostle is better placed to focus on the events and marketing side of Mum Society, which is where her background lies. “I try to buy ‘time’ wherever possible so that I’m not bogged down with things that someone else can do better and more efficiently,” she says.
Keeping it real
As a mother of two young daughters, Ostle says it’s also been important for her to keep her expectations in check. While she does have the support of family and two days of childcare for her toddler, some of her work must still be juggled around her motherly duties. “I always overestimate on timings because timelines are a shady thing with a family in tow. And we all know that little ones won’t sleep when you have a deadline!”
However, sometimes there are deadlines that simply can’t wait and this is where things get challenging. “The main disadvantage of running your own business with a family is when the proverbial hits the fan, you have to be there to pick up the pieces,” says Lalor. “You could have a really important family event – a birthday or first concert or whatever – and you can’t be there because you’ve got someone who’s relying on you to do something that can’t wait.”
Both Lalor and Ostle say the flexibility of generally being able to spend time with the family on your own terms makes up for the occasional sacrifice. “My eldest daughter will be three in January and I’m already realising how fleeting the early years are,” says Ostle. “Being able to really enjoy lovely weather and the ‘moments’ with my little people make it all worthwhile.”