We had the good fortune of connecting with Alania Cater and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Alania, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Work life balance is so difficult, especially as technology has blurred the lines between work and life and allowed for us to be always on and always available. In my late twenties and early 30s, I was of the mindset that in order to be successful, I had to work many hours (regularly clocking 80+ hours a week), and always available, taking meetings at 6 am, on Sundays, etc. This left me so drained, that I had little time to balance the work with anything else in life. When my first husband passed away unexpectedly when I was 37, I did not care about my career successes; all I cared about was the lost time I did not get to spend with him because I was not setting healthy boundaries with my work.
Fast forward to now, two years in as co-founder of my own business that I started with my fiance. A blessing and a curse of owning your own business is that you get to set your own schedule, but you also have full ownership of everything that happens with the business. This can make it challenging to find balance. But, having known what burnout and regret feels like, it is even more important for me to find time to fully disconnect from work so that I am fully recharged and ready to work. Knowing that I am most productive in the morning, I start my work days early, but allow myself the flexibility to schedule appointments as needed in the afternoon when I know I hit a mid-afternoon slump. This may mean that I work a little later into the evening, but it feels balanced because I have given my brain a break when it needs it. We have also instituted a strict, “no talking about the business after 7PM” rule, which has helped better delineate between work and personal life. And, while we worked almost 7 days a week the first 18 months of the business, over the past 6 months we have cut back our weekend hours and started to set boundaries so that we have time together and with family and friends that is not distracted by work.
I also try to allow for a minimum of 45 minutes of working out time every weekday (typically 2 hours on the weekends) which forces me to disconnect from devices and focus on myself and the present. This year, I have also refocused on my love of fiction by reading every day, and making my once a month book club meetings a non-negotiable. I also get outside as much as possible, whether that is to walk, run, or work. I’ve started working from home one day a week, and typically start my day working outside, which helps calm my nervous system. Making time to do these things provides the balance I need for the nonstop fires that come with owning your own startup.
As the lines between work and life continue to blur – from technology, working from home, working from anywhere – finding the things that continue to bring me into the present, calm my body and mind, and provide boundaries from work pressures, will be necessary to prevent burnout and allow me to be the most effective leader possible.
What should our readers know about your business?
In April 2020, after being unable to take a birthday trip due Covid lockdowns, my fiance purchased a puzzle of the trip location instead. After completing the puzzle, I looked at him and said, “I guess it’s going to pile up in the closet with all of the other puzzles we’ve done once”. That was the aha moment, and Completing the Puzzle was born.
Completing the Puzzle is a sustainable, hassle-free puzzle rental subscription service. When you sign up, you set your puzzle preferences. We then send a surprise puzzle based on those preferences, you do the puzzle, send it back, and we send another puzzle. No more clutter or waster of puzzles that were only done once!
Starting this business was hard, and keeping it going has been even harder. We started when there was a puzzle shortage, and had to get creative about how to obtain inventory. That was how our “puzzle buyback” program was born, where members can send in their like new puzzles for subscription credit. Shipping costs continue to rise, so there is a constant challenge to lower shipping costs and improve operations. Like many other small businesses, we have struggled to hire talent, especially for the roles that require being in person in the warehouse. We have had to pay above market wages, offer great benefits, and create an empowered work culture – all things we would want to do anyways – in order to hire and retain talent.
There will always be changes and challenges to overcome, and as a small business owner, you must be prepared to take them head on as they arise. A great example of this is the iOs changes that greatly effected ad targeting, inordinately hurting small businesses. It caused our customer acquisition costs to rise, so we had to get creative. First, we hired a seasoned agency to optimize the ads and spend to make them as efficient as possible. But we have continued to diversify into other channels in order to not be as reliant on any single acquisition channel. This is just one example of many where you may have the best laid plans but something outside of your control will change them and it will be up to you to refocus and solve for the biggest problem that day/week/month.
Lastly, I would say find a mentor (or 2) as early on as possible. There is no need to recreate the wheel, and talking to experienced people who have been through what you are going through before not only helps you problem solve, it can also help you feel less alone.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Britni McCotter has been by my side after the loss of my husband and is a constant reminder about the importance of staying present and finding balance in life.