One couple's mission to find a better work/life balance

Popular DIY bloggers discuss balancing life with working from home (Produced by the BBC's David Botti)

In the first of a new series of weekly articles looking at the successes and challenges of small companies around the world, the BBC's Kate Dailey visits Richmond, Virginia, to explore how one married couple who run their own business from home manage to create a work-life balance.

John and Sherry Petersik run a successful blog about their life at home. But when your business is built around writing about your life, how do you balance the two?

The set-up seems like a dream - work with your spouse to build your perfect kitchen, blog about it, and make enough money from doing so that both of you can stay at home and raise your child.

But it's not nearly that simple.

That's what John and Sherry Petersik, founders of the blog Young House Love, have discovered in the five years their blog has turned from a project for friends and family to an internet phenomenon.

The Petersiks now work full-time at the blog, which offers do-it-yourself projects, home renovation tips, and profiles of reader redesign. They post seven times a week and garner more than five million page views a month.

'Two-person newspaper'

While the success of the blog has allowed them both to work from home and raise their two-year-old daughter, Clara, it's presented its own challenges.

Young House Love book cover In 2012, the Petersiks published a book of home-improvement projects

"It's like a two-person newspaper, you're churning out stories every day," says Sherry. "It's not like you paint something and then it's on the blog. You paint it and then you have to wait for good lighting to photograph it.

"And then you have to write something and then you're the editor and you have to proof it. And then you edit again and then you share it, and people have questions, so you're doing public relations."

And when your job is based around your home life, it can be difficult to draw a hard line between public and private, between work and play. When they're enjoying time together as a family, says John, the pressure to share with their readers is ever-present.

"There's a voice on the back of our head - should we be taking a picture of this?" he says.

"We're trying to develop a second voice to argue, 'Just enjoy this for what it is. You don't have to share with the rest of the world. They have enough of you already.'"

To that end, the Petersiks have made work-life balance a frequent, public pursuit. For the past three years, they have included some variation of this desire on the occasional lists of goals they post on their site.

'Don't burn out'

But cutting back comes at a price.

"A lot of people, even ourselves when we started, don't realise that when you want to turn a blog it into a job, it does become a business. You have to figure out where your income is going to come from, you have to manage those revenue streams," says John.

Balancing act: Tips for the self-employed

Breaking away from work is tricky no matter who you are, but for those who work from home can find it exceptionally difficult to carve out personal and professional time.

Kristie Arslan, president of the National Association for the Self-Employed, offered some tips for at-home workers:

  • Make a schedule: You have to create your schedule like a normal work day - work from 09:00-17:00, or whatever works for you, and stick to those hours.
  • Close the door: When the workday ends, leave your working space - and close it off for the night. Whether it's an office or just a corner of the kitchen, don't use it for anything but work.
  • Stick to it: You have to maintain that schedule, because if you don't you fall victim to creep.
  • Get out: If it's impossible to feel relaxed at home, seek external office space. Co-working spaces provide both a neutral work environment and "the water cooler experience".

The couple is responsible for quarterly business taxes. They must keep up their health insurance payments, pay for server space, hire an accountant, and put money away for their retirement.

Though the Petersiks in the past have made revenue through paid writing jobs and private design consulting, the majority of their income now comes from advertising on the site - either through automatically generated Google ads, or through direct site sponsors, which often include design and home supply companies such as the Tile Shop. The sponsors are individually managed by the couple themselves,

In order to generate that ad revenue, they need to ensure a steady flow of traffic - so cutting back requires some careful consideration.

"We have to figure it out while still guarding the business, because this puts food on the table and pays for our daughter's roof over her head," Sherry says.

"We can't be stupid about it, but we need to make choices that make this sustainable for us in the long haul so we don't burn out."

Struggling to find a work-life balance is a problem that plagues many workers, especially those who are self-employed. In the US, that includes 80% of small businesses, says the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) - and that same segment is growing faster than any other in the US economy.

As the site - and their visibility - has grown, the Petersiks have been able to supplement their revenue through projects like a best-selling book and a lighting line. They're also determined to maintain their current traffic targets while writing one less post a week.

'Goals intertwined'

But, Matthew Kelly, the head of Floyd Consulting, reminds the couple that work-life balance may be elusive for a reason.

John and Sherry Petersik with their daughter Clara The Petersiks say a happy marriage is key to their successful business

"The term itself is fatally flawed," he says. "Work and life are too intertwined."

Kelly, the author of Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction, says that more important than being balanced is being "satisfied" both professionally and personally. "The idea that I'm going to spend as much time with my professional stuff as with my personal stuff just doesn't work," he says.

Instead, he recommends to his clients that they establish what is important to them in their personal lives and then carve out non-negotiable time to get that done, even if it means working odd hours.

That's a skill that the Petersiks already practise. "As much as we talk about working nights and weekends, a lot of that is because we're stay-at-home parents and we don't take that lightly," Sherry says. "When she's awake and it is a nice day, we will take her to the park, and then we'll work when she's asleep."

After all, making time for family and home life is essential to the couple's success.

"Our life goals sort of piggyback off of our work goals because they are so intertwined," John says.

"We still need to experience life, and have a happy marriage and happy family, to make the business work."

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