Becoming an entrepreneur takes hard work. For some, becoming an entrepreneur means leaving their job and pursuing a path outside the corporate world. Others might start a business directly out of college or as a side gig while they work at a different company full time. Regardless of how someone becomes an entrepreneur, it's going to be a sizable time commitment. But just how big of a time commitment do entrepreneurs need to make to find success?
While many companies follow a standard 9-to-5, 40-hour workweek, entrepreneurs find themselves working at odd times of the day, many times more than 40 hours per week. For young or aspiring entrepreneurs being bombarded from all angles with the "entrepreneurial grind" on social media, it's hard to know how many hours entrepreneurs truly work.
So how many hours should entrepreneurs work per week? With so much uncertainty, we turned to entrepreneurs and studies on workplace productivity to find an answer.
There's no correct answer
This isn't a lazy answer; it's the truth. Entrepreneurs shouldn't equate hours worked to success.
"When you're an entrepreneur, the hours you work are a meaningless measure," said Christine Baker, co-founder and director of Strategic Nudge. "You work until you achieve what you need – whether that's your first product launch, first customer sale, first year of $100,000 turnover or whatever. If that takes 20 or 70 hours a week, so be it.
"Of course, you still have to factor into your waking hours all your other responsibilities – family duties, maybe still a part-time job to keep some cash flow during the hard, early months or years of your business, time to exercise, but, otherwise, you won't be counting the hours in the same way," she added.
Some business owners find success working 30 hours or fewer every week, while some notable entrepreneurs like Grant Cardone believe you should work 95 hours per week, or 14 hours per day, to become a millionaire. Gary Vaynerchuk, another successful entrepreneur, recommends spending about 18 hours a day working on your startup for the first year of your business's existence.
Even though these successful entrepreneurs believe in extensive time allocated to your business, it's a massive stretch to assume every successful startup founder spends 75 percent of their week working on their business. It's unreasonable to ask that of yourself, and you'll likely experience burnout.
In Vaynerchuk's video, he says to make the dream of building your business come true, you have to make "substantial sacrifices." This is a more accurate statement than saying you need to work 18 hours a day for 365 days. Being an entrepreneur takes significant work, and giving up sleep, time with loved ones and hobbies may be several sacrifices you make, but giving them up completely for an entire year is an easy way to throw your health and happiness away.
Research suggests that working long hours can be detrimental to your productivity and overall health. While popular entrepreneurs may encourage you to work 60 to 100 hours per week, science disagrees with this sentiment. There is no right answer for how many hours you should be working, regardless of what entrepreneurs post to their Instagram story. It's important to monitor your physical and mental wellbeing, rather than trying to copy what someone on social media says.
Factors to consider
Instead of measuring success in hours, view other factors in evaluating how much work progress you're making on your business and whether the hours you're putting in are enough.
Is the startup your full-time job?
If you're generating 100 percent of your income from your startup, it makes sense that you'd put more time into the business. On the other hand, if you're putting 40 hours per week into a different full-time position, you have fewer hours to spend on your business, especially if you want to avoid burnout.
"We launched our brand in October 2015 via Indiegogo, and I was working a full-time job as a data and content analyst for Hulu," said Ryan Chen, co-founder and CFO of NeuroGum, "working full time and working on NeuroGum as a side hustle. We grew the company to almost $50,000 in revenue a month before Kent and I decided to go full time February 2017. I'd say we work 60 hours a week, but beyond that, business is always on our minds. If you include business dinners or meeting new people associated with [partnerships], I think hours can easily get to 70 to 80 a week."
Once Chen and co-founder and CEO Kent Yoshimura were in the business as full-time employees, they allocated more time to the business without feeling major effects of burnout. It's also worth noting that some of this work came in the form of business dinners or meetings. While still relevant to the success of the business, a dinner meeting with a client can be significantly less taxing on the mind than hours of accounting work. Allocating hours to your business depends on your business's role in your life. If it's your full-time gig, it's much easier to increase the hours spent on the business than if it's your side hustle.
What industry do you work in?
Some industries require more hours on the job. For example, a caterer may have to work long events on the weekend, while someone in a different industry might not have to work much on the weekends at all. The food industry tends to be time-consuming, as it's nearly impossible to open a food service without the owner working on location for much of the day.
On the other hand, a former business professor running a subscription-based website with actionable career advice may be able to work fewer hours per week, as people can visit the site and subscribe to the professor's content while the professor isn't actively doing anything related to their business. The teacher could spend 60 to 80 hours one week creating content for the entire month and 20 hours the next three weeks of the month publishing content and monitoring the website and social media channels.
The business professor isn't working any less productively than the caterer, but total hours worked may vary drastically.
Is your business growing?
Starting a business, especially with minimal initial investment, requires a significant time commitment.
"In the early stages, there's not too much money coming in, so we tend to do $10 tasks, rather than focusing our time on $100-plus tasks, like a CEO should be doing," said Elizabeth Girouard, CEO and founder of both Pure Simple Wellness and Zing Meals. "This usually means that the entrepreneur is spending a lot of time doing tasks that would be better served by someone else. This is one of the main reasons many entrepreneurs work more than 40 hours every week."
Once your business grows, however, it's worth looking into adding outside help and delegating tasks. As you develop a stronger understanding of your business's operations and strengths, you can pinpoint areas of help and spend more time on big-picture items, while your employees or outsourced help handle many of the tasks you once spent hours on.
"There [have] been years I've been clocking 80-hour weeks while we've been in growth mode, and then other years where I worked maybe 20 hours a week," said Maggie Patterson, founder of Small Business Boss. "The reality of entrepreneurship is that you get to design how you run and ultimately grow your business, and that doesn't have to mean hustling until collapse from burnout."
Delegating is a fantastic way to reduce burnout and free more space in your calendar.
What's your personal situation?
Consider your mental health, career goals, physical wellbeing and relationship status. Do you have a family? Are you a single parent? Are you struggling with health issues? The time you're able to put into a business depends largely on what's going on around you. It might not make sense to put 70 hours a week into your business if you're going through health issues or struggling with a relationship. Maybe you're recently single and now have additional time to finally start your dream business. Regardless of your personal situation, it's important to understand how the time you spend as an entrepreneur will affect other aspects of your life.
"Many of my fellow entrepreneurship friends and I always say that at the end of the day, it's not who worked the most hours, but who worked the most efficiently while keeping their mental health," said Natalie Riso, founder of Impact Mentality.
Being an entrepreneur brings challenges, but it's critical to take care of yourself and all aspects of your life when starting a business.
The bottom line
Work as many hours as you can without harming your personal life, productivity and overall health. If you're able to work 50 to 60 hours while still juggling personal matters and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, that's a suitable solution for you. If you're struggling to put 40 hours into your business and finding yourself lost in unmanageable stress, make a change. You might find that working 20 productive hours per week benefits your business and your life outside of work.
Remember, there's no correct answer for how many hours you should work as an entrepreneur. Every business owner is different, and it's a mistake to compare yourself to entrepreneurs on social media who claim working fewer than 90 hours per week will destroy your business. Do what works for you, not someone else.