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I tried to run my business as a side hustle but burned out so badly I wanted to walk away. Here's how I've fixed my work-life balance as I take it full-time.

Salina Jivani   

I tried to run my business as a side hustle but burned out so badly I wanted to walk away. Here's how I've fixed my work-life balance as I take it full-time.
  • Lina Barker had a day job in telemarketing while co-founding a black hair care brand for men.
  • She worked 12-hour days to scale her business alongside her 40-hour workweek and burned out.

This an as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Lina Barker, the London-based co-founder of Aaron Wallace, a brand of hair care products for black men. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I started my first business when I was 16 as a mobile hairdresser. Back then, I had no clue that entrepreneurship would become my dream and I would co-found a business that has made six figures.

Both Tanzanian and Dutch, I grew up in Holland. As a teenager, I moved to London and graduated from the University of Bedfordshire with a bachelor's in Marketing Communications in 2012.

After graduating, I worked for several years in sales and marketing jobs. I liked the work, but I couldn't shake the desire to build a legacy that would outlive me.

I was working in recruitment in 2015 when my future co-founder and friend Aaron Wallace approached me about starting a business.

Over lunch, he told me about how he wanted to start a line of hair products for black men because of the lack of diversity in the hair care industry.

Aaron asked me to help him build the business from scratch, and I immediately agreed. I felt I had found the legacy I was looking for.

We launched our first products – a shampoo, conditioner, and oil – in a South London barbershop in 2016.

We invested around £10,000 to start the business. We raised the money from personal savings, family and friends, and Aaron selling his car.

We began looking for outside investment almost immediately.

We raised £75,000 from an angel investor in 2017. This money meant we could rebrand, rebuild our website, conduct research, and develop our formulation.

With the pressure of investment, I began to spend more time on the business.

I had moved to a job in telemarketing at this point and couldn't afford to quit, so I teetered between both: my day job and my dream job.

I did telemarketing from 7:30 to 11 a.m. and then took a thirty-minute break. From 11:30 until 5 p.m., I focused on the business. And then, from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m., I worked telemarketing again.

I spent weekends catching up on the business and, when I was lucky, decompressing in front of the TV or PlayStation.

This schedule meant that life was work and not much else. I hardly had time for family or friends. My mental well-being took a beating, too. With my mind in constant overdrive, I had no time to relax.

It began to impact my work. I struggled with simple tasks, felt overwhelmed doing little things, and lost confidence in myself.

I didn't recognize that my sudden lack of motivation was a sign of burnout. It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment it started because it crept up on me, but maybe around 2019. Looking back, I can see I was burned out.

I often felt so overwhelmed I wanted to give up on everything – including my side hustle – but, fortunately, my husband would talk me out of it.

The one thing that kept me going was knowing I wasn't in it alone; Aaron was working the business full time and we had backing from our shareholders.

In October 2019, after two years of research and development, we launched our hair care line for black men and named it after my co-founder: Aaron Wallace.

We began to turn a profit but reinvested heavily in the business. We were both taking a small salary, but it was not enough to cover my family outgoings. This meant I couldn't quit my other job.

We had built up a significant following online and were approached by ASOS to stock our product in 2020. They were quickly followed by major European and US retailers such as Liberty London, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Zalando. Our exposures with these retailers landed us a partnership with Sainsbury's, a national UK supermarket chain.

Over the two years since our launch, I'd reduced my shifts at my day job dropping from 40 hours a week to 25 and then 10 and this was helping with my burnout.

These successes combined with a £250,000 investment raised in summer 2021 through a private equity firm meant I could pay myself a larger salary. I quit my telemarketing job that summer.

Knowing I was susceptible to overworking myself, I immediately set boundaries: I established fixed start and end times, committed to not touching work on the weekends unless it was absolutely necessary, and am trying to use all my holiday each year.

My mentality before burning out was longer hours equaled more success.

Now, I know I can accomplish more by giving myself healthy breaks. I start work at 9 a.m. at the latest, give myself a full hour for lunch, and by 6:30 p.m., I call it a day.

Setting clear boundaries and expectations for myself has been essential on a personal level.

On a professional level, focusing all my time on the business meant we could create a roadmap for the company that is integral to our future success.

Now I can focus on networking and creating a team that can help our business expand.

Last year alone, Aaron Wallace generated well into six figures.


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