• Jessica Whelan

Phoenix Feature: Sheila

Hello friends! Welcome to our new series featuring fascinating, lovely, regular parents just like you.

First up is my friend and fellow crazy dancer Sheila Penton. Read on to see all the wonderful ways she’s making life work. Balancing family and work as a successful entrepreneur looks easy to see her do it.

Here she gets into the nitty-gritty of carving out quality time for her loved ones and for herself, what it took to launch a business, the power of community, and learning to delegate whatever you can.

What are your top ways to carve out quality time with your family?

I find it works best when we schedule it in the calendar. It makes sure that time is set aside and gives us a plan of what to do with it.

Pre-COVID, if felt like there was something scheduled every weeknight (Karate, softball, dance) and then birthdays, sports practices and time with relatives on weekends. To connect more as a family, we started having a weekly night together, rotating who chose the activity (board games and movies with popcorn came up a lot). We also love going for walks in our favourite places (like Nine Creeks Trail and the lakefront path in Port Credit) and eating ice cream! Some of the family activities that we did this summer are on my son's YouTube channel, and my favourite is this compilation of bottle rockets we launched together.

Day to day, we have device-free dinner together every night and I have after school time with my son to talk about his day. At bedtime, we cuddle and read together or listen to a meditation, and I'm there to listen while he does a "brain dump" of his thoughts before going to sleep.

What's the story of how you started your business?

When I was pregnant, I started thinking about options for work once my son was born. It didn't make sense financially to go back to work once I factored in the costs of childcare, updating my wardrobe, transportation, and lunches out. The idea of working for myself was appealing, mostly because of being able to choose when I want to work. I also want to spend as much time with my son as I can.

There are risks either way with work, whether it's self-employment or being employed by someone. There are never any guarantees. Since I like to try new things, my attitude was, "Why not, what's the worst that could happen?" (I should mention here that I was very fortunate to be in the position that our family could manage on one income if needed, at least for a while.)

I researched some ideas and it made the most sense to continue doing the work I was doing as an Executive Assistant, but as a consultant. My first step was taking a free online course with the Mississauga Business Enterprise Centre (MBEC) to learn how to start a business. I already had a computer and had to pay less than $100 to register the business, and then I just built on to it. At first I focused on word of mouth/networking and didn't even have a website. I've been running Online-EA for 10 years now, so I guess it was a good choice!

When thinking about scaling up, I consider what the extra work would cost in terms of mental and physical time away from my family. Recently I came across a great book called "The Go-Giver" that shares the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success. In learning about the laws I decided creating an online community would be the best way for me to share my knowledge with the most people. As I reflected on how I could create a community with value, I observed that people usually hire me initially to tidy up a specific part of their business. While doing this we are able to build a relationship, and then we dive deeper into improving the systems they have in place. That made me realize I have a gift for organizing and systematizing, especially digital assets and things in the online world. It was easy to dismiss that notion as no big deal at first. Then it hit me that the reason I think it's ordinary is because it's my superpower.

With all that in mind, I've chosen to diversify instead of making my current business bigger. So on November 24th, 2021 (for the 10 year anniversary of Online- EA) I'll be launching a project called Digital Declutter (a free online community and paid subscribers-only club). You can find more information and join the free community here.

My message to you is: Don't discount your unique talents and interests! Recognize that there are lots of great people out there who happen to have a weakness in the exact place you have a strength.

What surprising or useful things did you learn as a parent and/or as a business owner that you'd like to share with folks in the same boat?

It pays to delegate what you don't need to do yourself.

During maternity leave, I did a mindfulness course about self care (nutrition, sleep, stress management, asking for help). It made me reassess what I really needed to do myself. I realized that to have enough time and energy, I need help to either come from people in my life or I can pay for it. The first thing I did was stop taking the garbage out! Making sure that I have plans outside of family time (going to dance classes, getting coffee with friends to have grown-up conversations) was another important commitment I made to myself.

The next thing I wiped off my to-do list was food. We were trying to meal plan for the longest time and I'd spend hours looking up recipes and making grocery lists. Then my partner would go to 3 grocery stores and still not find everything, we couldn't use up all our ingredients before they went bad, and we still ended up ordering pizza halfway through the week.

It was hugely inefficient and frustrating. By chance I got a promo for a meal kit from a friend, and right away I felt so much happiness and relief. It gave me such peace of mind to just stop having to plan. Now we don't spend tons of time planning (5 minutes a week just to choose meals), and it feels great to know we waste way less food.

With that win under our belts, we also decided to do things like hire a cleaning service and get our son a clothing capsule from Phoenix Preworn to help relieve some stress and give us more quality time together. From my perspective, it's money well spent.


Sheila Penton (she/her) is a mom, wife, and owner of Online-EA, an Executive Assistant services company based in Mississauga. She thrives on adding joy to the lives of small business owners by taking the worry of administrative matters off of their minds. When she's not at her desk you can find her having fun with her family, or dancing her way to the nearest pizza shop.

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