Avoid Business Burnout: Real Small Business Owners Share Their Coping Secrets


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Let’s face it: nobody starts a small business so that they’ll work less and have more free time. One thing I’ve heard consistently over the years from small business owners is how much harder it is to run a business than it is to work for one. In fact, many of them describe business ownership as a job that means working from morning till night, seven days a week. A friend of mine who owns a small café recently admitted to me he that hasn’t taken a single vacation in the seven years since he opened!

All of this sounds like a surefire recipe for serious “business owner burnout.” So I decided to ask 10 real-life small business owners how they stay energized. How do they cope with those moments when they feel overwhelmed by the constant pressure, the lack of time off, and the worries that come with being in business for yourself? This is the question I posed to them: “What tactics do you use to re-energize yourself and reinvigorate your passion for your business?”

Read on for their helpful, actionable advice—real-life wisdom from the trenches of small business ownership. If you’re feeling similarly stressed out, hopefully the advice they share can help.

1. Unplug once a quarter

“Running a business, although rewarding, is completely exhausting and can be very overwhelming at times. Trying to run a business with your husband takes it to a whole other level! For us, we’ve found that the best way to re-energize and reconnect with our passion for the business is to get away. We will typically take a long weekend and entrust our team in the office to hold down the fort while we are out. During this time away we’ll focus on re-strategizing our plans for the business but also take time to just relax and unplug. Putting aside just those few days maybe once a quarter makes a world of a difference in keeping up our energy and passion to ensure our business is a success.” —Nellie Akalp, CEO and Co-Founder, CorpNet.com

2. Regularly get out of my “cave”

“When you do what I do most of the time—sit alone in a room and create content—it can sometimes be difficult to stay energized. But the moment I hear from a reader (whether via email or Twitter), or from someone who viewed a webinar I presented, or anyone who tells me I helped them, taught them something, or reignited their passion, I’m renewed.” —Rieva Lesonksy, CEO & President, GrowBiz Media / SmallBizDaily.com

3. “Close up shop” when necessary

“While most of the time I get to my home office ready to conquer the world through content marketing, sometimes the idea of writing just one more blog post makes me want to scream! And so I step away from my business when my energy and enthusiasm is flagging. At the very least, I make a cup of tea and sit back down, or take a walk for 20 minutes to clear my head. This, incidentally, usually fosters some great ideas, so I recommend it.

“If my burnout is more serious, I acknowledge it and ‘close up shop’ for the day. I take a long weekend, and maybe travel somewhere. I find that getting away from my business gives me perspective and rejuvenates my passion. Then when I return to the office, I’m ready to get back to it.” —Susan Payton, President, Egg Marketing & Communications

4. Motivate myself with to-do lists

“I find that self-employment can often be very monotonous, especially when you try to do as much work as possible by yourself. One way I deal with this is by researching new ideas for growth and creating new goals and milestones, which gives me the energy kick I need to push through to get the work done. I absolutely love creating to-do lists for this, and I get great satisfaction crossing a task off the list when it is completed. For example, seeing a to-do list of 6 items with 5 items crossed out makes me feel proud to have accomplished almost everything on the list; however, it’s a temporary feeling because I start a new to-do list once the current one is completed.” —Haris Bacic, Founder, Bacic Media Group

5. Invest in some help

“In my opinion the main reason entrepreneurs suffer from ‘business owner burnout’ is because they want to do it all! Hey, I made the same mistake in the first years. But when I finally realized that I couldn’t afford to not outsource and delegate, that’s when things started to change for the better. I made self-care a priority—there’s only one me, and I better take care of myself. My business began to grow after I invested in some help. Today I focus on my core business while my team focuses on their strengths: accounting, social media, updating the website. Every now and then I still can feel overwhelmed but when that happens, meditation, yoga, or just a walk in the forest help me stay sane.” —Sarah Santacroce, Founder, Simplicity

6. Partner on projects

“When work feels either monotonous or overwhelming, I look beyond myself and seek out friends and former colleagues to collaborate on something new entirely, whether it be a side project, a cross-promotional campaign, or an audit of each other’s businesses. That way, I get to exercise my creative energies in a new and exciting way while creating something fun with friends. Personally, this allows me to feel like I’m adding to the success of the people around me and that’s incredibly motivating.” —Danny Wong, Co-Founder, Blank Label

7. Plan for what’s next

“I go through a period about once a year where I think, what’s next? I’m bored, probably burned out, and need to take the time to evaluate what I should do next—for me personally and for my business. It almost always involves changing something up: new skills, new services, new positioning.

“To help determine what I should do next, I find it valuable to talk to clients and get answers to questions such as, ‘How do clients see us?’ ‘What are we doing well?’ ‘What can we improve?’ and ‘What do they need that we’re not providing?’ This helps narrow my focus on what specifically needs to change now. And, as a side benefit, there is nothing more invigorating than hearing how much your clients love you!” —Brenda Stoltz, Principal, Ariad Partners

8. Schedule time for yourself

“No matter how passionate you are, it’s easy to get burnt out when you’re running a small business. There are always a million things to do, and a million new ideas to pursue. But one area most of us neglect is ourselves. The truth is, you can’t be successful if you’re running on an empty tank. I’ve been there a few times over the last 20 years in business, and I had to force myself to take a step back and remind myself that my business can’t be successful if I’m not in tip top shape.

“A few years ago I set up a regular schedule to take some R&R. That means on a weekly basis I put time on my calendar just for me, ranging anywhere from an hour to an entire day. And I spend that time doing something I enjoy. Putting it on my calendar is the key. If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t get done. This practice has worked out well and helped me stay sharper than I would be if I just kept pressing forward.” —Denise O’Berry, President, The Small Business Edge Corp

9. Take a break when you hit a wall

“There are times when you get burned out—it’s just the nature of the beast. Instead of sitting there getting stressed about not getting work done (because you are too burned out to do it), simply leave. Leave everything you are doing and go do something fun. It sounds easier said than done, but once you force yourself to do it a few times, it becomes easier and helps relieve the burnout. Basically, you are just refocusing your time. Since you are not going to get any work done anyway, you might as well focus on doing something else. I guarantee your work will be there when you get back.” —Mike Wood, Founder, Legalmorning

10. Take the time to recharge your batteries

“Like any entrepreneur, there are days when everything can feel overwhelming. Sometimes it’s analysis paralysis; other times it’s just having too much to do. And I’ll even admit there are times I’d love to play hooky, go sit on a rooftop in Chicago, and drink some wine (this can even help you recharge if done sporadically.)

“When I need to recharge, I get on my bike. It’s gotten to the point that, if I’m grouchy, someone on my team will inevitably say, ‘Have you had a bike ride today?’ That’s code for ‘You need to chill out and go recharge your batteries.’ It’s an important part of my daily routine. I also make sure I take at least one unplugged vacation each year, and I’m not opposed to the occasional nap if I’m really feeling bleary-eyed. As my mom always says, ‘It’s important to sharpen the saw.’

“Finally, if I’m feeling down about progress in a specific area of the business, I connect with other entrepreneurs and talk about it. Knowing you’re not alone and other business owners have been in your shoes—and being able to help them in areas they need—is a guaranteed way to reignite passion for the work we do.” —Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich and author of Spin Sucks

Credit: AllBusiness

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