Burnout has become an all-too-familiar reality for many people. Accompanied by symptoms like detachment, irritability, and lethargy, this state of physical and mental exhaustion is caused by prolonged stress, often due to working too much or lacking a solid support system.
For entrepreneurs and small business owners, the risks of burnout tend to be even higher, as running a small business — rewarding as it may be—comes with its fair share of stressors. From long hours and uncertain finances to small (sometimes nonexistent) teams, there are numerous elements of the small business journey that can become overwhelming. Even passion, which may seem like the lifeblood of a small business, can become a source of entrepreneurial burnout when it becomes obsessive, according to Harvard Business Review.
Preventing and alleviating entrepreneurial burnout starts with identifying the most common sources of stress that entrepreneurs are faced with and creating an action plan from there. This helps you guarantee that you’re addressing the root causes of burnout. Read on to learn six tips for nipping entrepreneurial burnout in the bud.
Define clear goals.
Running a business of any size requires planning. It’s not enough to have a great product or service; you also need to have a way of tracking your performance and measuring your results over time. This is because having unclear targets and expectations for your business can make it feel like you’re chasing a moving target, which is a recipe for exhaustion. Whether it’s overarching metrics like monthly sales and total revenue or more granular details like the ROI on a particular marketing campaign, setting clear goals minimizes the stress that comes from having little insight into how your business is performing and growing over time.
Create a set of targets that you’re aiming to achieve, keeping in mind that you want something ambitious to encourage growth, yet not so aspirational that you’re setting yourself up for failure. Not sure where to start? Look at benchmarks for your industry to identify how to set realistic goals to help you achieve sustainable growth over time.
Create a financial plan.
Of all the stressful aspects of running a small business, financial planning tends to be high (if not highest) on the list. Whether it’s payroll, navigating unexpected dips in sales, or simply managing cash flow, business finances can quickly become a burden if you don’t have a strategy in place. Getting into the habit of making projections often and regularly monitoring cash flow helps you ensure that your business is financially healthy and moving in the right direction.
Another critical component of keeping your business finances running smoothly is having a plan for changes in cash flow. Seasonal lulls, for example, pose a predictable and cyclical trend that you can plan around by getting ahead of your business’s slow season. A business line of credit like Bluevine’s gives you the flexibility to cover fixed expenses when intake is lower so that you can maintain momentum until things get busy again.
Ask for help.
Plenty of entrepreneurs have a habit of trying to handle everything on their own. This reluctance to outsource tasks or ask for help along the way can be caused by various factors, including uncertainty around what tasks you need the most help with or fear that outsourcing tasks might be too expensive. But the less often you ask for help, the more likely you are to overextend yourself. This makes burnout inevitable as it leaves you spending valuable time trying to manage the parts of your business that might not be your strongest suit.
Recognizing where your weaknesses are and knowing when to ask for help is crucial to running a business successfully. Maybe you’re a phenomenal business coach but don’t have the web design skills to perfect your website. Maybe you run a design firm, but business finances aren’t your forte. Finding the right people to support you when and where you need it can save you time and help you run your business more effectively. Plus, while outsourcing tasks like website design might feel costly at first, it’s essential to consider the long-term return on investment that you’ll get from elevating your business presence through specialized help.
Create a work-life balance.
This is hard for anyone, but entrepreneurs especially struggle to create clear boundaries between personal and professional life because of the very personal nature of their work. Between the sheer volume of work that it takes to run a business and the hustle mentality that comes with the territory of growing a brand, it can be hard to great a strong work-life balance as an entrepreneur. Still, failing to do so is a clear recipe for burnout.
While it’s not always possible as a small business owner to structure your schedule like a typical 9–5 workday, that doesn’t mean you have to lose balance altogether. For example, consider blocking off personal time on your calendar. Carving out these breaks ahead of time acts as a reminder and allows you to hold yourself accountable. And while it might feel tough to take a longer period of time off, taking a well-planned vacation from time to time is also important for helping you properly recharge so you can best manage your business.
You also have to set realistic goals. It’s normal to want to do it all, but it’s impossible to do it all at once. Create a reasonable timeline for your business growth and don’t get caught up in biting off more than you can chew. And again, ask for help. In addition to helping you tap into others’ expertise, this also helps you get back some time that you can use for yourself.
Maintain a flexible mindset.
There are plenty of things you have control over as a business owner—core mission, services, marketing strategy. But for each thing that you can control, there’s likely another that you can’t. Things like non-seasonal lulls in business, website bugs, unexpected inventory delays, and unpredictable customer behavior are all examples of curveballs that are inevitable when running a small business. While some of these things are easier to plan for (e.g., you can get ahead of inventory shortages by stocking up early), others can be tough to anticipate.
Be flexible and ready to pivot when things don’t go according to plan. If you run a DTC business and a glitch on the website suddenly interferes with orders, try sending an email campaign or special promotion once everything is working again to help recover lost sales and drive new ones. If you run a brick-and-mortar business and suddenly need to reduce operating hours, consider how to drive sales online or through social media to avoid cash flow loss. Being creative, thinking on the fly, and having plenty of backup plans help minimize stress when your business is faced with the unexpected.
Resist the urge to compare.
Social media can be a powerful tool for growing your brand, building your audience, and connecting with other entrepreneurs. However, it can also tempt you to compare your entrepreneurial journey to that of others. Seeing other small business owners celebrate significant accomplishments like media mentions, collaborations, and exciting growth milestones can be discouraging when you feel like you’re not seeing that same momentum yet, and that can set you up for burnout-inducing stress.
If you find yourself getting lost in comparisons, take a step back and remind yourself that entrepreneurship is a personal journey. The only way to accurately measure success is to track it against your historical performance. Your primary goal should be that your business grows from one day to the next, not that your growth is outpacing everyone else’s.
Remember why you started.
When all else fails, remind yourself of why you started your business in the first place. If there’s one thing nearly every small business owner has in common, it’s that their businesses are built on a sense of purpose. Taking the time to reflect on your core mission and what your business was founded on helps you better cope with the ups and downs of running it.
You might also realize that your business has strayed away from your “why,” and this could be what was causing you to feel disconnected from your work. In this case, you can go back to the drawing board and create a plan for getting your business back on track. Maybe this means positioning your business to support causes you care about or finding a way to give back through your work. Whatever the solution may be, realigning with your core mission can go a long way in helping you feel more purposeful (and less stressed) with the day-to-day of running your business.