How Small Business Owners Can Avoid Burnout: 10 Tips From Inside the Industry
It’s a four-letter word for small business owners. After all, part of building a brand that will last a lifetime is being able to show up and work harder than anyone else. And that’s pretty tough to do when you’re feeling jaded and exhausted.
Today, burnout rates are higher than they’ve ever been, especially among small business owners. Increasing competition, an altogether faster pace of business, and the demand that small business owners be everywhere at once all have something to do with it.
Luckily, running your company doesn’t mean that burnout is an inevitable reality.
When I first started Proline, I routinely worked twelve-hour days. Not only was I launching a new company, but I was doing it all myself. That meant the writing, social media content creation, website development, and client attention were all my responsibility. Trust me – it was exhausting, and it took awhile to find a balance. I did eventually figure it out, though, and now, two years later, I can happily report that this system allows me to run my own company and maintain a higher-than-average work-life balance.
Here are the ten tactics I used to get here:
1. Set Solid Boundaries
While being a small business owner is a dream come true for many people, you abandon traditional work/life boundaries when you start your own company. Sure, a 9-5 keeps you chained to your desk, but you can leave work at work when the end of the day rolls around. As a small business owner or founder, work follows you everywhere, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it creates the flexibility and potential we all love. On the other, that fluidity can be tough to manage.
That’s why firm boundaries are so necessary.
Think about the boundaries you’d have at a normal desk job: you might work 9-5 with an hour break for lunch. You’d likely have weekends and holidays off, and a certain number of sick days a year. Now, work to apply these to your life as a small business owner.
I’ve learned over the years I work best between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. If I work beyond three (without taking a break for a walk, a trip to the gym, or something similar), I wind up burnt-out and anxious. Because of that, I’ve structured my entire business to operate between those hours.
Lots of founders feel like they’re not achieving if they’re not burning the candle at both ends. Unfortunately, knowing when to slow down is essential. When you’re self-employed, it’s easy to push yourself beyond your limits, and defining solid boundaries is the only way to avoid it.
2. Outsource What You Can
Even as someone who creates content for a living, I outsource my content. Here’s why: outsourcing allows me to focus on bigger projects (like the book I’ve currently got in the works). It also helps me avoid burnout, which is critical to ensuring the ongoing quality of my work and make sure the material I’m delivering to my clients is the best it can be.
The beauty of outsourcing content is that you don’t need a huge team: even a single freelancer can write your social media posts, handle your blog, or develop a downloadable guide you can share with your customers.
3. Stop When You’re Not Productive
We’ve all had that feeling of being mentally burnt-out, but shoving through it, anyway. While it may seem like it’s a great way to get some extra work done, it’s not a productive way to approach anything.
Not only will you not get much work done, but you’ll trash your ROI in the process since whatever you do get done will likely need additional attention down the road.
Instead, take a break when you’re not productive. Chances are, you’ll get more done after taking a 20-minute walk around the block than you would have if you just forced yourself straight through it.
4. Fire Your Headache Clients
As much as you can, fire your problem customers. In all businesses, about 20% of the customers cause 80% of the headache.
By getting rid of these customers, you’ll make room for higher-profit, lower-headache clients to come in and fill your practice.
Defining who you are and are not willing to work with not only makes your brand more in-demand, but it allows you to focus in on your niche more efficiently.
5. Automate Everything
One of the best ways to make your life easier is to streamline everything. If you spend all day Friday invoicing, for example, use a platform like FreshBooks to automate your recurring invoices, so you don’t have to think about them.
If you can automate your social media using a platform like Buffer, do it. Small changes like this make big differences.
6. Take Breaks
As someone who’s worked on and through virtually every major holiday out there, I know how hard it can be to ever fully “tune out” when you run a business. After all, if you’re not around to make things happen, you lose customers, which you can’t afford to do when you’re growing.
Unfortunately, this is one of those “put your own oxygen mask on first” situations. It’s important to remember that the brand you’re working so hard to build won’t be any good to anyone if you burn out completely in a few years.
Instead, take some time off and make space for routine breaks. Regardless of whether it’s a single day a week or several weeks a year, routine breaks are critical to your productivity.
7. Set Yourself up for Success
Great work requires a great work space. To set yourself up for success and limit the amount of time you spent frustrated and stressed out, get aggressive about limiting distractions.
Start by putting your phone into “do not disturb” mode and batch-checking your email and phone messages. Over time, you’ll learn to identify your largest sources of distraction and limit them at the beginning of the day.
8. Learn How You Work Best
Learning how you work most efficiently is critical for running a good business. Learn whether you work better in the morning, afternoon, or evening, and work around that.
For example, my most productive hours are between 8 am and 3 pm. At this point in my business, I force myself to walk away from my desk by 3.
If anything is left undone at that point, I come back to it later in the evening, after a trip to the gym or a walk in the woods with my dogs. This distance helps me see more clearly and do better work.
9. Understand Your Balance
Every business owner has a balance that allows them to work best. Learn what yours is and embrace it. For most founders, maximum efficiency is a delicate balance, and knowing what it looks like for you will help you be more productive and happy. It’s taken me years to learn what my ideal balance is. Hint: it includes waking up early, getting outside, sweating at the gym, doing most of my work in the morning, and eating a healthy meal first thing.
It’s taken me years to learn what my ideal balance is. Hint: it includes waking up early, getting outside, sweating at the gym, doing most of my work in the morning, and eating a healthy meal first thing.
Yours, however, might involve meditation or an hour of reading. You might be a night owl who prefers to wake up late and work into the wee hours.
The specifics of your balance don’t matter nearly as much as the fact that you find and embrace it.
10. Only do What You’re Good at
While it’s easy to feel forced into expanding your offerings, be sure that anything you choose to take on is something you like and are happy about.
This serves two purposes.
While it prevents burn-out and helps you stay productive, it also helps prevent you from damaging your brand by venturing into unfamiliar waters and delivering sub-par work as a result.
Be a Burnout-Free Founder
Someone once told me small business owners are the only people who will work eighty hours a week to avoid working forty hours a week. While most of us take pride in our willingness to show up and work hard, it’s essential to remember that building a great brand is a marathon, not a sprint. As such, the choices you’re making now will affect you for years to come.
When you commit to realizing burnout is possible, and taking proactive steps to avoid it, it’s easier to build a brand you love, without destroying your mental health in the process.