From the March 1997 issue of Startups

8 Ways to de-craze, unwind and refocus on your business

Ever snap at a customer who grates on your nerves? Hastily throw together a marketing proposal only to later realize you misspelled your prospect's last name? Are you so overwhelmed by deadline pressure, market competition and bills that you're wondering why you went into business for yourself in the first place?

If you're like most busy entrepreneurs, the good news is: You're not going crazy. The bad news is: You're stressed. High blood pressure, insomnia, frequent headaches, foggy thinking, lack of energy--they're all signs that your body and mind are working overtime. While it's not possible to work in a stress-free world, there are ways you can manage stress. The process begins with knowing where to look for the causes of stress in your life.

"Stress is an inside job," says Lorraine Colletti-Lafferty, chief operating officer of clinical services at Human Synergistics International, a management-consulting firm in Plymouth, Michigan. "Feeling anxious and out of control isn't caused by what's happening to us, but rather by how we relate to our circumstances." A business associate, she explains, might thrive on deadline pressure and do his best work under such circumstances. "You, however, might feel stymied and tell yourself, `I can't work this way.' So, recognize that stress isn't an outside force; it's what we do to ourselves in response to a situation."

Fortunately, stress isn't all bad. Ever get an adrenaline rush when you've signed a big contract or aced out the competition to hire a dynamic new employee? You're experiencing positive stress. "When you are really doing something meaningful, your capacity to replenish yourself is high," says Doug Kruschke, owner of InSynergy, a Marina del Rey, California, management-consulting firm. But when your work depletes your energy and makes you miserable, it's time to pause. "Take inventory of what's driving you crazy, and learn how to keep yourself on an even keel," Kruschke suggests. Here are eight stress-reducing tips to get you started:

1. Practice positive self talk. When you talk to yourself, do you say: "How could I be so stupid?" or "I'll never be asked to join that business group. I don't have what it takes"? Negative self-talk like this feeds your insecurities and raises your stress level. Instead, change your mental dialogue and practice positive self-talk. Tell yourself: "I'm doing a great job," "I can meet this deadline," and "I'll be asked to join that club because I'm an asset to its membership." Such statements, Colletti-Lafferty says, give us encouragement and affirm our value as human beings.

2. Get organized. If you don't make lists of all the things you need to accomplish, you're bound to feel overwhelmed, says Edith Weiner, president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown Inc., a New York City-based trend-analysis consulting firm, and co-author of Office Biology (see sidebar for ordering information), a book about workplace productivity and health. Stress builds, she explains, when "we keep reviewing what we have to do without doing it. Once you write it down, you can dump it from your mind."

It's good practice, therefore, to make a daily or weekly list of tasks you want or need to achieve. Rank them in order of importance, and tackle one task at a time. Be sure you accurately estimate how much time a task will take. For example, if you allot an hour each week to review the books with your accountant, but your meetings end up taking the entire afternoon, you need to block out more time. Otherwise, you'll constantly feel frustrated and behind schedule. Remember, what you don't finish today can be put at the top of tomorrow's to-do list, or can be delegated to an employee.

3. Learn to delegate. As an entrepreneur, you're by nature a self-starter and want to manage and control your business. But that doesn't mean you have to do it all alone. Learn to delegate tasks to your employees or hire independent contractors as needed, so you can focus your attention on projects demanding your special talents.

4. Exercise daily. Your body reacts to stress in different ways, from full-blown panic attacks and muscle tension to stomach problems and headaches. The best remedy is vigorous aerobic exercise, such as running, racquetball, tennis or a workout at the gym. By raising your heart rate and taking full, deep breaths while you exercise, you'll feel more energetic and less stressed. If you can't get to the gym, take frequent breaks at work. Ten-minute stretching routines or quick walks around the block will have you feeling like new.

5. Watch what you eat and drink. Cut down on the caffeine and sweets; too much coffee and cola will fray your nerves. Never skip lunch; you need to fuel your body and mind during your work day.

6. Find a diversion. All work and no play will cause any entrepreneur to eventually lose his cool. "Find ways to replenish your reserves," Kruschke suggests. Some entrepreneurs need a frenzy of activity: a busy travel schedule, or regular, competitive games of tennis or racquetball. Others seek more quiet time: working in the garden, reading mystery novels, or trying their hand at gourmet cooking.

"Reconnect with people who are important to you and with things that give you a broader perspective on life," Kruschke says. "Nature will do that. Take a walk on the beach or in the forest." He also suggests becoming involved in volunteer work that's nonbusiness-related. Volunteer activities can take your mind off your own stress and give you a quick sense of accomplishment.

7. Create a pleasant environment. Where and how you work most definitely affect your attitude and stress level. Attractive pictures on the walls, a potted plant on your desk, soft background music, and proper lighting are all conducive to a pleasant and productive work environment. Keeping a neat and clean office will help reduce your stress level, too. It not only lets you quickly find what you need, but also gives you an important feeling of being in control of your work area.

8. Lighten up. As the timeless proverb goes, "Laughter is the best medicine." There's no better way to calm your nerves and put a lightness in your step than to laugh. Go tell your employees a good joke, watch an "Andy Griffith" or "Saturday Night Live" rerun, or read the comics. They're all great ways to let the stress melt away.

Sales & Marketing

Gold In Cold Calls

Who likes to make cold calls? Nobody. And yet cold calls are crucial to your business. If you're having trouble corralling new clients and dislike making cold calls, it may be time to rethink your telephone strategy. Believe it or not, cold-calling can be fun if you play it like a game. Here are some tips to take the drudgery out of cold-calling:


  • Be prepared. Know what you want to say before you get on the phone, write it down, and keep it handy. This could consist of a short description of your company and its products or services. You should be able to describe your business in such a way that people become interested and want to know more.


  • Have a goal in mind. The goal may be to get an in-person meeting, to make a sale, or just to learn more about your prospect for future reference. Never let the prospect off the phone without knowing your next move.


  • Treat your prospect the way you like to be treated. Even if your telephone meeting was prearranged, ask your prospect if this is a good time to talk. If not, reschedule. There's no point making your pitch if you don't have their full attention.


  • Engage your prospect by asking questions first. This information is essential in knowing how to tailor your discussion to meet your prospect's needs. Questions engage your listener in conversation and should be worded in such a way to encourage a dialogue. Keep answers to objections readily available. Be prepared to use them with each call.


  • Be polite to secretaries. They can be your ally. "Remember that your prospect's secretary is doing the same thing as your secretary--guarding the boss," says Diane M. Wildowsky, president of Cold Call Enterprises in New York City, which provides training in cold-calling. Ask for the secretary's name and write it down. Use it the next time you call and you'll see how much warmer he or she is to you.


  • Turn voice mail into an ally. The truth is, voice mail can actually be a wonderful selling tool. Rather than relying on a secretary who might not get your message straight, you can leave your prospect with your pitch--in your own words and at your own tone.


  • Use the "you" factor. Draw your listener in by inserting "you" into your dialogue. For prospects to listen to what you have to say, they have to see a benefit. They need to know what's in it for them. --Bruce W. Fraser

Money Matters

Suite Savings

Have you ever wanted to invite a client to a meeting in your office, but couldn't because your office was the spare bedroom in your house? How do you project a corporate image while staying within a small-business budget?

Many office buildings set aside a portion of their floor space for executive suites. Businesspeople can rent the office space they need, whether it's one suite or several. Prices vary, depending on which part of the country you're in. In fact, prices can even vary within the same city.

For instance, a 60-square-foot suite without a window in one part of Baltimore runs around $400 a month, while a 300-square-foot, double office, corner unit with a large window overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor can run about $2,500 a month.

Suites can usually be rented on an hourly, weekly, monthly or annual basis. Instead of buying or leasing equipment, businesspeople can use the suites' office furniture, computers, telephones, fax machines, and audio-visual equipment. Rather than paying and managing a full-time office staff or maintaining a reception area and conference room that sit unused much of the time, businesspeople can simply pay for the suites' clerical support and extra office space as they use it.

Jeannine Windbigler is the executive director of the 500-plus-member Executive Suite Association in Worthington, Ohio. Her association receives between 70 and 80 calls a month from businesspeople wanting to know where to find executive suites in their area.

"Executive suites allow a small-business owner to have a person answer their phones, have access to a conference room, have use of secretarial services, and more--all on a small budget," says Windbigler.

Computer networking consultant Larry Tedrow, an ExecuCenter executive-suite tenant in Columbia, Maryland, says, "We didn't want to sink a lot of money into hardware and personnel, but we still needed to project a professional aura. We looked at about five different places with different offerings and decided an executive suite was just what we needed."

Avoiding isolation is another reason for the success of executive suites. Tenants can network by interacting with other tenants. Ann Esposito, general manager of three ExecuCenter executive suites in Maryland, says, "Beyond the nuts-and-bolts work, the manager tries to create a social environment where the tenants feel comfortable and can interact." Much of this interaction takes place in the community lunchroom. At ExecuCenter, regular breakfasts are sponsored by the company to encourage networking.

And, finally, if you're comfortable in your home-office space but could use an administrative hand now and again, you'll find it refreshing to know that you don't even have to rent an office space to take advantage of many executive suites' services. Often, businesses can use the secretarial support, conference rooms, and mailing address on an "as needed" basis. --James Rada Jr.

For More Information

Here's where you can find some additional expert advice on how to reduce stress in your professional and personal lives:

From Stress to Strength: How to Lighten Your Load and Save Your Life, by Robert S. Eliot, M.D. (Bantam Books, $12.95, 800-323-9872).

The Joy of Stress, by Peter Hanson, M.D. (Andrews & McMeel, $8.95, 800-826-4216). Also see Hanson's Stress for Success: How to Make Stress on the Job Work for You (Carroll & Graf, $10.95, 800-788-3123).

Office Biology, by Edith Weiner and Arnold Brown (MasterMedia Ltd., $12.95, 800-334-8232).

Perfectionism: A Sure Cure for Happiness, by Lorraine Colletti-Lafferty (Wilshire Books, $10, 800-622-7584).

The Working Woman's Guide to Managing Stress, by J. Robin Powell and Holly George-Warren (Prentice-Hall, $14.95, 800-223-1360).

Human Synergistics International conducts a two-day stress-evaluation and -management program called Scope. For more information, write to 39819 Plymouth Rd., Plymouth, MI 48170, or call (313) 459-1030.

Contact Sources

Cold Call Enterprises, 115 W. 28th St., #3F, New York, NY 10001, (212) 947-4710.

ExecuCenter, 10440 Little Patuxent Pkwy., #900, Columbia, MD 21044, (410) 740-8700.

Executive Suite Association, (800) 237-4741.

Human Synergistics International, 39819 Plymouth Rd., Plymouth, MI 48170, (313) 459-1030.

InSynergy, 661 Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey, CA 90292, (310) 305-1008.

Larry Tedrow, 10440 Little Patuxent Pkwy., #900, Columbia, MD 21044, (410) 740-5686.