Before I started my first business, Planet Explorers Publishing, I didn't understand exactly how hard entrepreneurs work each day or how much worry they often shoulder.
Running a business has lots of ups and downs, so it's important to have a robust set of strategies to keep an even keel. Grab a cup of calming tea and read this list of approaches (culled directly from small-business owners by email or online post) on becoming -- and staying -- happy:
1. Turn off your phone for set amounts of time each day. Or set it to stop buzzing every time you get a new email. Designate certain times every day to deal with your messages and stick to those boundaries.
2. Help someone solve a problem. Do this by using your specific expertise or network.
3. Take care of your health. “The three most important ones to me are taking time to sleep, eat, and work out,” says Matthew Clough, Los Angeles-based founder of stone + cloth, an online backpack retailing firm that funds scholarships for students in need. If making time for exercise seems impossible, schedule walking meetings and phone calls or do 10 minutes of yoga right after rising from bed in the morning.
4. Lighten up. When a crisis arises, ask yourself if it will really matter in a week, a month or a year. The answer is usually no.
5. Reflect about the things you’re grateful for. Focus on how much you’ve already achieved.
6. Schedule activities that bring you joy. “To remain happy as a small business owner, I schedule things that make me happy just as I would a meeting with my sales team or marketing department,” says Nellie Akalp, CEO of CorpNet in Westlake Village, Calif., a company offering business license and registration services.
“I schedule lunch with my husband" and "kickboxing lessons at least three times a week" plus "ice cream afternoons with my youngest," she says. "It may sound ridiculous to 'schedule' these types of things, but I really find that once they are in my calendar I follow through with them every time.”
7. Stop the envy train. “I stopped comparing myself to the businesses and people I aspire to resemble,” says Chris Piper, a Phoenix-based co-founder of zoomStand, which sells portable standing desks. “I have no idea what their struggles were or what their journey was like. I kept the focus on my growth and that’s it.”
8. Venture outside. Or take a vacation. Even if you have to find Wi-Fi and do some work while you’re gone, a major change in scenery is reinvigorating.
9. Cultivate an attitude of peace and fun about yourself and others. People are complicated and everyone makes mistakes. Find the humor in things every day.
10. Set achievable goals. “At the end of each day, make a list of things you will be working on tomorrow,” says my mother, Linda Artz of Oshkosh, Wis., who runs an eBay store LAStudio55. “It feels great to check those things off the list.”
11. Don’t fight your inclinations. “One of my saving graces has been to work with my natural circadian rhythm,” says Marie Hale Ramos, founder of lipstic logic, a Chicago marketing and sales strategy firm. If that means working odd hours and taking siestas, do it. Take a day off every week.
12. Do less. “I only schedule one deliverable per day,” says San Franciscan Jessica Greenwalt, founder of Pixelkeet, a graphic design and web development shop. “No more trying to complete multiple projects in 24 hours, and no more trying to experience everything that is happening in the city, bouncing from event to event without being fully present at the event I'm currently attending.”
13. Delegate as soon and often as you can. Play to your strengths and outsource your weaknesses. “Hire employees who can work without your supervision,” says Jim Belosic, CEO and founder of ShortStack in Reno, Nev., which helps businesses run campaigns and online promotions. “There’s no better feeling than knowing you can take a few days or a week off from work and things at the office won’t fall apart.”
Next, hire a cleaning service at home. “Your most valuable resource is time,” says Ruth Frantz, founder of Henri's Reserve, a curated e-boutique of family estate champagnes based in Southport, Conn. “The minute the house starts looking like a war zone, you feel you have lost control, as does the family. Outsource as much as you can afford.”
14. Meet other small business owners. “It's a great way to learn through shared experience,” says my friend Jennifer Lohr, an attorney at Lohr Law Office in Madison, Wis. And these businesspeople can be a source of feedback, advice and "support you'd normally get from mentors or coworkers at a bigger company.”
15. Control your inputs. There’s no reason to amp up your stress level by watching the pundits fighting on television.
16. Simplify your record-keeping. “Take a picture of your receipts,” suggests Melissa Viera, who runs a pet-training academy in Acushnet, Mass. “It's easy to tell yourself you will write down the amount you spent on supplies for the business when you get home that night, but how many times do you forget?”
17. Trust your gut. “If your instincts have proven to be good, listen politely to all of the wonderful advice that you get but if you still feel strongly about something, act on it,” advises Nicole Zinn, owner of the Rocket Electrics bike shop in Austin, Texas. While you grow your business, focus on it's becoming better and being yourself as well.
“At the end of the day, think of anything that happened that pulled you away from your ‘authentic self,’” says Myke Nahorniak, co-founder and CEO of Localist, a tech company in Baltimore. “If you had a meeting and found yourself saying something you didn't really believe, make a note of it. By being aware of those moments, they'll naturally happen less, leading to more happiness and confidence in what you're doing.”
18. Don't expect your business to provide all your happiness. That's the advice of Sarasota, Fla.-based George Schofield, CEO of The Clarity Group, who does business consulting. “Have the discipline and planning in place to create other sources of happiness,” he adds. “Businesses, like spouses, suffer from excessive expectations and demands. Give yourself and your business a break.”