Entrepreneurs face an inordinate amount of stress when starting and running a business. I learned this at the early age of 12. My mom owned multiple maid service businesses, and I helped her with the office tasks after school and on weekends. I experienced the daily stresses she faced - worrying about whether or not employees would show up on time for their shifts, ensuring that we could make payroll each month, keeping customers happy and hiring a competent and steady office manager.
My mom had greater ambitions for me beyond taking over the family business, which motivated me to become a certified professional accountant (CPA). But even as I entered the corporate world, I remained an entrepreneur at heart. I’ve owned and operated yoga studios, accounting practices and other business ventures for more than 20 years. And as a CPA, I’ve advised hundreds of small business owners on their finances and business operations.
Over that time, I've learned a thing or two about what causes entrepreneurs stress and how to alleviate it. Here’s a few of my findings.
1. Invest in help early on.
As entrepreneurs, we passionately believe in our vision and often have the strong personalities to go along with it. This leads us to frequently think we can do everything ourselves, which is why it’s important to know your limits and look for outside help early on. If you can’t invest in hiring part-time or full-time employees, you should consider outsourcing certain functions of your business.
When I began my first accounting practice, my children were young, and I didn’t have anyone working for me.
When your business is based around you, it's easy to try and do everything yourself. I would work with my clients all day long, then come home, eat dinner with my family, put my children to bed and then get back on my computer to pay the bills, invoice customers and balance the books.
I’d go to bed late, wake up early, and do it all again the next day. I soon realized that this was unsustainable and harmful to me and my family.
First, I hired a virtual assistant (VA). The VA took client calls for me and patched them through, if the matter was urgent. This small change helped me manage my time better and lightened my workload. It also paved the way for me to hire more help.
If you’re working 24/7 and can’t hire a full-time employee yet, take a small step to give yourself more time. Consider a VA, like I did, to answer the phone, or do administrative work. Or hire an accountant, so you don’t need to spend extra hours at night on the administrative tasks. You’ll sleep better at night knowing that your books are being managed by an expert and that your invoices are out.
2. Don’t be cheap.
My biggest piece of advice for small business owners is don’t be cheap. And within the same breath I’d add hire an attorney.
It’s important to make this investment upfront. It gives you the peace of mind knowing that you have the right legal setup and contracts in place. Most importantly, it can save you thousands of dollars in the long run. It can also save your business. You never know what kind of issues might come up, and if you haven’t protected your business, you can lose it later.
3. Refuse family money.
It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to take money from their family, or fund their business with home equity. This is often a mistake. It's stressful enough to start and run a business without the added worry of losing your house or leaving family members in financial ruin.
I’ve seen this contribute to a great amount of stress because they're work from a place of fear rather than working toward a strategy. They end up not making the right decisions for the business because they worry more about their family’s expectations.
Fortunately, there are other ways to get capital to start a business. There are small business loans, which you can apply for through your bank, credit union or the Small Business Administration (SBA). There are also new types of crowdfunding companies, like Kabbage or OnDeck.
4. Get out of your head.
Activities such as yoga, running, painting or playing music are vital to your health, creativity and soul. These activites teach you to pace yourself and recharge by releasing your brain from your work.
I learned how to do this by taking yoga classes at the end of the day. The classes helped me relax, and I rarely wanted to get back in front of my computer in the evening to work. The next day I found that I was more creative and had renewed energy to give to my business and family.
If you don’t feel like you have time for this type of activity, then you need to take a close look at what you’re doing. If you work 24 hours a day on your business, you need to reassess what you’re spending your time on.
5. Set boundaries.
Entrepreneurs could work 24/7, but it is unsustainable.
You need to take personal time as seriously as work time. I learned this early on as a business owner because I never set boundaries, and I never said no.
I compare it to gambling. You’re never sure if that big payoff - that big opportunity or sale -- is right around the corner. So you never say no. You never take a vacation. You’re always in the office, hoping that the next phone call you answer is your lucky break. But more than likely you just burn out or experience the law of diminishing returns.
To stop this addictive behavior, start by setting three to five strategic goals each year. This will help you understand what you need to prioritize and what you need to say no to. Then make sure to always ask yourself if what you’re doing is in alignment with your goals. If it isn’t, then don’t do it. Without strategic goals, it’s easy to get distracted and work yourself to the bone and still not see any significant results.
By following this advice, you can reduce a lot of your stress. Once your business is setup and running properly, it will still be a lot of work, but you’ll have developed a solid foundation for a sustainable business with less stress for you and your employees.