Business owner tips: Dealing with stress and pressure

Blog, 02/02/18 Image

Over the past century, the job landscape has changed drastically. For a long time, we lived in a society where manual and hard labor was necessary for survival.

Today, with advancements in technologies (which is great, don’t get us wrong), we increasingly live in a knowledge-first world where physical strength isn’t nearly as important as knowledge, experience and mental strength.

This is the problem.

Our minds have not kept up fast enough with the psychological demands that today’s economy needs.

Small business owners who need to solve problems always as well as traditionally finding it harder to keep their personal and work lives separate, this situation is becoming increasingly common.

The results of this worrying situation?

Increased levels of work stress and anxiety. An in-depth report by the US Department of Labor suggests that over 50% of depression treatments in 2016 was given to business owners alone which affects even successful businesses.

Unfortunately, this issue results in a more serious and longer-term problem that affects more and more businesses today: the burnout of key members of staff, management and the founders themselves.

How do you solve this?

Traditionally, business coaching and training were seen as solutions to work-related stress and business burnout. However, people quickly realised that stress is not something that can be managed professionally. Instead, it has to be personal and it has to connect with the human side of business owners.

While coaching works well as a way to share knowledge among peers, it doesn’t offer enough personal focus to enable the brain to cope better under sustained pressure that mental skills can.

In this post, we’re going to cover tips and skills for you to keep calm and handle stress as a business owner.

Understanding mental health, work stress, and why you should not be ashamed of it.

First of all, you have to understand that mental illness is exactly the same as any physical ailments. For example, if one of your employees gets hurt during work, you get them the treatment they need through your company’s health policy.

The same should apply to mental ill health.

Unfortunately, due to a negative stigma surrounding it, people with mental health issues are often reluctant to tell their close ones and, in some cases, even reluctant to seek treatment that could help them to get better.

We know for a fact that studies have shown employees who work for SMEs say they feel stressed all or most of the time – and this figure rises to a worrying 50% for business owners.

Why does this happen?

People experience stress when they feel the demands being made upon them are greater than their ability to cope; to make matters more worrying, mental and physical illness may develop if stress becomes excessive and prolonged.

No business owner, however large or small, is immune to the damaging effects that stress and mental ill health can have on performance and productivity.

Stress is not something you can ignore, however, and the best approach to managing it is to be proactive and tackle it head on. This helps to normalise the concept and, in turn, reduce fear and embarrassment.

Spotting the signs of stress

For the busy business owner, it can be difficult to spot the signs and symptoms of stress and mental ill health, which can vary widely.

The following may indicate if you are facing stress or not in your current work-life balance:

  • Psychological stress – confusion, anger and aggression, low mood/mood swings, being tearful, an inability to make decisions, low self-esteem, poor motivation, worsening memory
  • Physical stress – lethargy (e.g feeling tired of fatigue when going to work), change in appetite, unexplained aches and pains, headaches every now and then
  • Behavioural or social stress – becoming more nervous during work, changing eating habits, neglecting work and responsibilities, no longer attending social events, withdrawing from social media, drop in performance

Recognising these signs and symptoms may be the easy part. It’s the following step, which is to control your stress levels, which is the difficult part.

There are also other signs which may indicate that you are facing stress in your work:

  • Reduced pleasure and enjoyment at work and at home
  • Regularly feeling uninterested, bored or lacking motivation for your job even when you’re not struggling with work
  • Reduced productivity; despite putting in the hours, you don’t actually put in enough effort relative to the hours spent
  • Becoming short-tempered, irritable or aggressive with colleagues or clients
  • Problems concentrating at work; easily distracted by trivial issues
  • Procrastinating or avoiding work tasks despite having to meet deadlines
  • Physical changes such as frequently feeling exhausted or lacking energy
  • Fantasising about leaving work, changing job, or working at a lower level despite being your own boss

While it’s normal to experience some of these signs some of the time, if you are getting them more regularly or are experiencing lots of them at once, it may be an early warning sign that you are feeling stressed even if you don’t think you’re stressed.

How to handle stress as a business owner in different situations

Note: If you are looking for a more accurate diagnosis for your issues, it may be helpful to get professional advice from a professional counseling service.

Having a better understanding of these conditions and taking a positive, supportive approach to dealing with them should help you to feel more at ease about your situation and hopefully find a way to solve it.

1) You don’t feel busy enough

It’s normal to feel anxious, perhaps even agitated, when the phone doesn’t ring or when the inbox is empty.

Who wouldn’t be?

However, dwelling on the situation makes matters much worse. Staying next to your phone is not going to make it ring; refreshing your inbox all day is also not going to make an e-mail magically appear.

Instead, you have to get active. The downtime while your schedule is freed up from clients or classes is a great opportunity to work on the business. Usually lulls happen, at least in part, because not enough attention has been paid to ongoing development.

Here are some things you can do quickly fill up your free time:

Work on new marketing ideas

This is a great time to dust off marketing ideas you may have put aside due to lack of time.

Ever think to yourself:

“When will I ever have time to do something like this?”

The answer is right now.

In your downtime, launch that newsletter you’ve been contemplating, or put together a quick event (like a seminar) to draw some attention to your business.

Get in touch with past clients

It’s often hard, despite best intentions, to stay on top of client follow-ups. If you’ve fallen behind now is a great time to send a check-in email. It’s good business practice and often leads to additional work.

Strengthen any relationships with past client that have been ignored by you for too long by asking them about their business so far. Drop by with thank-you goodies, send a letter or email update about any new offerings you have for your business.

Better yet, present someone with a shared marketing opportunity such as a joint event for your business (webinars or seminars) or running affiliate campaigns with a trusted client.

Come up with a new service and promote it

You can use your new marketing channels to get the word out, and use this as an excuse to get back in touch with referral sources. And don’t forget to let past clients know about the exciting new opportunity to work with you again.

Update the policies and systems of your website or business

Revamp the systems that will help you run the business more efficiently once you’ve put in efforts to bring in new projects. For example, have a look at subscribing to automation software to automate your workflow.

No one wants a lull in the business. But if it happens, grab the opportunity to turn a bad situation into a chance to get caught up on the business side of things.

2) You are too busy and overwhelmed with work

While having too much work is a great problem to have, it’s still a problem. Being too busy can be just as stressful the other way around.

Besides exhaustion there are the worries about keeping up, being able to get back to people in a timely manner, and having the time and energy to take good care of each client.

To make matters worse, you may get so busy that you essentially take no time off from your business.

Here are some ways to stay in control:

Use a set client schedule

If possible, never ask a client, “What day/time is good for you?” from the beginning.

Choose your appointment openings ahead of time and write them into your calendar for organisation. To make things flow smoother, cluster them for efficiency and to keep other blocks of time free for business and personal use.

Offer the same appointment times every week in your schedule if you can. Then, tell clients and potential clients what appointments you have available and let them choose the best fit from among the choices you offer.

Appointments that are scheduled will make better use of your time and help protect your schedule from chaos and random 3AM calls every now and then.

Let your clients know when you’ll get back to them

Being at the beck and call of a cell phone or a WhatsApp message at all times means constant interruptions which equals to poor productivity. Do you really want to get buzzed up by your clients (and prospects) every 10 minutes?

Instead, compose a compelling, professional outgoing message and auto email that makes people want to wait for you, and then tell them exactly when you’ll be in touch.

For example, here’s a template you can use for your e-mails when someone gets in touch with you:

“Hey, there! Thanks for getting in touch. I will get back to you from Monday through Friday between the hours of ___ and ___.”

People are much more likely to wait if they know when to expect to hear from you.

Don’t be greedy; let your clients know your schedule is full

We know that getting loads of leads at one time is an attractive proposition for business owners. Who doesn’t want more business, correct?

Unless you have a massive team, it’s best to choose and filter jobs that deliver a great ROI for your business. You can take on 50 jobs in a month, sure; but what is that worth if you can’t deliver your best in all 50 jobs?

You can save time (and your client’s time) by letting them know with your email auto reply and outgoing phone message if you’re busy.

Here’s a sample template that you can use:

“Thanks for getting in touch with us. We’d like to apologise first and foremost as our schedule is currently full. We’ll be opening slots for appointments in 4 weeks.

If you would like us to contact you when registrations begin, please leave your name, e-mail, and phone number with your reply. Thank you!”

Fitness coaches might let people know that they’re full by using a sample template like:

“Our new client appointments are full through January. If you would like us to contact you when the next open appointment is available, please leave your name and number in this e-mail.”

You can keep a couple slots available for true emergencies and if there is someone local you’re comfortable referring to, you can include that information as well.

Get help or outsource some of your work

The #1 obstacle that stops businesses from growing is by being afraid of hiring extra hands because you think it’s expensive.

You may be convinced that you can’t afford it, but really you can’t afford not to. Spending a small amount on office or admin help will free up your time to see more clients or pursue additional marketing to keep business up.

In fact, most assistants nowadays work freelance which you can hire on a project-based timeline rather than a monthly fee like a regular worker

This is a perfect example of spending a little to make a lot more. If you’re hesitant, start with just a few hours a week. You’ll get hooked in no time and be able to automate some of your work.

Take a break

If you don’t make it happen, it won’t. The only way to have a break is by literally opening your calendar and choosing a date to not do any work at all – nada.

If you’re staring at your calendar and thinking there’s just no way, turn a few pages or advance a few clicks until you get to a week where the time is not yet fully spoken for.

Block out the time that week and all the weeks after and then plan around it, treating the time as untouchable by any clients except for emergencies.

Do the same for vacations. Even if you have to plan many, many months ahead, do it so you know you’ll have time to take a well-deserved rest.

If you provide ongoing services like business consulting or fitness training, let clients know well in advance so they have plenty of time to make alternate arrangements.

When the time comes to take a break, make sure you go, no excuses. Your business will be healthier in the long run if you do so.

Take some time to reboot

If things feel like they’ve truly gotten out of control, to the point where there is no time to catch your breath to take any of the above steps, it might be time to power down for a reboot.

Choose a few days, a week if you can, to shut down and let go of everything in order to take a breath and reorganise. If this seems impossible, look far enough into your calendar that you find a blank space and claim it right now.

Then make a list of what you want to do with that time so you’re ready when it arrives.

Here are some things you can do when you’re recovering from a reboot:

  • Revise your business policies and procedures
  • Assess and adjust your rates
  • Develop a new service or product
  • Hire help or get someone working on updating your website
  • Re-design your schedule

3) You feel stressed about working on and growing your business

This can be a source of stress regardless of whether the business is busy or slow. Most business owners understand the importance of working on the business rather than just in it but it’s a difficult goal to maintain.

Marketing and business development are not as attractive to most business owners compared to counting profits after a long month of work and it’s especially hard to prioritise and do something that doesn’t have a deadline such as growing the business.

The real issue is this; if you don’t actively work on the business, the likelihood of a future income barrier becomes much higher. This knowledge is often a source of anxiety and, for some business owners, they feel incompetent as they worry over all the things that they should be doing.

Here’s how to overcome that:

Set goals and work backwards

Every year, find some space in your calendar for four goal milestones with yourself, preferably once per quarter. Give yourself at least a couple of hours, and take a whole day if you can.

Each quarter, keep track of these things to ensure the business is going well:

  • Take note of how things are going
  • Make decisions about what you think needs to be done to market and develop the business, and to streamline its efficiency
  • Calculate the business cash flow
  • Calculate the revenue or profits that you want to achieve that year

Once you’ve got that done, record it somewhere and get to work. Working backwards means you are starting off from your goals first and making a plan to achieve that rather than the other way around.

Set reasonable goals

It’s better for you to accomplish a small amount on a steady basis, rather than giving it a temporary burst of achievement and die down later on. It’s also easier (and better for your mental health) when goals are achieved easily.

For example, if you have $150,000 ARR and you’re aiming for $5m within a year, that’s too far-fetched and you need to expand the timeline to perhaps 5 years; having a goal that is too over-optimistic leads to disappointment which can wreck your mental stability.

If your brainstorming produces a wealth of ideas and a long list of possible to-dos, prioritise and choose a manageable set of activities, keeping in mind all the demands on your schedule and assuming everything will take twice as long as you think.

Schedule everything

To keep yourself calm, you have to literally schedule everything in your business so that you don’t get surprised or shocked along the way.

  • Set and communicate your boundaries. Once you’ve worked out a schedule, stick to your time boundaries. Avoid working during personal time or letting your personal time interfere with business as much as you can. Communicate these boundaries to the people in your life so they can help you commit to them.
  • Look for ways to conserve time. Try to eliminate activities that waste your time every week. For example, if you sit in traffic for hours during your commute, try working from home one or more days a week. Or you could schedule several infrequent appointments (such as doctor or dental visits, car maintenance, etc.) in one day to optimise your productivity.
  • Work when you’re at your best. Schedule business tasks like meetings and conference calls for days or times when you have the most energy and focus. If you get burnt out by Friday, stack your work duties earlier in the week. If you’re not a morning person, schedule important meetings for later in the day.

Again, some stress is inevitable when you own your own business. But the less, the better, and with some planning and proactive steps you can create insurance against the most common sources, improve the health of your business, and enjoy it more, too.

What are some other things you can do to relieve stress?

Start off with the basics

When you’re hungry, thirsty or tired, little things can seem overwhelming. If you haven’t had a drink of water in the past hour, get one. If you haven’t eaten something in the past few hours, grab a light, healthy snack like nuts or fruit.

If you haven’t moved from in front of your computer for last 45 minutes, stand up and walk around your office or do some quick stretches.

Take a short break

A 10-minute walk around the office park, stroll through the office chatting with employees or run down to the local Starbucks for coffee can do a lot to clear your head and manage stress.

Better yet, find some time to get a power nap – it works extremely well.

Get enough sleep

Although the media may make you think that “hustle” is sexy and cool, 18-hour work days are unhealthy and not efficient. You mustmake time to sleep or you’ll end up getting more and more exhausted every day.

Find ways to delegate, automate or eliminate tasks that take up too much time for too little return. Use the extra time to sleep and make it a a priority, just like a business meeting with a client.

Get physical.

When things get too stressful, go for a run in the midday sun to recharge your energy. It sounds counter-intuitive but research has shown that exercising and physically stressing your body helps you to maintain energy levels.

If running is not for your, find a workout that works for you, and use it to manage stress.

Build connections

Keeping your connections with friends, loved ones and relatives thriving while running a business can be hard, but is vital to soothing your stress.

If you have family, take some time off to have a day or two on a family trip. You can also meet up with your friends at the bar and forget about the business for a while.

Stop overthinking

Perfectionism will always produce unnecessary stress. While you do need to plan for problems, worrying about every possible outcome of an action or endlessly assessing your options leads to analysis paralysis.

If you have to think so much, start off by listing the pros and cons of your choices; sleep on it if possible so your gut has time to process the options, then make a decision when you are ready.

Learn to say no

If a situation, employee, client or project is stressing you out beyond the usual amount, listen to your gut. Stress could be trying to tell you something.

Maybe it’s time to fire the employee, dump that client or call a halt to the project that’s not going anywhere.

Turn stress into something positive

Stress isn’t always negative. A certain amount of it is necessary and can even motivate us. When you’ve got a super-stressful day ahead, take it as a challenge instead of an obstacle.

Set goals, focus on the most important tasks, encourage yourself along the way and reward yourself; even if it’s just with a mental pat on the back as you cross each item off your business bucket list.

Don’t take in too much information

Part of the reason small business owners feel added stress each day is because information is coming at them from every direction in today’s digital age.

No sooner do you sit at your desk, the email notifications start going off, the instant message notification is ringing, the telephone starts ringing off the hook, and your social media notifications are popping up on your mobile device every second.

Don’t be confused; it is nearly impossible to focus on the task at hand when you are being constantly reminded that your attention is needed in ten other places.

The best way to relieve business stress when it comes to information overload is to simply unplug and reboot (as mentioned above).

Here are some things that you can do to reduce information overload:

  • Turn off email notifications and check the email manually 3-4 times a day at a specific time each day
  • Only open up your instant message program when you absolutely need to contact someone
  • Turn off social media notifications on your phone and check them at designated times during the day

Don’t be afraid of reaching out for help

Part of the way that you will grow and gain experience in running a small business is by utilising the experiences of those who have succeeded before you.

When you are confronted with challenges, you can add incredible amounts of stress to your day when you think you have to develop solutions to every problem.

To help relieve business stress, try and reach out to people who have succeeded in your field and see how they handled particular situations that you are confronted with today.

The internet has made it simple to join discussion groups with industry leaders who are more than happy to share their experiences. Doing this will help you easily resolve problems and eliminate stress without actually moving out of your home or office.

Of course, the best way to is find a professional counselor and ask for help and get professional treatment for you.

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