Whether you’re just starting out or have been in business for years, you already know how stressful owning a small business can be. Not only are we the creative talent, but also we’re CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, and COOs. We have to handle the financials, the employees, our brands, our home life, our well-being, and try to fit some creativity in there, too.
It can be a lot of pressure to own your own business – and that stress is not healthy for any of us. In fact, many studies now show that stress is a huge contributing factor to shortening your life span. Not good. Mental toughness is necessary for small business owners like us. We’ve got to have the capacity to respond positively to multiple and sometimes conflicting pressures – and we have to be able to handle stress, which is WAY easier said than done!
One of the techniques I use is to reframe negative thoughts. For example, one thing my team and I always say is that when clients get difficult, we have to say something nice about them…out loud…right then. It’s a joke in our office, but it really does help keep the stress level down. If we took all of our clients’ decisions personally, we would have been OUT of this business by now. It’s essential to realize that you have a choice about the way you think and that all negative thoughts can be reframed into more constructive ways of thinking.
Self-care is another BIG way to preserve your sanity as a small business owner. Stress can result in both behavioral and physical symptoms that can be hard to manage. If you’ve already scheduled your monthly spa day, use some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation breaks, to help you make it to your appointment. I use lots of great meditation exercises and apps including some from Gabrielle Berstein and the Deepak Chopra and Oprah series. They really do make a huge difference.
One of the quickest ways we get stressed is worrying. We worry A LOT. Half the time we are worrying about things we can’t control: Did the vendor ship that table? Did our painter finish that floor in time for the delivery we have coming tomorrow? Yes, we can push our vendors and make contracts with our painters but we cannot control them. Make space for worrying about the things we CAN control to relieve some of that pressure instead of worrying about the unnecessary things.
And you know what you can control? Your creative work, your customer service, your presentation skills, your financial habits, exercise. You CAN control those. Don’t allow them to control you!
You’ve also got to maintain focus on the business things that matter. Distractions happen to all of us. Some of us are parents who get nonstop texts from our kids about homework, friends coming over, or (like mine) wanting to get out of dance class even though she loves it when she gets there! Top performers can deal with these distractions while maintaining focus on the things that matter. Maybe it’s learning to turn off the phone, or letting someone else in the family deal with the distraction, or setting rules about when you can be “bothered.” Whatever it is, keep your focus.
Delegation is another way to deal with some of the pressures of being a business owner. As business owners (particularly women) we have the tendency to try to be in control of everything. As we build our businesses, this may be a necessity, but once you reach a point where you can hire help, DO IT! You cannot and should not do everything. The only things that should “live” on your schedule are tasks that make you the most money because they are 1) the work you are deeply passionate about and 2) demand a particular and exceptional skill of yours that cannot be done by anyone else. That’s all. Everything else on your task list is costing you money.
Over-delegating creates the opposite problem. If you take everything off your plate (including all of your passion+skill tasks) and become the Final-Word-Only kind of boss, you’ll see that in every product and service you’ve created the vision becomes murky and watered-down. Everything is “OK,” as in, it passes inspection, but it’s not YOU. What we are selling as creative businesspeople is our unique expertise and guidance, so it make sense that if we hand off the most essential parts of our work, the result is that it’s no longer uniquely us, no longer inspiring to us, no longer innovative and compelling. So the trick is keeping the parts that are you in your sweet spot and that fill you with joy and delegate or eliminate everything else!
And don’t be confused about what is important and what is only urgent and ultimately should be eliminated. Many things that stress us every day are things we shouldn’t even be doing at all. And neither should anyone on our team. So take a hard look at the tasks on your firm’s list because I suspect at least 30% if not 60% of what you feel is urgent should be totally eliminated because it’s not making you money or moving you closer to your goals. Arianna Huffington says in her great book Thrive that she made her life immensely better and less stressful by just eliminating tons of things from her to do list and even from her bucket list that she realized weren’t really important or priorities to her. Like her longterm goal to learn to ski, she said she just took off her list. Done! Can you do the same? Are there personal or professional goals and tasks on your list that if you are honest with yourself you don’t really even want? Or at least maybe you used to but you don’t want them anymore? Then let them go!
At the end of the day, life in the dynamic and unpredictable small business world means that sometimes things will not go according to plan, but in order to succeed we have to keep our motivation and our passion alive. We have to prioritize what we really want and what makes us money. And we can’t do any of this when we’re constantly stressed and worried about failure. So find your own best ways to cut out the stress – TODAY.