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Friday, June 02, 2020

Start-up Sanity

A little while ago, I tried to explain why I think working hard is often necessary for small business owners and those with a start-up, but no guarantee of business success. Maybe that sounded like cold comfort, but it’s better to face reality early than avoid half killing yourself with overwork in what proves to be a lost cause. Most owners of small businesses work really, really hard. If they fail, it’s much more likely to be due to a poor business concept, inadequate financial backing, or sheer bad luck than lack of effort on their part.

So what can you do as a small business owner or entrepreneur to keep sane and balance the effort needed with some down-time and a civilized way of working. Here are some ideas.
  1. Burnout is caused by a feeling of a gap between effort and reward: working flat out and getting nothing (or too little) back. You can avoid this by being realistic about two things: your expectations about reward and your beliefs about what your hard work deserves. Feeling you deserve success won’t bring it closer. It will only increase your sense of depression and demotivation if it doesn’t come when and how you think it should.

  2. Be rigorous about setting boundaries. Decide how much of your life it’s sensible to devote to work and don’t give it any more. Don’t give in to superstition or the belief hard work alone will turn the tide in your favor. Don’t allow your dreams and ambitions to sweep you away into 20 hour days and seven day weeks. Hard work is necessary — sometimes — but it doesn't need to be continual.

  3. Avoid perfectionism. Many entrepreneurs are perfectionists. That’s why they want their own business: no one else does it right. But perfectionists are often terrible leaders — hard on themselves and on everyone else. You may be willing to ruin your relationships and health in your eagerness to succeed, but you have no right to force that option on others. Try it and they’ll vote with their feet, leaving you even more overworked and less likely to make it.

  4. Set and keep to rational priorities. Small business owners often see everything as important and urgent. Their business is so much a part of their every waking thought, they lose their sense of proportion and can no longer see the wider picture. Like setting boundaries, setting and keeping to sensible priorities is key to maintaining sanity.

  5. Use your brain, not just your ability to slog away. The businesses that succeed do so because they have something the other guys don’t have: some spark of creativity, a different approach, an idea whose time has come. However hard you work, a dull “me too” business has a poor chance of making it. But you won’t find clever new ideas in an exhausted mind. Creativity and burnout can’t exist in the same head.

  6. It’s fine to be self-centered. It’s your business. You can do what you want with it. The more you focus on creating a business that deals with genuine needs — yours — the more likely you are to find customers with similar needs. What’s most personal is often most universal.

  7. Many entrepreneurs try to grow too fast. They see a glittering future ahead and are in a tearing hurry to get there. Slow down. Remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare. You don’t want to be like a marathon runner who sprints as hard as possible in the first ten miles, only to collapse long before the finish line. Pace yourself.

  8. Stay fit and agile. Few things turn out as you expect. However good your business plan, the chances are you’ll have to make unexpected and rapid changes of direction. If you’re exhausted, frazzled and losing motivation to lack of sleep and hurt looks from family and friends, chances are you’ll be about as agile as a block of wood.

What would it be like to run a startup without a diet of 18 hour, bleary-eyed, junk-food-fueled days? Or caffeine-hyped, sleepless, tossing-and-turning nights that tempt your loved one to thoughts of leaving?

For a start, it would be a lot more fun and just as likely — maybe even more likely — to succeed. You can’t give of your best if you’re exhausted. Customers won’t forgive bad service or silly mistakes just because you’ve been working so hard you can barely keep your eyes open. In the end, if the only way you can keep a business afloat is by mortgaging your health and happiness for years to come, you need to stop and ask yourself if it’s worth it.


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