KEEP CALM AND GROW A BUSINESS
Business owners often wear many hats -- chief executive, marketer, accountant, and receptionist -- all at the same time. The payoff for such hard work can be substantial, but so is the stress. With so much at stake, learning to manage stress is one of the best strategies any entrepreneur can master.
Cheapism heard from business owners across the country about what causes them the most stress, and what they do to keep themselves and their business running. Here is their advice.
Poor work-life balance is one of the leading causes of stress according to a survey by the Alternative Board, an organization that helps business owners from different industries collaborate. Most of the business owners surveyed work more than 40 hours a week, and nearly a fifth of them work more than 60 hours a week.
Dave Scarola, Alternative Board vice president, suggests trying to schedule a few days or hours off, the same way an important business meeting gets scheduled. "Delegating activities that fall below your pay grade can also dramatically decrease your workload and increase your time for much-needed rest," Scarola says.
Dealing with the flow of money coming in and out of a business can cause enormous stress, especially when finances are tight, says Nedalee Thomas, CEO of Chanson Water USA in Laguna Hills, California, which sells water purifiers. "When I first started my business, we would have $20,000 worth of bills due every Friday. Often on Wednesday I would only have $500 in the account and then somehow by the skin of our teeth by Friday we would have enough."
Week after week Thomas didn't have enough money to cover her bills until the last minute. But after she realized that things worked out week after week, she was able to let the stress subside. A believer in Christianity, Thomas says she turned to her faith, worked hard, and resolved to trust God and stop worrying. Ten years later, her business is still working.
Joseph Ashburner, the owner of LaptopNinja, a computer reviews website, says there may not always be a simple way to get away from the stress of starting and running a business. "In a typical day, my task list contains five to 15 'active' tasks that need attention and often need to be juggled with intense precision."
Keeping track of all your to-dos is an important first step. Ashburner uses project management software to help him manage this list, and uses due dates, labels, and categories to keep things organized. Getting everything done can still be difficult, but having an organized system can help alleviate the sense of helplessness that sometimes arises.
John Turner, CEO and founder of QuietKit, a free mediation program for beginners, says, "One of the biggest stressors I face is the tension of what I end up not doing when I choose to focus. ... There's always tension around what you chose not to do, and if that was the better call." There is an opportunity cost to everything business owners do. How can they know what's worth their time?
Rather than stress over lost potential opportunities, Turner reminds himself that the work that goes into each task can have a compound effect. "Spreading yourself thin will result in nothing," Turner says, "but focusing on only a few things will result in real returns over time."
Many small businesses don't have a human resources department to deal with internal conflicts. That has been an issue for Alice Holland, a doctor of physical therapy and the director of Stride Strong Physical Therapy in Portland, Oregon. She says sometimes she's blindsided by staff requests.
Holland is both a practitioner and the boss, which can make dealing with employee requests tricky. "If I remember that these requests and problems is a normal side effect of having a business, then I don't let it affect me personally," Holland says. With the boss hat on, she tries to approach her staff from an objective point of view and deal with issues in a timely fashion.
WEARING TOO MANY HATS
Rarely does a business owner have just one stressor, as Holland revealed in sharing another issue she faces in her daily work life. "Several days in the last year I have had to be a physical therapist in one hour, then back to an owner for 10 minutes as I handle collections, then shift over to being front desk as patients enter through our front door. It is an incredibly stressful situation."
Some workplace problems are simply staffing issues, Holland says. If the business is growing or the owner is constantly bouncing between tasks, it may be time to hire a new employee. However, when there is a one-off case of someone calling in sick or arriving late, the owner may have to tough it out. Holland's tip to keeping the stress manageable on those days is to meditate before and after work. She says even five minutes is enough to make a difference.
Finding and retaining good employees can be challenging, and losing someone while trying to grow a business can be a major setback, says Monica Eaton-Cardone, co-founder and chief operating officer at Chargebacks911 in Tampa Bay, Florida. There's more to employee turnover than just the logistics, she says. "It can feel very personal when people leave. ... It almost feels like a personal rejection."
Instilling the right company culture can help businesses retain employees. Eaton-Cardone consciously tries to cultivate a positive environment where people enjoy coming to work. "I want my employees to stay with us not because they're obliged to, but because they want to," she says. There are limitations, though, and even with an amazing culture, employees may leave for a variety of reasons.
New companies often learn by trial and error what works and what doesn't. Devorah Neiger, a co-founder of medical supply site Medshop, found one of her biggest stressors is firing people. "Some of our initial hires were keeping our company back, and we had to make the painful decision to let them go," she says, adding that no one employer wants to fire anyone. "It is the absolutely worst thing a boss has to do."
Keeping in mind the bigger picture of how the business needs to grow might make firing someone easier, Neiger says. "If the company fails, not only is he or she out of a job, but the rest of my employees will be as well."
Garrett Gustafson, co-founder of Edlee Designs sunglasses, a Los Angeles-based startup, had trouble balancing the workload fairly between two founders. The business was split evenly, but he felt that he often put in 70 to 80 percent of the work.
Gustafson faced a similar issue with a past venture when his co-founder was working a full-time job and wasn't able to commit to their company. The business closed when the partner didn't want to redistribute the equity held by each partner. But Gustafson learned that facing the issue head-on can relieve much of the stress, "Like most people, I kept trying to avoid confrontation. But I knew the longer I put it off, the larger or more volatile the inevitable confrontation could be." He shared his concerns with the partner of his current venture, they came to an agreement, and the business is still on track.
RELYING ON OTHERS
Ben Walker, the founder and CEO of Transcription Outsourcing in Denver ran into problems when independent contractors he hired missed deadlines. Having to rely on others can be stressful, especially when the business's reputation is on the line.
Walker discovered that putting in extra work upfront can pay off big later. The company improved its onboarding and vetting process and rarely has problems with contractors today.
NEGATIVE REVIEWS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Gene Caballero is a co-founder of GreenPal, a competitive pricing service for yard maintenance, which he describes as Uber for lawn care. Offering insight into what it's like to run a consumer-facing business today, he says, "One negative Yelp review can tarnish your online presence if you have zero positive ones." To make matters worse, some customers are quick to complain before letting the business rectify the problem, or even leave a negative review without actually trying a product or service.
To avoid negative reviews and cultivate positive ones, Caballero says, the company makes it a point "to get proactive feedback from our homeowners and correct any problems or issues that they have." The company also asks satisfied customers to share their experiences -- and takes extra steps to ensure satisfaction, such as sending treats to customers who have dogs.
SEARCH ENGINE RANKING
Mike Catania, chief technology officer at PromotionCode.org, a coupon site, says the company's online presence is often on his mind, another stressor that didn't exist just a few years ago. He worries about where the site shows up when consumers use a search engine, as high rankings can help drive business.
"I don't foresee this stress ever dissipating completely," Catania says. He manages some of the stress by making sure the website is always up to date and reminds himself that the team is working as hard as they can. He also regularly exercises and has found that physical activity helps relieve anxiety.
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY BODY
Other entrepreneurs sometimes overcome work-related stress by focusing on the body. Holly Parker, a lecturer at Harvard and a psychotherapist at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, has an extensive list of research-backed suggestions to reduce stress, including: exercising 30 minutes, five times a week; walking in nature; eating plenty of fruits and vegetables; adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet (high quantities are found in fish, flax seeds, and chia seeds); and laughing often.