Like a lot of you small business owners out there, I worked hard for over half a decade to make my entrepreneurial dream a reality, only to feel like the career train that I was on had been derailed—or, at the very least, had lurched to a stop—due to the pandemic. For a while, I was terrified of what was coming next. As a fitness nut running a gym (you know, the kind of gym where people used to work out right next to each other), I considered selling but was afraid of letting go of what I’d built too soon. I looked into the process of selling as an option—and then I realized that I was considering the option under the guise of defeat, rather than looking at this potential new direction as an opportunity. I looked inward for why, I realized something further: that the pandemic and subsequent lockdown was affecting me strongly enough to negatively impact my life, forcing me to look at the situation through the lens of defeat and depression. At this difficult time, I want to address entrepreneurial “burnout” and depression: in these unprecedented times, many of us are more likely to be triggered by the concerns of possible failure—and triggered into making snap decisions—rather than rational ones. It may very well be time to sell your particular business after it’s undergone a professional valuation—but, let’s make sure that you’re considering selling for the right reasons, and not as a knee-jerk reaction to the unknown.
A Small Business Burnout
Even as conversations about mental health have entered the mainstream, there’s still far too many of us who are suffering in silence; I know this personally because before I started along my fitness journey, I suffered from an earring disorder that I hid from all of my family and friends for years. Though I am by no means an expert in this field—and am currently emboldened by an excellent relationship with my therapist—I am an entrepreneur that’s faced the challenge of depression myself and have also worked with many other founders who’ve dealt with these sorts of illnesses and disorders themselves. The following are just a few of the strategies that have helped me push through a “burnout” while running a small business:
- Don’t go it alone:
If you’re building a business by yourself, find a co-founder. It can be so helpful to be able to talk through issues with someone else. Oftentimes, a trusted partner can help you see things more clearly, and provide you with the optimism you need to keep moving forward.
- Talk it out:
Talk to other entrepreneurs, mentors, and leaders. They’re intimately familiar with what you’re feeling and have likely felt depressed during their journey as well. Share your “war stories” with the only other people who understand you: share your feelings, emotions, and fears—and definitely don’t neglect to share your successes, either.
- Fire your worst customers:
As a personal trainer who had to quickly adapt to an entirely online model for the foreseeable future, I spent far too many hours at the outset dealing with difficult clients; after undergoing one too many traumatic and abusive phone calls, I started to lose some of my excitement about my business. If you find that some of your customers are draining the life out of you, complain on a daily basis, and force you to use more resources than they should, just let them go. My business falls into the “80/20” rule: 80% of my revenue comes from 20% of my customers. If problematic clients fall in the “20%” of your revenue bracket, you really have no place for them in your business.
- Take a break:
When I “burn out,” I stop working effectively and start spinning my wheels. Before I made any major changes, I took a break to recharge my batteries—I spent a week on a solo road trip to clear my mind in the mountains, before starting back up again. I came back with a fresh perspective, and the increased level of productivity made up for any lost time. I contacted a company about a business valuation, and gave myself a clear picture of what my business had to offer; after that, I decided whether or not I wanted to keep offering something to my business.
What’s Your Why?
Before making a big decision, I asked myself the big questions:
- Why did I start my business?
- Am I happy with the type of company I’ve built?
- Do I enjoy working with the set of investors I’ve attracted?
- Do I have a good relationship with all of my colleagues and most of my clients?
In the midst of adapting a business to the constraints of the lockdown, it’s easy to ignore the true source of unhappiness, burnout, or fatigue: between the isolation and uncertainty, it’s difficult to pinpoint triggers for emotional and mental difficulties. At the outset of the quarantine, I was afraid that I’d lost the chance to work in my chosen field in the age of lockdown, and seriously considered selling; however, through the information gathered with the help of professionals, I realized that I’d built something that I wasn’t ready to pass on just yet.