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5 Ways to Avoid Small Business Burnout

It's easy to lose passion for a venture you love. Follow these tips to prevent getting crushed by the company you created.

By Beverly Jones | July 22, 2013

Becoming an entrepreneur in midlife may sound pretty appealing. I got the bug and left corporate life in 2000 to run my own business as a leadership and transitions coach, which I love.
 
So I’m a big fan of boomer entrepreneurship. But lately I’ve heard quite a few people who’ve joined this trend say they’re suffering from “small business burnout.”
 
Burnout: Not Just in Bad Times
 
These aren’t just people who might be struggling with the stress of managing a fledgling business in difficult economic times. Burnout also affects owners who are successfully meeting their financial goals.
 
When you’re feeling burned out, the enterprise you've sculpted with such passion can start to feel like a burden. I’ve heard a landscape contractor describe his business as a “hungry monster,” draining his energy with demands for more clients, projects and cash.
 
(MORE: How to Recognize – and Survive – Burnout)
 
5 Ways to Avoid Small-Biz Burnout
 
To avoid small business burnout – whether you’re running a firm or considering starting one – I recommend you follow this advice, based on conversations I’ve had with entrepreneurship experts and company owners, as well as my own experience:
 
1. Find the support and expertise you need. Most business owners love the independence that comes from running their own show. But leaving the corporate cocoon often means learning to manage without, say, an onsite IT or legal department.
 
It’s easy to get burned out trying to handle ancillary duties, like tech problems and contracts, yourself.
 
Instead, look for ways to replace organizational resources with an entrepreneurial ecosystem made up of individuals whose success is tied to yours. 
 
Think of the people you know whose expertise could help your business develop smoothly – from your personal accountant to other entrepreneurs you can brainstorm with at lunchtime. Then, engage them and perhaps hire them as contractors.
 
You might want to join local business or professional groups to find authorities who’ll offer their talents and broaden your network.
 
(MORE: How to Reboot Your Energy: Don’t Work So Hard)

2. Learn to delegate, so you can carve out “me” time. Elizabeth Isele, co-founder of the Washington think tank Senior Entrepreneurship Works and a Next Avenue contributor, says some boomer owners throw themselves wholeheartedly into work, expecting their businesses to provide total fulfillment. They forget earlier life lessons, like the need for balance and the importance of relationships.
 
“Part of small-business burnout is related to the whole search for meaning,” Isele says. “I see people who think that because they are following their passion they’ll get everything they want from their business. But work alone cannot possibly deliver on all your expectations in life.”   
 
These owners find themselves petering out not from because they're working long hours, but because they won't allow for the possibility of anything else happening in their lives.
 
To prevent this from happening, Isele recommends creating a weekly schedule that makes room for your loved ones, friends and favorite leisure activities. 
 
This may require shifting some of your business activities to others.
 
A key to keeping your energy up, Isele says, is methodically delegating or outsourcing routine tasks so you can enjoy other aspects of life.
 
3. Don’t be a perfectionist. “When people care deeply about their work, sometimes they don’t know when to stop,” says Claudia Kaiser, owner of NextStageHome.com, a Milwaukee firm that manages home transitions, and someone who enjoys mentoring other entrepreneurs.
 
Many business owners tend to burn out “when they’re in the zone,” Kaiser says.
 
Case in point: A decorator she knows was hired for one day to stage a home that would be shown to potential buyers. The decorator got so carried away, she worked all night, even though she’d get no extra money for the additional hours.  
 
Owners like that decorator can easily find themselves on the road to burnout due to poor time management. “They may be getting paid for a four-hour project,” Kaiser says, “but they work 12 hours because they want their work to be perfect.”
 
Her advice: Learn to get over the need for perfection.
 
Plan your time carefully and spend just four hours on the project you priced out as a four-hour job. Get yourself in the mindset of doing quality work — it doesn't have to be perfect.
 
(MORE: 10 Tips for ‘Senior’ Entrepreneurs)

4. Look into the true source of your burnout. Often, the cause is misplaced, says Peggy Arvidson, a consultant in Centerville, Va., who calls herself “the business healer for healers” because she advises clients such as yoga teachers and therapists.
 
“It may feel like you’re exhausted due to money pressures, but you’re really troubled by more fundamental concerns, like a lack of confidence or sense of self worth,” Arvidson says.
 
If you look inward and make a positive attitude shift, “the money will follow,” she says. 
 
Writing in a journal is one way to keep work in perspective and build self-awareness. If you’re feeling spent, Arvidson suggests asking yourself: “Is this a physical situation, an emotional or spiritual one or a mental challenge?”
 
5. Believe it or not, expand your work. I know that sounds counterintuitive. But some entrepreneurs on the precipice of burnout actually find fresh energy by launching new projects or businesses. 
 
A few years after I started coaching, I felt a bit tired, thinking that I didn’t want to take on one more client. But along came opportunities to broaden my consulting practice. They made me feel charged up, not worn out.
 
I know one busy restaurateur who felt revitalized when he undertook an expansion to add an inn. A journalist friend worked through a rough period by moonlighting in a kitchen store.
 
One IT owner says that when she grew bored with her small business, she carved out time and recharged her batteries by creating a second operation.
 
An intense focus on one set of activities can wear you out. But a fresh project just may stimulate your creativity – and turn your burnout into a roaring flame.

Beverly Jones is a leadership and transitions coach who runs Clearways Consulting in Washington, D.C., and Rappahannock County, Va. She was formerly a lawyer representing energy clients, universities and nonprofits. She writes frequently for Next Avenue.