Tips for the Overwhelmed Entrepreneur

By Sara (Chomyn) McMullan

It's common for entrepreneurs to feel stretched thin by all the demands on their time. But there's good news; there are several things you can do to stay sane while entrepreneuring. These are the things I wish I would have know when I started running a small business 5 years ago. They would have saved me from a lot of stress, tears, and mistakes. I learnt them the hard way, but you don't have to.

First, throw out your perfectionism. It will thwart you, stress you out, and eat away your much-needed time. For example, when my husband and I started a landscape maintenance business a few years ago, I found myself working 12 hours a day but somehow not accomplishing much. In hindsight, I realize I was spending way too much time on things that weren't that important. I wasted hours selecting stock photos for our website, when really any image would have sufficed. I spent days perfecting our print advertisements and the wording of our documents. I see now that these details didn't make much difference to our customers or business, and could have been easily tweaked and adjusted down the road. The things I should have spent this time on instead were customer relationship management, new sales, and using additional marketing avenues. These activities were much more significant to our business, and would've had a much bigger impact on our success. Prioritize the tasks that are most important to your business, and allot your time (and perfectionism) accordingly. To decide what to prioritize, focus on what's most important to your business right now. For a new landscape company trying to win customers, the most critical factors to our success included reaching new customers, providing exceptional customer service, and getting repeat sales. Don't try to do everything perfectly - be strategic with your time and concentrate it on the things that are critical.

Second, accept the highs and lows you will inevitably experience. There will always be an ebb and flow of wins and losses that you'll face, it is how you deal with it matters. There have been many times where our business felt overwhelmed by the lows we faced. For example, at one point we experienced huge difficulty in finding good seasonal workers. My husband and I were constantly stressed by these tribulations, and had a hard time relaxing or enjoying life for several months. I would feel panicked and burnt out all day while working, as I couldn't get my mind off the difficulties we were going through. We would watch TV or movies in the evening to take our minds off the stress, because we were too burnt out to do anything else. These ordeals did truthfully cause huge problems for the operation of our business; we had workers stop showing up without notice while our customers were expecting us that day (and every day for the next few months). It caused logistical nightmares, a few cases of imperfect service, and the odd dissatisfied customer. So while it was a huge challenge for our business, we shouldn't have let it affect us the way it did. Because it wasn't actually as big of a deal as we thought; the consequences to our business weren't that bad. On the whole, we provided good service, and the number of dissatisfied customers we had was insignificant. But in the moment we weren't able to see the situation objectively. We were overwhelmed by what was going wrong, but failed to put it in context. When you're so immersed in your business, it can be hard to look at it objectively. Take a step back and evaluate how things are going on the whole. To maintain your sanity, don't waste your energy on fruitless worrying - the lows will all pass eventually.

Perhaps the most important way you can manage the challenges of entrepreneurship is by maintaining the relationships and networks in your life. When you feel swamped with a never-ending to-do list, it may be tempting to stay at home instead of meeting a friend or attending an event. However, in my experience, you always end up being more productive when you balance your work life with a bit of time for fun. The time you spend working will be much more efficient when you have plans to look forward to, rather than an unending day of work ahead. Furthermore, neglecting your social life makes you miss out on important interactions that can bolster your spirit or provide you with new ideas. Having a strong support system means the difference between feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and feeling inspired and optimistic. And likewise important for an entrepreneur, socializing provides huge opportunities to receive assistance with your work. Everyone in your network has a unique collection of skills, experiences, connections, and perspectives that they are generally happy to lend to an entrepreneurial friend in need. Mount Royal's Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is one example of a vital network of mentors, professors, fellow students, and members of the larger community that generously lend a hand to entrepreneurial students. I've been amazed again and again by how much the members of this community help each other out. Position yourself for success and happiness by allowing the people in your life to help and support you.

So in short, doing these three things can help you maintain your sanity as an entrepreneur. To maximize your productivity, focus your time on what's most important to your business' success. Keep the challenges you experience in perspective and don't let them overwhelm the big picture. And lastly, make sure you maintain your social connections - they are a vital resource that can help you in ways you can't imagine. Remember to take care of yourself, it will help you take care of your business by extension.