Running a Small Business with Less Stress

“Letting stress pile up as a business owner can lead to inaction and more stress. It’s a nasty cycle. I constantly work on identifying the warning signs of stress so I can avoid the cycle altogether.” – Wendy Dolan, Founder of Get Online NOLA


On good days, I love running my small business. For the most part, I stay motivated by the freedom and sense of accomplishment that working for myself affords. But on bad days – days when I’m overworked, or I missed out on a big project, or when a client seems extra demanding – the stress can be overwhelming. Back when I first started my business, I had a hard time recognizing anxiety.Β  I pushed through the heart thumping, tight-chested panic without noticing, much less addressing the problems. I still have days when I take myself way too seriously and let everything get out of proportion, but thankfully, those days are much less frequent. I’ve built up a personal toolkit to keep the stress at bay, and thought I’d share my favorites in honor of “National Stress Awareness Day”.

Tips for avoiding and managing stress as a small business owner:

  1. Make a plan. It’s impossible to feel a sense of accomplishment if you don’t know what you’re working towards. Chasing an ever-moving target is stressful and unproductive.  Make a business plan and set manageable goals to achieve the plan. The New Orleans Branch of the Louisiana Small Business Development Center ( LSBDC.org) is a great resource to get started.
  2. Get organized. Clutter causes stress. Spending a little time every day organizing your workspace will pay off big time. Once you have your office in order, focus on organizing your business processes so you spend less time scrambling and more time being productive. We’ve got more tips on getting organized here.
  3. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of done. Striving for perfection is fine, but it’s more important to keep moving forward. It’s tempting to push back deadlines (on our own projects) because we’re not quite ready to share them with the world at large. But hey, that’s what beta versions are for. Go ahead and put it out there. Once you release the project into the world, it will allow you to detach, de-stress, and receive constructive criticism.
  4. Don’t compare yourself to others. Obviously, it’s important to know what the competition is up to, but if you spend all your time trying to keep up with the big guys next door, you’ll have no time for original ideas. Focus on your USP (unique selling point) and use it to your advantage. (I borrowed this one from the Desiderata.)
  5. Admit your mistakes then move on. Sometimes we have to be hard on ourselves as business owners. Owning up to mistakes is essential, but there’s no use in getting hung up on them. I like to give myself a little self-review every now and again, just like I would with any employee. If I feel myself slipping, I write down the things I need to work on, then get back to work.
  6. Pat yourself on the back. Self-reviews don’t just have to be negative. Most small business owners experience major ups and downs in the course of a year (or a week for that matter.) So when you’re having an up moment, take the time to enjoy it. Otherwise, what’s all the hard work for?
  7. Get out of the office. Staring at the same 4 walls day in and day out is painful. No matter how busy you feel, make time to get out of the office. Attend a networking event, have lunch with another entrepreneur, or just spend a couple of hours working in a coffee shop. Sometimes, a new perspective is all you need.
  8. Get a hobby. The cross-over between personal and work life is more blurred than ever. Some entrepreneurs eat, breathe and dream work – and sometimes that’s ok. But well-rounded people are much more fun. So take up yoga, or find a softball team, and enjoy yourself.
  9. Clock off! If you spend all your time working, you’ll risk burning out (or turning into a  massive bore). Try to set normal work hours and stick to them. Dare I say, even turn your phone off for a couple of hours every evening. Of course, there will be those times when you have to pull all-nighters. But you can compensate by allowing yourself a random Wednesday off when business is slow and all your tasks have been checked off.
  10. Get help. Just because you’re a master at what you do doesn’t mean you have to file your own taxes or code your own website. Focus on what you do best and hire others to do what they do best. Remember, this is not a hobby. You have to invest in your business for it to succeed. It will definitely save you stress, and probably money too.

What do you do to avoid or cope with stress? Share your tips with us.