How to deal with the overwhelm of running a small business
This blog is late. But it’s late for a very good reason: I’ve been overwhelmed with client work over the last few weeks. When this happens, it’s always my own business marketing that takes a back seat. From chatting to other business owners, I know it’s a scenario that many are familiar with.
This month, for the very first time since starting my business, I had to turn a project down and tell other clients that I won’t be available for a few weeks. I considered my options and turned the work down reluctantly. But I just didn’t feel like I could give it the time and focus it deserved. I pride myself in producing quality content, so if I don’t have the capacity to do the job to the best of my ability I will turn it down.
I won’t lie, it felt pretty good! The dawning that I’ve built a successful business that people want to be associated with, and it’s all down to my own hard work and determination. The future’s looking rosy, but I still work my socks off for this success and that doesn’t come without its challenges.
When you run a micro or small businesses on your own, people are buying into you as an individual. This means having to do everything yourself - and that can be overwhelming sometimes. Yes, there’s always the option of sub-contracting work out. But in the early days, if you want to build a profitable business, financial pressures may require you keep the work in house. With copywriting and content marketing, I have an approach and a style that clients like and value, so I don’t intent to farm the work out to someone else.
That sinking feeling
When projects come thick and fast, it’s easy to tread water until the feeling of overwhelm becomes so strong, you burn out. I’ve felt that impending sense of overwhelm a few times and I can recognise when it’s about to happen. What follows is my own personal action plan for when you don’t know where to start or which job to do next.
When you feel the overwhelm creeping in, just walk away. The work will still be there when you get back but you’ll return to it with a new sense of perspective. As a homeworker, I find leaving the house the best thing to do. There’s a bench on top of a hill nearby where I like to go to take stock of things. When I look out over the town it helps me to regain my perspective. I take in the scenery, smile at passers-by and fill my lungs with a deep breath of fresh air.
Remind yourself why you do it
Whilst you’re away from your desk or workplace, remind yourself of all the reasons why you're doing this and not something else. When I started my business, I wrote a list of all my reasons (and there were many!) and put it away for an emergency. I’m happy to say, in 18 months, I’ve only needed to consult it once. Take your list to the top of the hill and lose yourself in it.
Talk to someone
If you work on your own, it’s a good idea to get yourself a mentor or a coach you can talk to about your challenges. It’s a over-used saying, but a “problem shared is a problem halved” - share your worries or concerns and find solutions together. If this isn’t an option speak to a friend or colleague in a similar position. We’ve all been there and will welcome the break. Put the kettle on and get chatting.
Another option is to go networking or attend a workshop or conference. A couple of weeks ago, I encouraged an overwhelmed supplier to leave the house and attend a local networking meeting. He agreed he felt much better for getting away and it gave him renewed enthusiasm to tackle his workload.
When you’re ready - prioritise
Get back to your desk and begin to prioritise your tasks. Use a diary, post-its, a white board, flipchart, or an online tool. Whichever method you prefer, write down every task and put them in order of priority. Be realistic about what you’re able to achieve each day. I find a maximum of 5 tasks per day is achievable, although as I write this I’ve got seven on my list for today - eek!
As you cross jobs off your list, give yourself a pat on the back and reward yourself with a short break (cupppa and biscuit optional) before you move on.
Learn to say No (or at least ‘in a few weeks’)
If like me, one of the reasons you started your own business was to achieve a better work/life balance, you must learn to say No. There’s a reason why you’re busy. You’re good at what you do. Overwhelm caused by too much work means people value what you do. And if they really want to work with you, they will wait.