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The Toll of Starting a Small Business: What Do You Do When the Enthusiasm Goes?

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What do you do when you suddenly find yourself overwhelmed and out-of-touch with the business you labored so hard to start up?

Of Ups and Downs and Hitting the Wall

Dealing with Stress as a Small Business OwnerIt’s one of the givens of running a business: they’ll be ups and they’ll be downs. It’s pretty common as a small business owner to find yourself stuck in a rut along the way, and when you do find yourself there, often all it takes is a few small changes to pull yourself out.

But what happens when even those things don’t work? What if you find yourself utterly exhausted and depleted of all enthusiasm? Do you close up shop? Try to ride it out? Try something else, entirely?

If you find yourself in such a situation, here are a few points to consider:

First realize where it’s coming from. One of the biggest challenges in endurance sports, like marathoning, is to avoid “hitting the wall” towards the end of a race. For those of you who have never experienced this, your body simply shuts down. It’s not a matter of trying to push through. You practically can’t, and this is on top of the fact that you’re also emotionally drained and you’re head is swimming. Most new small business owners hit the ground running. They work hard, they work long, and they give it their all. Then, a few years out, just as the business is really starting to give back, they basically run out of steam.

Once you can recognize what the problem is, you’ve taken the vital first step towards getting past it. The worst place to be at that point is not knowing what’s happening. Having lost your bearings, there’s no way to get back on your feet. Instead of trying to refocus your energies, you can simply become engrossed in the fact that you have no motivation to move.

Slow down, and where possible, stop altogether. Once you understand where all the fatigue is coming from, don’t fight it. It’s there for a reason and it’s giving you vital information that you’ll need in order to make your next move. As hard as it may be, you’ve just got to step away or at least step back from running your business for a few days.

Re-evaluate. Once you’ve slowed down the pace, now the real work begins. You have to reconsider why you went into business in the first place, how the business is performing, and how you are feeling next to it all. Realize that sometimes the problem is that you have changed. You’ve out-grown your business, or you now have a different set of priorities. Sometimes the business changes. It kind of takes on a life of it’s own. It becomes something that you didn’t think it would at the beginning. The question that you really want to answer at this stage is: given all of this, do you really want to keep running the business?

Plan your next steps. If the answer to that question is “no” then it’s time to shut down or sell. If, however, you decide to continue running the business, then you need to be very clear about the changes that will need to be in place in order for you to do it successfully. This will almost always mean bringing in other people- employees, contractors, or consultants. So be prepared for that. But, if you take the time to research your options and make informed decisions, you’ll be back on your feet in no time and have the enthusiasm to be in it for the long-haul.

Comments (6)

  • Adam – Great topic to consider. Many entrepreneurs start with a bang and at some point hit the wall when things don’t turn out as well as they thought or they run out of gas. The advice you gave is excellent. You have to take a step back, assess the situation, plan a different course and take action.

    I would also recommend to take some time off from your day to day work. It seems counter-intuitive, but not focusing your mind on your work for some time can rejuvenate you and bring fresh ideas.

    • Hi Harry,

      A hundred percent. Too many people are stuck in the “grind” of owning and running a small business, and a grind does exactly what it sounds like- it wears a person down. Taking a little some time off every now and then when things get too much is essential.

      But, the article was talking about an even deeper lack of focus and passion. When this strikes, then you may need to take off even more than a day or two.

  • I agree with Harry. Entrepreneurs often start off strong and filled with inspiration, and then lose it somewhere along the line. I make sure that I fit in “motivation sessions” where I look at my list of motivational videos and find new videos that inspire me. I will also look at all of the things I am accomplishing and have already accomplished, as well as where I am headed and what will be the outcome of the success. By doing this, I get to see the big picture and remember what I am working so hard for.

    I also agree that you need to slow down, and sometimes stop. When you continue to throw all of your energy into something, you forget what you’re doing and why you are doing it. Once you step back and let your mind relax, you remember what you are doing and what is going to be the outcome of all of the hard work you put in. Great article.


    • Hi Aaron,

      Taking time to relax, reflect, re-evaluate, and re-invigorate yourself is definitely key. We’re not machines that we can just churn out non-stop productivity. It’s also important to get that big picture perspective like you said, it helps to keep you in line with your overall goals.

  • I think another angle to look at is whether you have been investing in capacity as your business grows. Many times business owners start off by themselves or with a tiny staff but do not invest in capacity building even as the business grows. Soon running the business becomes so stressful you simply cannot have any joy running it, even if you are still passionate about it. In the book, The E-Myth, the author recommends that you plot your business growth against capacity. For example, if it takes you 10 minutes to serve one customer, how many customers can you serve comfortably until you need to hire someone else. The answer shouldn’t be working longer hours. This way, you retain the space to dream on and lead the business without getting stuck in the rut of repetitive tasks. One last thing, also from the E-Myth, you need to know whether you are an entrepreneur, manager or technician. In brief, entrepreneurs are best leading, managers managing and technicians doing the actual work. If you match your role in the company to your business trait and hire others to fill the other roles, you will find it’s easier to stay the course. You don’t have to be CEO if you are passionate about product development.



    • Hi Mike,

      Very good points. It all comes down to creating a business model that scales. Even though this is such a fundamental part of doing business, many business leave this step out. They hit the ground running, relishing the rapid growth (if they are lucky to have it), but never stop think about how much effort is going in to support this growth. In the end, they just burn themselves out, and because they never took the time to think through this process, they are often clueless about where the problems are.


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