Avoid becoming the stressed-out, overworked entrepreneur

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One of my readers recently asked this very astute question:

"Some of the people I know that actually own a business (most of them selling some sort of product or franchise), they complain that they work a lot more than on a regular job.
You can see them working weekends much more than other people.
I’d like to know if this holds as well for consultancy based businesses.

(one of the reasons to have your own business is to increase quality of life and time with family, so it seems contradictory)"

This is so very true and unfortunately becomes the case for many new entrepreneurs.  I have three general comments about this, then some recommendations.

FirstWhen you really love what you do, you don’t mind working hard.  Life isn’t just about sitting around a pool sipping margaritas.  I have worked since I was 12 and frankly enjoy it … but only when it is something that allows me to be creative and has an impact that I care about. 

SecondYou can design your business however you want.  If you  decide that you only want to work  30 hours a week, there is a way to set up a business to accommodate that.  You may have to trade off other things like subject matter, target market, pay or control, but if a light work schedule is important to you, by all means design it into your business.

ThirdThere is a difference between working hard to build your business and running yourself into the ground, neglecting your family and your health.  That reeks more of desperation and poor planning than entrepreneurial passion and exhilaration.

If you find yourself in this third category, here are some things that may help pull you back out (or avoid altogether, if you haven’t started up yet):

  1. Price your services appropriately.  It is very common for first-time entrepreneurs to undervalue their services and therefore low ball bids with new clients.  This will mean that you have to work twice as many hours to make your income targets.  There are others who have so much self esteem and gusto that they wildly overcharge.  Both have their problems, since in the first case potential clients may doubt your credibility since you charge so little, and in the second, they may laugh you out of the conference room since you obviously are too green to know what to reasonably charge.  The key is to really understand your market well and know the competition so that you have some benchmarks for setting your prices. 
  2. Schedule in time to work on your business.  You will never imagine how long it takes to deal with paperwork, back office systems, reporting to the government, bookkeeping, marketing and product development.  A common tendency for new service professionals is to schedule all your time with billable hours.  This will mean that you will either neglect your important paperwork and get in trouble, or spend your nights and weekends frantically trying to catch up.  My Biz 2.0 solution is to forget about taking care of minute details from the very beginning of your business – hire a virtual assistant or office manager as soon as you can to free up your time for marketing and sales.
  3. Don’t get too greedy.  I remember when I first started out as a consultant, I was amazed and thrilled that anyone would hire me at all. I had to keep my cool in important looking board rooms so as to not betray my total glee when they signed a new contract.  This led to sometimes taking on far too many projects at the same time, which stressed me out and led to some really late nights. I learned from these experiences that if I was going to take on a large number of projects at the same time, I had better get help from other independent people, or risk the quality of what I was designing.  Sure, it meant I had to share my profits with others, but it was completely worth it since it meant a healthy and reasonable work load.  If you try to do everything by yourself, it is a recipe for disaster.
  4. Don’t stray from your priority services.  There are times when you have to do what you need to do to generate income for your business.  Sometimes this includes doing things you know are not part of your core services.  This can be things like doing someone’s bookkeeping if you are a high-end accountant.  Sure, you can do it, but should you? Watch out if you just grab any work that comes your way, no matter what it is.  Over time, this cheapens your brand and will make you feel more like an employee than an entrepreneur.
  5. Always look for ways to build in passive revenue streams.  If you have a service-based business, chances are, there are some ways to build some information products that would benefit your target market.  These can be things like e-books, online workshops, tutorials, and CD roms.  If you set up a good system of attracting people to your mailing list and following up with good information in the form of an ezine, you can tactfully promote these products and make sales.  You can also look for trustworthy, helpful affiliate partners who might serve your market in a compatible way.  The key is to think about products you could sell that don’t involve your personal time or energy.
  6. Don’t forget your family.  I am guilty of obsessively checking my email even in the evenings and on weekends.  If you find yourself being a crackberry addict or not able to tear away from your laptop at dinner, chill out.  Unplug, focus on your family, talk to your kids and spouse, and make sure you have no-work rules for your family time.  Even a very supportive family will begin to get frustrated with your new business venture if it takes up all your time.
  7. Exercise and eat well.  I know, this is hardly a unique message for entrepreneurs.  But it is really important to keep your stamina going to build your business, and if you always eat fast food and drink sodas, your energy level will eventually wind down.  Exercise can be a great way to break out of your rut and get a fresh perspective on things.  (I am on a voluntary caffeine withdrawl, since my coffee and Diet Coke consumption got out of hand … I am still in the painful day 2 headache stage, but I know it will be worth it in the end.)

It is possible to have a great business and not spend all your time working.  It is up to you to design it that way, then have the willpower to stick to your plans, despite temptation.


9 Responses to “Avoid becoming the stressed-out, overworked entrepreneur”

  1. This is an excellent post, Pam. I have been feeling like I’m lacking balance in my life. I have a full-time job, my business is after hours and weekends at the moment and it gets out of control because i have so many good ideas all the time. I’m not good with waiting to do things and I find myself working long hours.

    I realise now that when planning for next year, I need to allocate a certain number of hours for clients, hours for admin/ bookkeepong/ boring but necessary stuff, hours for marketing in the week, and that next week’s time will come around if I don’t get to it this week.

  2. Stress Doesnt Have To Be Our Leader

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  3. Katelyn says:


    This post contains so much valuable wisdom. I have JUST had a few people tell me as a young entrepreneur that I am greatly under-valuing my work, and I really had trouble believing it until it happened several times!

    Also, re. caffeine addiction and withdrawal. I have those little termites of addiction deep in my craw, and I have found that an allotment of different types of fixes keeps them from greedily screaming out for more. White tea, juices, herbal teas, and *this* much coffee per day — just like an investment portfolio, my fuel fixes needed to be diversified for optimal returns. Replacing rather than creating a void by quitting was what worked best for me.

    Keep up the great work!


  4. Great advice and a wise reminder to maintain balance when running a business.

    Your words were quite close to home for the third category. I started off by working on my business in my spare time, and the moved to part-time earlier in the year. Once I built up momentum, I found that business time was steadily absorbing everything and I was gradually getting more and more tired. It was like an addiction, making progress was just so rewarding that I wasn’t prepared for the hook. I finally reached the stage Craig mentions where I had to ask, “How do I stop?”

    I solved the problem quite simply by instigated a pattern of alternation; one night business, one night leisure and on weekends, half-day business, half-day leisure. In this case my wife supports me in this by helping enforce the pattern if I drift back again. The result has been more fun, increased focus, increased progress and the feeling that I can reach the finish line, not having burned out along the way. Win, win.

    Keep up the great articles Pam, you’d be amazed how much of a lift they provide.

  5. LaserShark says:

    Pam, long time blog-reader, first time comment-poster (sorry, I always wanted to say that ;)). I agree completely with your views on caffeine consumption and exercise. As a work-from-home entrepreneur, I am especially careful about controlling my coffee intake. Further, I schedule workout time for myself and force myself to keep to my routine. One advantage of working from home is that I can hit the gym during non-peak hours. Also, when warm weather beckons, I remind myself that the reason I escaped from the corporate world was to set my own schedule – I get the bike out and burn off some pent up energy!

  6. A Business That Accommodates Your Life

    Pam Slim over at Escape from Cubicle Nation has a terrific post on how to Avoid becoming the stressed-out, overworked entrepreneur:
    One of my readers recently asked this very astute question:
    Some of the people I know that actually own a busines…

  7. basquette says:

    Pam, this is, no doubt, my favorite.post.EVER. This is what entrepreneurs and new solos need to hear, no matter what flavor the business they’re in. Seems like, going in, it’s all about “can I?” and then it becomes “how do I?” and after a short honeymoon period, it’s all about “how do I stop?!?” I’m on the border between honeymoon and “how do I stop?” myself. And I have been guilty of just what you describe – that “too many billable hours”/”not enough back office time” thing. I shall now slink off to get my files in order. Thank you, ma’am, may I have another?

  8. craigh says:

    Great post! You work is consistently on track.