How to stay sane when running a small business

Updated: Jun 3, 2019

It’s almost two years since I made the big decision to leave corporate life behind and start my own consultancy business. It’s also coming up to another big anniversary – the first birthday of starting Startups For Grownups (Yippee for the grownups!)

Reflecting back on the past two years I can honestly say its been a total roller coaster, hanging on for dear life during the ups and trying to be kind to myself during the lows.

You hear that description a lot from people who have made the transition but you don’t really understand what that feels like until you’re in it - until that roller coaster is jammed right in the middle of your current life and you’re strapped in all good and tight.

In the first year, I rejoiced in my new-found freedom and took advantage of squeezing in a yoga class, pilates or extra-long walks with the dog in between meetings and deadlines. Everything flowed nicely. I felt energised, focused and grounded.

As my new-found freedom buzz began to diminish and I was on a steady up- hill climb with the consultancy and Startups for Grownups taking off, my exercise time went out the window. That monkey mind chatter started to tell me I didn’t have time for all that fluff, who was I kidding! I need to work!

So instead, my early wakeups meant an early start working rather than something doing something physical. Exercise time had now, in my head, become a luxury, and I wasn’t worthy. I had to work! Successful business owners didn’t have time for fluff, they worked!

So I worked.

Working from home and the kitchen table had me in arm’s length of the fridge. I’d often blink and it was 5pm and I hadn’t moved for four hours. But I’d managed to polish off the Tim Tams and had three coffees instead.

Fast forward eight months and I’m a few kilos heavier, not sleeping so well and starting to feel really flat and anxious. Work had slowed down and I started to get the wobbles.

I lost my centre, purpose and felt like I was flapping around trying to work out what to do next. I felt isolated and a bit lost.

Running our Startup for Grownup events, talk to a lot of small business owners and this story is not uncommon. Some people bail and go back to full time work and others jump back on the roller coaster and give it another shot and try to change their ways.

There is a lot of advice out there on how to navigate the highs and lows from a business perspective like your finances and marketing but how do you keep yourself motivate and sane?

There seems to be a common thread with those that are doing well, and that is staying active.

We asked Dr Fey Lau who is a bespoke personal and professional development coach and has over 18 years supporting people.

"Exercise is one great way to manage the peaks and valleys of running a business. It is a great way to momentarily disengage from whatever is happening in your daily life – giving your subconscious a change to process. People often say that after taking time out they approach their task afresh with a new perspective and often with a solution! Research has also shown that exercise releases dopamine in the brain which plays a role in happiness and moderates mood. And you don’t have to be running marathons to experience these benefits – a simple regular walk will have the same effect!"

So I went back to the start and gave myself permission to start the day off with exercise – and flipped the monkey mind chatter into – this is helpful rather than a luxury or time waster.

For me personally, I’ve learnt that to trick my monkey mind I have to start at the extreme end – so I took on a 90 day HIT challenge to be accountable (madness).

I made sure it wasn’t too far from home. And I made sure that the timetable was flexible so if needed I had options. I now go 3-4 days a week – 5.30 am starts (who am I?).

At the start I was kicking, screaming and limping and… then I start to feel the difference.

As the good endorphins took over, my energy, focus and enthusiasm started to come back.

My mood improved tenfold, l felt less anxious and I now sleep soundly most nights regardless of what might need to be completed the next day.

I know everyone is different. They have a different monkey mind chattering away and when you throw children into the mix, suddenly time becomes even more precious. (I can hear you scoffing at my early starts and how impossible that might be with a small child to get to school on time! I get it.).

But its more about remembering, as a small business owner to give yourself permission to find something that makes you move and schedule that into your week without feeling guilty.

Its about shifting your mindset from it being a luxury to being a necessity to help gets those endorphins delivering the stuff that makes you feel good, to be more present and focused and happy.

The benefits of adding some form of exercise, be that HIT, yoga, pilates, walking, running, dancing etc will truly help you navigate and survive the highs and lows of being a small business owner.