Starting Your Own Business? Don’t Minimize the Cost of Stress

Before joining Spend Matters, I founded and managed two businesses, for over 25 years. My first foray was in design, advertising and printing, and the second was construction and general contracting. But regardless of one's chosen sector, establishing and running your own shop is simultaneously exhilarating, rewarding, perpetually challenging, exhausting and -- my topic today -- unimaginably stressful.

You might be thinking, "Stressful?... what could possibly be more stressful than working over 60 hours/week within an imposed structure in which I variably feel over loaded, under appreciated, and deserving of more money? Sure, having my own business would be stressful, but the freedom to pursue my passion, hire whom I wish, design the management structure, and create my own destiny would more than compensate for the stress." Likely so with sufficient capital, personal cash reserve, vision, creativity, confidence and the boundless energy needed to bind it all together. But if you deny the inevitable stress that accompanies entrepreneurship, your business plan and pro forma balance sheets will prove woefully inadequate psychologically.

Inc. Magazine recently published The Psychological Price of Entreprenuership, a valuable and insightful article that focuses on real life experience and also contains sufficiently discouraging data for would-be future business owners. Some of the facts are well known: "Three out of four venture-backed start-ups fail, according to research by Shikhar Ghosh, a Harvard Business School lecturer. Ghosh also found that more than 95 percent of start-ups fall short of their initial projections." Additionally, "entrepreneurs often juggle many roles and face countless setbacks--lost customers, disputes with partners, increased competition, staffing problems--all while struggling to make payroll. 'There are traumatic events all the way along the line,' says psychiatrist and former entrepreneur Michael A. Freeman, who is researching mental health and entrepreneurship. Complicating matters, new entrepreneurs often make themselves less resilient by neglecting their health. They eat too much or too little. They don't get enough sleep. They fail to exercise. 'You can get into a start-up mode, where you push yourself and abuse your body,' Freeman says. 'That can trigger mood vulnerability.'"

Successful entrepreneurs are driven, optimistic, and analytical, and they hold themselves to phenomenally high standards. Ironically, these traits can also portend a deeper downside when things fail to go as planned -- and they always do. If your considering a start-up, now is the time to conduct an extremely personal inventory of your psychological well being. Take the time to honestly assess your capacity to endure chronic disappointment with employees, customers, and suppliers and know, at all times, that you will always be more motivated and passionate about your venture than those around you -- and this may include family as well. I suggest eschewing motivational counseling in favor of consulting a good psychologist to assist with your personal assessment in advance of launch if you feel uncertain of your capacity to healthfully cope with uncertainty. This is not a pre-requisite, but well worth the cost in advance.

The Inc. article also states that while "launching a company will always be a wild ride, full of ups and downs, there are things entrepreneurs can do to help keep their lives from spiraling out of control .... Most important, make time for your loved ones, suggests Freeman. 'Don't let your business squeeze out your connections with human beings," he says... The consequences can rock not only your bank account but also your stress levels. So set a limit for how much of your own money you're prepared to invest. And don't let friends and family kick in more than they can afford to lose."

I must also add that pursuing your own business can be one of the most rewarding sources of fulfillment and personal growth possible if you're able not to allow the business to fully define who you are, maintain flexibility and a healthy lifestyle, and readily leverage all external resources and support in a timely fashion.

Voices (4)

  1. Jason busch:

    You only stress out in running a business if you decide to. It’s also important, I find, to mildly stress those around you (and to have them perceive you as stressed) when you are really just managing for better performance overall and showing a certain exterior mask — vs. an interior that is cool and collected. However, it’s also important not to get carried away with this — it’s not nice to go too far. Looking back, we had such a slow and steady ramp, the stress has come on much later with growth. The slower path is a great one to take if you can manage it by happenstance or design.

  2. Prue:

    It was a real relief to find this article, I didn’t realise how stressed I would feel when trying to start up a business!
    Raising start up funding is an emotional roller coaster, it’s like you are sitting naked and exposed in front of investors, while they scrutinise your entire life in detail, then pass judgement on your dreams, such a huge learning curve in experiences and a massive test of your tenacity to succeed. I am a Sole Trader, networking is another test, you pay to enter a venue full of people who continually boast about how successful their business is! My burning question is always” if you are so successful then how come you have time to be here and why are you here? ” but you’re not supposed to say what you think, it just seems like a new kind of torture, meeting all those successful people when actually I’m not making pots of money, networking is stressful. There are lots of stresses with customers who want to buy your stock for less than you paid for it! Consumers have a fantasy that wholesale stock only costs pennies, they haven’t a clue that you,ve spent thousands on stock, there’s so much twaddle in the media about consumers rights and no mention of the financial risks we take as a business.
    Running a business is stressful, but for the first time in my adult life I am excited and pleased with my life and my abilities as a creative, mature woman, my advice is to do it and meet as many entrepreneurs as possible, ask questions, no ones a monster out there, though there are some over inflated ego,s!

  3. Nick @ Market Dojo:

    Establishing our start-up 3 years ago was the best thing I have ever done in a professional sense. Sure, it’s incredibly hard, always throwing up new challenges (like how to say “no” to a prospect), you exceed some expectations and woefully underperform on others: a true rollercoaster. One thing is for sure, I love it. Sunday evenings bring excitement, as the next morning I’ll be able to get back out there. I think Confucius said “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”. To me, this what running a business is all about.

    Very true what is mentioned in the article that you have to try hard not to let it define you and become you. Friends keep you firmly grounded here, especially ones with no interest in business, so I completely concur that it is important to make time for loved ones. Having an office at home greatly helped with that, as I could tuck myself away burning midnight oil when needed but when out of the office, it’s downtime. Prior to the office, I worked at the kitchen table – terrible idea!

  4. Genevieve:

    I think the primary thing to do before you jump head-long into your own business is just realize that the amount of work will not decrease! Also, being educated about all aspects of owning your own business is extremely important–which entity will you form under, which tax ramifications will effect you, what annual and initial reports to file…it’s seemingly never-ending.

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