How to keep sane when running your own business

Business adviser and start-up author Kevin Duncan offers his tips for self-preservation when running your own business

  1. Take issues seriously – not yourself. Your customer base wants its issues taken seriously – but this doesn’t mean you must act overly serious all of the time. Humour and personality are good things in business – providing you deliver on your promises. When dealing with certain customers in the right situation, take interesting photos of a hobby or holiday to a meeting. Ask people about their hobbies and interests. Be personable. Email the occasional joke or amusing article. Such things can make customer relationships more enjoyable.
  2. Vary your working day. The definition of sanity is “having a normal healthy mind" or “good sense and soundness of judgment”. As Benjamin Franklin said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Eventually, we all get bored if we have to do the same thing for long periods. To remain positive, move on to new things when possible. And, taking regular breaks when faced with arduous tasks can help you maintain focus when working from home. Many people go for self-employment to escape the rigidity and predictability of a 9-to-5 job. Maintaining a sense of freedom is important when running your own business. If you really hate doing something, consider cost-effective alternatives. If you can afford it, turn down mundane jobs and seek out more stimulating work.
  3. Take enough time off. Enthusiasm is fundamental when you run your own business. Aside from the effect a lack of enthusiasm will have on those you work with, customers and contacts don’t want to do business with unenthusiastic people. Although often it will seem there aren’t enough hours in the day, you must take sufficient time off if you are to maintain your energy and enthusiasm. If all you do is work, you and your business will suffer in the end. The statutory minimum holiday is now 5.6 weeks. Make sure you build that into your yearly plan. If you book a holiday, you’re more likely to go. Pick a convenient time, obviously.
  4. When on holiday, go off radar. What’s the point of taking a break if you spend most of the time checking your emails and taking and making phone calls? You may as well be at work. Only take personal calls, unless a real emergency arises. Stay away from all PCs and don’t take your mobile onto the beach. Don’t take work documents with you. Change the answer messages on your phones to explain you’re on holiday. Set up an auto response on your email, too. Give customers and business contacts plenty of notice.
  5. Occupy your free time. If you’ve got a stimulating hobby, you’re less likely to work or think of work at night or at weekends. It’s a challenge, because you’ll have to work hard when establishing a new business and running it, which might mean having to work occasionally when you don’t want to. It could be playing a musical instrument, reading, painting, playing or watching sports – anything. Adding variety to your life is good for your emotional health. It can also make you more interesting to business contacts.
  6. If you have had a good day, reward yourself. Wages are a form of reward, but it’s not just about money. Here I’m talking about other things. If you’ve achieved an important target or finished a tough task by lunchtime, if you can, take the rest of the day off – occasionally, at least. You need to give yourself credit for your successes – others might be unlikely to do so. Recognise your personal achievements.
  7. Make over-delivery an exception. Many owner-managers are so desperate to please they over-deliver hugely on every job. When you’re just a start-up, it’s understandable, because you’re trying to establish a customer base. However, in truth, over-delivery equates to underpayment. It adds to your workload. Also, your customers will become used to that level of service and expect it. You won’t be able to increase your prices; and if you then lower delivery, you can lose customers. Give customers a fair price for the service they receive. If they expect more, they should be prepared to pay for it.
  8. Get your working environment right. You won’t remain sane, happy, focused and enthusiastic if your working environment is poor. Given that running your own business requires daily motivation and reinvention, you must feel comfortable in your workplace. Try to keep it clean, tidy and comfortable. If you work from home, have a dedicated workspace.

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