Business adviser and start-up author Kevin Duncan offers his tips for self-preservation when running your own business
- Take issues seriously - not yourself. Your customers want their issues to be taken seriously - but this doesn't mean you must be overly serious all of the time. Humour and personality are good things in business - providing you deliver on your promises. Be personable. Email the occasional joke or amusing article. Such things can make customer relationships more enjoyable.
- Vary your working day. It's easy to get into a rut when you are over-worked and stressed. But 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 stay positive, move on to new things when possible. And, make sure you take regular breaks when you are faced with arduous tasks. Many people choose self-employment to escape from the rigidity and predictability of a nine-to-five 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.
- Take enough time off. Enthusiasm is fundamental when you run your own business. Aside from the effect on your team, customers and contacts don't want to do business with unenthusiastic people. Although it may seem as though 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.
- 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 calls if a real emergency arises. Stay away from all your devices and don't take your mobile onto the beach. Change the message on your phones to explain you're on holiday and set up an auto response on your email too. Give customers and business contacts plenty of notice and delegate responsibility to trusted staff.
- Occupy your free time. You have to work hard when you are establishing a new business and that means putting in lots of extra hours. But don't drop all your other interests. If you've got a stimulating hobby, you're more likely to properly switch off when you are not working. Outside interests are fantastic stress relievers, whether you play sports or enjoy reading, painting or music. Adding variety to your life is good for your emotional health; it can also make you more interesting to business contacts.
- If you have had a good day, reward yourself. Running a business is not just about money. Find different ways to reward yourself - if you've achieved an important target or finished a tough task by lunchtime, 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.
- Make over-delivery an exception. Many owner-managers are so desperate to please they over-deliver hugely on every job. When you're 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.
- Get your working environment right. You won't stay sane, happy, focused and enthusiastic if your working environment is messy or uninspiring. 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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