Tip #322: Avoid the Vicious Cycle of Entrepreneurial Burnout in a Depressed Economy

“I’m living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart.” e.e. cummings

A depressed economy is very hard on those of us who are solo entrepreneurs. With business slow or nonexistent, our incomes drop to depths we thought we would never see again. It is understandable if we start to burn out. Unfortunately, as we become more worried, depressed and stressed, it is much harder for us to do what we need to do to keep our businesses afloat.

The vicious cycle begins with a lack of income. In response, we begin to define our necessary operating costs more narrowly. However, most solo entrepreneurs must rely on outside expertise and services. Cutting out some of those services can be highly detrimental to the health of our businesses.

For example, if we decide not to renew our membership in professional organizations, we may save money initially. However, in the long run, our lost opportunities to network with other members and stay current on the issues in our profession will most definitely cause us to lose money. The contacts, referrals, exposure, and additional expertise are really essential for the growth of our businesses.

If we decide we can no longer afford professional bookkeeping, accounting, or marketing services, we run the real risk of errors or omissions that may be very costly. Our decision will have also have a detrimental impact on the professionals who provide such services to solo entrepreneurs, because they are often either solo practitioners or small business owners themselves.

When our income is insufficient, we can easily become overwhelmed with worry. We worry whether we should try to stay in business or instead try to find a job with a larger more established business or organization. We worry if we are using our time wisely when we experiment with different marketing approaches. We worry that we will annoy them if we ask our customers if they might have additional work for us to do. We worry about paying our bills and meeting our obligations.

This situation can lower our self-esteem. Many entrepreneurs define ourselves on the basis of the work we do and what we accomplish. When work stops coming in and we go for weeks without a tangible professional achievement, our sense of self worth suffers. We start to question our own capabilities and worry that we no longer have what it takes to run a successful business.

When we have trouble trusting in our own competence, we can fall prey to a sense of futility. We feel trapped in our business, because we doubt that any other employer will want us. We feel trapped by our circumstances, because we doubt our ability to do anything constructive to better them.

Our lowered self esteem, coupled with our sense of futility, can cause us to isolate ourselves from family, friends, colleagues and customers. We are not able to provide for our family in the manner that we desire, so we avoid talking with them. Our lack of income directly impacts our ability to participate in recreational activities with our friends or colleagues, so we stop calling them. We are ashamed to have them know about our failure.

As a result, we isolate ourselves from the very people who would be willing and able to provide the support we desperately need. Our family and friends would offer emotional support, if we gave them the chance. Our colleagues could provide professional suggestions and business recommendations, if we brought them into our confidence. We deny ourselves what we most need at such a time- a sounding board and a sense of community and support.

It is no wonder that our stress spikes. The more stressed we feel, the less we are able to remain professional and effective in our business-related activities and communications. Whether we tend to get highly emotional or completely withdrawn when we are very stressed, the outcome is the same. When we are not very pleasant or we make ourselves inaccessible, people eventually get frustrated and choose to avoid interacting with us. Their avoidance reinforces our negative perception of ourselves and makes us feel even more isolated and abandoned.

We get angry with ourselves for failing and ending up in this seemingly futile situation. We feel betrayed by our incompetence and inability to help ourselves. We also feel betrayed by family, friends and colleagues because they do not persevere in breaking down the barriers we ourselves erected. We can become profoundly depressed, which deadens our initiative and stifles our ability to pull our businesses and ourselves out of the dumps.

Our depression makes it very difficult for us to effectively serve the customers we already have or to attract and retain new customers. This in turn negatively affects our income. The vicious cycle of entrepreneurial burnout begins again.

Don’t allow yourself to get on this burnout track. Do what you can to keep a positive attitude. Remember who you are, what you have accomplished, and what you have to offer. If you have trouble remembering, ask your family, friends and colleagues. They can certainly remind you.

Nothing lasts forever, including a depressed economy. Stay conscious of your situation, but not paralyzed by it. Set a plan in place.

Update your resume, in case you want to seek part time or even full time work with another employer. You may never choose to use it, but it’s nice to have one handy should an opportunity arise. Updating your resume is also a great way to validate yourself and your achievements.

Review your income streams and focus on what brings you the most income for the least effort. Cease unnecessary effort that generates little return.

Instead of cutting necessary professional services, see if you can barter skills that those businesses might need.

Broaden your scope or approach to doing business. Consider e-trade. Write articles and speak at professional events to market your business.

Don’t hide. Instead, become even more active in professional organizations and community activities. Who knows what the next formal or informal networking occasion may bring in terms of referrals and new business.

Keep your community of support close- and trust that they will want to be part of your journey, whether it is smooth or rocky.

Look for creative ways to succeed rather than giving in and giving up. It is your business and your life. You choose.

To help those of us who are highly stressed or facing burnout, I have posted a white paper on Hot Tips for Good Mental Health on my website at https://laurelandassociates.com.

In next week’s Tip, we will turn to a more uplifting topic better suited to a beautiful spring.

May your learning be sweet.

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