You may have noticed there was no Vlog/Blog last week. There is no vlog this week either, although I am blogging. The reason for this is incredibly simple…
I lost my voice.
I’ve been battling a nasty cough for about a month now. Last week I had to rearrange client calls because I wasn’t audible over the phone. I was so bad by the end of the week, I caved in and took Thursday and Friday off completely. Thankfully after two days followed by a weekend off to recover I’m feeling better. Unfortunately, my voice isn’t quite back to normal yet, the upshot of which is that the day I was planning to spend batching new content a week and a half ago never happened.
Which means there are currently no vlogs scheduled.
I could have avoided this sorry state of affairs were it not for one painful and seemingly unavoidable element of entrepreneurship: burnout.
Why We Burnout..
When you run your own business, everything rests on your shoulders. There are a million things to do and, if you are anything like me (i.e. a total control freak), you will dislike handing off most everything to people who could help you with it.
You do everything yourself.
Because it’s easier to do it yourself than try to explain what you want to someone else. This always seems to be true. Even when they already do the same thing for other clients. You’ll do a better job of it than they ever could (even if they’re a pro at that particular thing and you are not).
And there’s never enough time.
So taking time off (especially unplanned time off due to illness) isn’t an option.
Time is finite, and you already have too much work to fit into your days. If you take a day off – just one day off – that’s a whole day of work you somehow have to shoehorn into another day. A day overburdened with work of its own.
Besides, time off is for pussies and slackers, and you’re neither.
You’re a total boss.
Until of course you lose your voice, can’t record your content, can’t speak to your clients, and suddenly find yourself incapable of sitting upright at your desk without passing out on your keyboard, (which melts due to the waves of feverish heat rolling off you).
True story (keyboard melting aside).
How To Avoid Burnout…
Avoiding burnout would seem to be very simple: don’t work too hard.
It’s easier said than done.
For years I have struggled to spend weekends doing anything other than work. The fact I’m a workaholic, and I don’t have a family – no spouse, no children – doesn’t help. There’s nobody to claim my time, drag me away from my work, or give me something I want to be doing more than work.
It’s just me, Dexter (happy as long as he gets a walk and fed regularly) the Cat Mafia (a small army of cats who live in my neighbourhood and visit regularly).
I have friends and family I see, but I’m a terrible hermit and most of my friends live far away, so I’m lucky if I spend a day out every week with other people.
I also have the nasty habit of working every waking hour. I go from my bed to my desk, pause only to eat, walk and feed the aforementioned dog, before going back to the desk and from there directly to bed.
If I pause to watch TV, it’s while I’m eating my meals (my nutritionist tells me this is not good for me).
The only time I ever actually stop working and switch off completely is when I’ve been at it so long I burnout, and there’s no other choice.
I have to stop.
By that stage, I feel like hell, and it takes me several days, sometimes weeks, to recover.
I know how to avoid this: have set working hours and don’t exceed them; rest rather than work during my off hours; take weekends off; go on holiday occasionally and have a whole week (shock, horror!) away from the business.
I haven’t had a week off all year. In fact, until last week when I took Thursday and Friday off, I hadn’t had more than two days off in a row all year.
The times I’ve taken two consecutive days off I can count on one hand.
Christmas was the last time I had a week off. I took two full weeks over Christmas and New Year, but I spent the second week batching content, so that doesn’t count.
Throughout the year I’ve been conscious that burnout was inevitable. It was looming. It was the unavoidable darkness on the horizon.
It’s not like I wanted it to happen, and did, in fact, make progress in staving it off, but it wasn’t enough.
I still work most weekends. I still work through the evenings on weekdays. Yesterday (Monday) was my first day back after being ill.
I was at my desk working until 11.30pm.
Because I took two days off last week, and I have client deadlines.
Why We All Need Minions…
I’ve spent the majority of this year trying to put in place the right people to support me in my business and ensure I’m not carrying the burden of everything. I started with all my technical stuff at the very beginning of the year.
The website and anything related to optin setup, sales funnels, etc. are now handled by the fabulous Simon Jennings and co. over at Roots Creative.
A couple of months later I hired a cleaner. They worked for an agency and turned out to be crap, so I sacked them and hired a BETTER CLEANER, her name is Nicola, and she’s often accompanied by Katie. These ladies are the bomb; I love them both to death. My house is spotless, my stress levels have plummeted as a result, and I never have to do anything to achieve this zen-like state of domestic bliss.
After months of searching for a good VA to handle my newsletter, I finally found Faye, of Faye PA, at the end of May.
I’m in the process of deciding who should be dealing with my social media and exactly what I want my focus there to be.
There’s a lot of work in my business that I have to do myself. The writing I do for my clients is all on me. But the other elements (admin, accounting, technical stuff, etc.) that I don’t need to do myself. There are other aspects of client work beyond writing (i.e. graphic design work, scheduling, etc.) that I can (and plan to!) delegate.
The key point here is really very simple: if you run a business, as an entrepreneur, solopreneur, mumpreneur, papapreneur, or the leader of a small empire, you need minions.
No, not the film.
I’ve never seen the film, I really should.
I mean actual living, breathing, excellent-at-their-zone-of-genius minions. And I use the term ‘minions’ with love. It’s not a derogatory statement; I view my minions as invaluable members of my team with demi-god-like status. I’m not talking slave labour here. In fact, I strongly advise you avoid the cheap options (like Fiverr) to fill positions that require regular work.
Get someone who is as good at their Zone of Genius as you are at yours. Someone who will do a bang up job, rather than a mediocre, just-about-passable job.
The aim here is to entirely hand off as much as possible to other people who will ideally do it better than you could. Expect to pay them appropriately. I have no qualms about paying all my minions the rates they ask for because I know they’re worth it. The time, stress and worry they save me make them worth it.
Avoiding burnout is worth it!
So, How Come I Burned Out, Even With Minions?
Simple: I don’t have enough minions yet.
It’s taken me seven solid months to find the right people and get them in the right positions. I’m now utterly delighted with my cleaners, but they’ve only been working with me six weeks. Before that, I had several frustrating months trying to find someone, hiring someone, realising they weren’t right, and starting the search all over again.
A similar thing happened with my VA. I’ve been trying to find someone to handle my newsletter for two years. I’ve hired four people to date. The first three didn’t work out. There were various reason for this, but I finally have someone who is reliable and does a good job, but that has also only happened in the last six weeks.
At present, I’m still carrying the burden of all the writing that needs doing in the business. Not only client work, but my own content marketing creation. When I’ve hit a particular milestone, I’ll be hiring another writer, to take over some of the writing for The Write Copy Girl itself, and also some of my client work.
I don’t intend to work a 60+ hour week indefinitely!That’s still a way off, but it’s part of the plan. I’ve realised that if you genuinely want to avoid burnout altogether, to never have to endure it again, you need to build to the point where one of two things happens:
- You have talented minions that relieve you of as much of that massive burden as they can.
- You structure your business in such a way that the majority of your income is passive and the actual work you have to do is limited to a manageable amount (i.e. you are not exclusively trading your time for money).
If you are exclusively selling your time for money (as I currently am), you will naturally end up working every hour available because it’s the only way to earn enough to live comfortably.
The only entrepreneurs I know who are an exception to this, are those with additional income sources – other jobs that provide a salary, spouses in full-time employment (who earn the bulk of the revenue for the family), trust funds, etc.
Money Matters, Burnout, And The Issue Of Troublesome Clients
An additional problem I’ve faced this year has come from the customer side of my business. I had two major clients vanish on me at the start of the year without paying their bills. I’d done the work (and in both cases, it was a lot of work), they’d paid a deposit initially and were due to pay in full on completion.
They completely disappeared.
Had they been small clients it wouldn’t have been a problem, but between them, they represented over £5K of lost income.
I did the work, but I never got paid for it.
That threw my cashflow into crisis, left me scrabbling to take on a lot of extra work on short notice to cover it, and also meant I had to postpone some work I was having done on the website while I sorted it out.
All of this added up to a lot of stress, a lot of extra work, and inevitably, burnout.
Since then, I’ve overhauled my payment system to ensure this never happens again. I have made up the missing money elsewhere. I’ve reached a point where that rather significant bump in the road is in the rear view. But it took its toll. It’s only in the last month that I’ve been able to breathe easier and slow down a bit.
And of course, the second I slowed down, I was hit with the mother of all coughs that stubbornly refused to go away.
Why Slowing Down Makes You Feel Worse
If you’ve been powering through for a while and you finally find a way to slow down, by cutting your workload, being stricter with yourself when it comes to taking time off, or hiring some much-needed minions, expect to crash and burn.
I know for a fact I actively perpetuate the problem by stubbornly refusing to slow down for as long as physically possible. I keep on powering through because as tired as I am, I know the second I stop (or even slow down) I’ll feel a lot worse.
The least I can expect is a severe migraine that lasts several days. The worst is a cold/flu that knocks me off my feet for a week or more. If I’m really unfortunate, I get depressed. None of these outcomes is desirable. In fact, I’d do anything to avoid them. So I just keep working.
My warped logic tells me that stopping will make me ill, therefore, I shouldn’t stop.
The reality, of course, is that if I managed to stop for short periods on a regular basis, I’d never have the problem to begin with.
In the long run putting such measures in place will ensure you avoid burnout. It will ensure you are much healthier and happier. This, in turn, will help your business prosper.
But if there’s one lesson this year has taught me well, it’s that getting to that point isn’t easy. You need to be willing to rethink how you do things. To try new ways and, if they don’t work, try, try again.
Burnout is an absolute bitch, and it’s no way to live. Endlessly swinging from the seemingly endless grind of the hustle to the exhausted catatonia of burnout, and back again, is exhausting. It’s terrible for your health (mental and physical), your wealth (it undermines your earning potential) and the growth of your business (you can’t do your best work if you’re constantly stressed or suffering burnout).
My mission in life has become discovering the perfect system of managing a flourishing service-based business without having to pay the price every few months.
I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, if you have any tips or advice for avoiding or managing burnout, I’d LOVE to hear them!