How to Keep Your Head Above Water (When Business Gets Rough)

How to Keep Your Head Above Water - running a business

Building and growing a business is in my blood. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs that thrived on self-employment. From my great-grandfather on my mother’s side to my dad and several more in-between, we have always enjoyed building businesses from the ground up. But it hasn’t been easy and it would be a lie to say I never tried to kick the habit. The most challenging thing for me has always been to manage that elusive life work balance that all entrepreneurs strive for but rarely achieve. I feel I have only begun to climb out of that deep hole familiar to workaholics who shun regular routines and claim to love being on call 24 hours. Part of running a business and maintaining your equilibrium in a crisis is learning to keep things in perspective, even when it’s hard. Here are a few tips I can share.

Don’t Panic in the Riptide

Financial stress is a normal part of running a business, particularly a start-up. Whether just starting a business or trying to get through a dry spell, we have all, at some time or another, been hard pressed to pay the bills. But refrain from letting a moment of panic take over your reasonable self. I’ve made more than a few mistakes under duress; with blood rushing to your head, it is easy to “flip a switch” prematurely. For example, it was the end of the month and sales were lower than usual. Convinced I needed to push my sales team to close sales at all costs, I set up goals that were overly ambitious. My sales staff were encouraged to sweeten deals with on-site training and other bonuses. As could have been predicted, most of the extra work that resulted from this manic push for higher sales numbers landed on my plate.  A frenzied schedule kicked in: On Tuesday I am in Pennsylvania running a training course and a day later at 2 am in the morning I am driving a rental car in the Sierra Nevada on my way to yet another on-site training course. Sleepless and drained of all energy, my car nearly hits a mountain lion and bounces off a cliff-side guard rail. The point is I should never have been in this situation to begin with. Difficult circumstances at work led me to make an impulsive management call, which was neither beneficial nor reasonable.

Keep a Lifejacket at Hand

Sleep trumps work. This makes sense, right? We all know our bodies need certain basics to function properly. And yet, when 11 pm rolls around and your computer screen is still blinking for your attention, it is easy to justify loss of sleep by pointing to the countless things that “need” to be done: the software bugs that need to be documented; the client that needs a reply email; and the multiple items that need to be crossed off your list. I have had conference calls with overseas clients at 2 am and woken up two hours later to start the workday. This clearly isn’t sustainable and you are almost certain to “go under.” Sometimes it takes every bit of willpower to just say “no” and call it a day.

Forget about Executing the Perfect “Rodeo Flip” (advanced surfing maneuver)

A drive towards perfectionism has shadowed my entire life. This has helped me to achieve certain goals, but you can’t do it all alone. A company needs to draw on its talent. Particularly when business hits a rough spot, keeping your head above water means relying on the wisdom of staff to maintain equilibrium. As difficult as it is to do, trust your hires and delegate work. Stop reaching for perfection in all areas, and allow the expertise of employees to come through.

Just Go Sailing

Sometimes the best thing you can do to relieve stress is go get some exercise. Better yet, spend time with your family. As long as you keep sight of your business objectives and continue to work steadily to achieve them, you will certainly navigate your way through the storm. Exercise and meditation allows you to clear your head and approach problems with a fresh perspective. Your mood is sure to improve and you are bound to see the situation in a more positive light.

According to a recent article in Forbes magazine, CEOs often cite exercise or some creative outlet as key to relieving stress. If top execs do it, take out the paddleboard and go for a ride!

About the Author Chris Maeder

Chris Maeder

Chris is an experienced civil engineering and software technology leader, with over 30 years industry experience. With proven expertise in global software development, he has built engineering teams that adapt quickly, focus on what’s important and, most importantly, deliver. He is a licensed professional civil engineer with extensive experience in water resource engineering. He has performed and supervised engineering projects in urban stormwater drainage, transportation and roadway drainage, storm sewer design, detention pond design, stormwater quality, green infrastructure, watershed management planning, wastewater sewers, water distribution networks, pump stations, FEMA flood studies, bridge and culvert design, bridge scour and armoring, dam failure analysis, seepage and groundwater modeling, and environmental permits.