Balancing Entrepreneurial Life and Travel

It can be dangerous to own a business.  That’s right, I said it.  Those of you who know me may be confused.  Indeed, I love owning a business, including its ups and downs.  But it takes a lot of time and effort to keep things rolling, and distractions like travel or big hobbies often have larger consequences than when working for someone else.  Many of us started our businesses with freedom in mind.  The question is, how to balance it all?

Start Planning

The most important thing is to plan.  Plan plan plan.  If you can’t plan, you’re going to have a hard time running a business, no?  Start small — plan your daily life.  When do you start work?  When do you end?  I’ve discussed the importance of balancing the work / life divide before, and I stand by every word.  Knowing where your line is drawn in the day-to-day is the first step to knowing when you can ‘get away’.

Once you have a rhythm, start adding and taking away from it.  This will give you a better idea of what you can manage.  If things get overwhelming or out of hand, pull back or hire someone.  Make some changes.  And don’t stop experimenting while maintaining your foundation.

Systemize

The most important important part of untethering yourself from the day-to-day is finding a system.  That system may be a person — either a manager, assistant, or trusted employee.

Virtual Assistants

Many small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs take advantage of a Virtual Assistant to manage the day-to-day.  It is worth finding this person long before a trip so you trust them completely during your absence.  My personal favorite VA program is Fancy Hands, but a lot of entrepreneurs I know found theirs on Fiverr.

Scheduling

Simply working ahead once you have a trip / event in view may be all your business needs.  This includes alerting your clients that you’ll be less responsive for a period of time.  By telling them in advance how their accounts will be managed before you leave, they don’t worry.  Nearly everything in your day-to-day can be automated, including social media posts through the likes of Hootsuite.  For example, this post went live without me using WordPress’ post automation, as I am currently in Croatia.

Update Your Followers

My clients really appreciate knowing where I am so they can feel a part of the journey.  When I tell them I’ll be gone, I also offer to send a few photos of the trip.  That way they know they were considered the entire way.

Network

Networking while on vacation is probably a bad idea unless you can compartmentalize and spend only one day per week away doing work / networking.  But if you’re like me and prefer to take long trips and work away from home, this is a wonderful opportunity to experience CoWorking Spaces and meet colleagues abroad.  Start asking your local network for connections where you’ll be at least three months ahead of time.  Reach out to those people or locations to introduce yourself and explain your intent.  Why do you want to network abroad?  Why do you want to work at a coworking space for a day?  Not only will you get valuable experience, you also may build connections that will grow your international referral network — and it makes your trip a tax write off!

Traveling takes your body away, but what about your mind?

I once heard a story about an entrepreneur who was checking his email in the lobby of a Caribbean Hotel while on vacation.  A couple walked by, and the woman said to her husband, “What a shame that he can’t let go of work while on vacation.”  Yes, it would be a shame if the entrepreneur was working for someone else and was forced to work during his vacation.  Luckily, the foundation of being an entrepreneur is passion for what you do.  The entrepreneur in this story felt very differently about his situation than the couple.  He was proud to be checking his email while away, to see how things were going, and maintain contact with clients and employees in spite of his travels.  Most importantly, he had a choice in doing so.  Likely, his level of commitment is indicative of a successful venture.

There is no harm in thinking about your business when you’re not there.  In fact, vacation can be the most generative time for ideas and growth.  As Inc. Magazine put it, some of the best places to come up with next steps for your business are way outside of your normal environment.  The most important thing is to make sure you document these ideas in a way that allows you to save them for when you get back, so you can relax while you’re away.  Draw a mind map, throw down some bullet points in a notebook, or record your voice on your phone.  Then set everything down and soak up some rays (or ski that alpine slope, if that’s more your style).

How do you manage work while you’re away?

My “Work From Home” Bible

I started working from home over five years ago when my employer was bought out.  I was excited when I first began working from home.  I’m home when my grumpy but obliging UPS man comes, I can make it to the bank and cleaners before they close, and dishes don’t pile up like they used to.  If I had a cold, I didn’t need to leave bed and could still be productive.  Heck, I didn’t need to leave bed at all, and if I did, I could keep my slippers on all winter.  If I wanted to sleep in and work late, I just had to reset my alarm.  The world was my oyster.

As time passed, I realized I was becoming a shut-in.  I sat in one place most of the day, stairs became a challenge (sort of), and leaving the house meant bringing everything I could possibly need with me.  After six months, a change was necessary.

Since then, I have carefully collected recommendations from other entrepreneurs and work-from-home folks, to great benefit.  I still have all the perks of working out of a home office, and certainly still take advantage of working from bed if sick, but overall I have struck a great balance between home and work life.  I am excited to share these lessons with you.

The Bible

typewriter

Start your day early.  
My body argues whenever I wake up before 9am, but I do it anyway.  My aim is between 6-7am depending on the season (raise your hand if you hate waking up without the sun around).  I’m definitely not always successful, but if I sleep in I feel like I’ve wasted my day.  Set a goal time and a cut off time for yourself.  Snooze if you must, but do not pass the cut off time.

Your first hour should be silent.
Avoid the radio, podcasts, music (I break this one regularly), and phone calls.  Give your body and mind the chance to wake up.  Check out the sun rising outside your window.  Stretch. Try meditating as long as it doesn’t put you back to sleep and set your intention for the day.  Get yourself a cup of tea or coffee — most yogi’s recommend starting your day with warm water before eating anyway to prepare your stomach for food.

Get ready as if you were going into the office.
Shower, you dirty bum!  Put on your make up (or shave yer face), do your hair, dress dapper.  You’ll feel like a million bucks, ready to take on the world.  If you have meetings later in the day, you’ll be ready and able to focus on preparing instead of scramble to primp at the last minute.  Several studies show that being well-dressed also changes your attitude and demeanor which your clients will pick up on, even if they never see you.

Try not to eat at your desk.
It’s the same principle as not working in bed (please tell me you’ve heard of not working in bed…).  You’ll confuse your mind and your work area will become a mess.  Plus no one wants mouse poop on their computer.

Make sure you STOP working!
If your industry ends its business day at 5pm, then stop working at 5pm!  Try really hard to schedule meetings according to this rule.  Use programs like HootSuite or Buffer to manage your Social Media during off-hours.  If you work into the evening, your work/life balance will become blurred and you may begin to hate your boss (that’s a self-employed joke).

Do something to signify the end of the work day.
I had a hard time getting out of work mode for the first few months.  I would physically stop working, but I’d feel antsy and my clients would be on my mind.  My solution is a regimen of five activities that I vary depending on my mood:  yoga, meditate, go for a walk, have a dance party, sing.  All of these are decidedly not work activities, and all provide peace of mind.  I especially enjoy my walks as they replace a commuter’s decompression time.  Once I’ve bookended my day, I’ll begin making dinner or chat up some friends to make sure I don’t get cabin fever once more.

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I’m really interested in what you do to keep yourself sane.  Please share so we all can continue to refine our methods!

Oh my god – Stop Apologizing!

A few weeks ago, a graphic design friend requested I look over a tee shirt design she was working on.  I was happy to do so — I often ask colleagues for their second opinion so I don’t say something silly — and happened to notice a few minor errors in her work.  The text was off center in one place, and the line work heavy to one side.  Her response when I made my suggestions?  “Sorry.”

Why Does Sorry Suck?

A quick lesson (can you tell I’m a business coach?) — “sorry” is an especially Midwestern handicap (see #17).  On top of that, women say it more than men.  We apologize for all kinds of things, most of which don’t require an apology.  In doing so, it inherently makes us seem lesser to others, automatically giving the impression that we have something to be sorry about.  Humans have problem-solving minds, and by apologizing unnecessarily, you’re playing into its Confirmation Bias.  Upon receiving an unnecessary apology, one’s mind unconsciously tries to find the reason.  So start being careful with your “sorrys”.

Let’s zoom in to this case study further.  Here is why it was odd for my friend to apologize — I’m not her boss and I was reviewing her work as a favor.  She neither hurt me nor ruined anything by accidentally sending me a less-than-polished copy.  In fact, my role was a part of the polishing process.

Say Thank You Instead of Sorry

Think about every time you might apologize, and see if you can make “thank you” fit better.  Bear with me — this totally works, and it will make you and everyone around you feel better.

Let’s say you drop a dish at your partner’s home and it shatters.  You could apologize for breaking it (not a horrid idea in this case), but you could also say thank you — thank you for your partner’s patience and understanding when s/he doesn’t get mad.

Ok…  What about when you are late to a meeting?  You could say sorry, which, even if your client wasn’t tapping their toe, might make them think they should have been.  OR you could say, “Thank you for your patience – I really appreciate it,” making your client feel great for being tolerant.  We all know that they’ve been late to meetings, too.  Everyone has.

Here’s a good one — you get a latte and it sucks.  Or it has cow’s milk in it and you asked for almond milk, so you have to bring it back.  Instead of apologizing for making the barista make you another — likely making them think ‘yeah! you should apologize!’ — say thank you for sparing the moment and being considerate of your situation.

To have handled it better, my friend could have said, “Thank you so much for catching those errors!  That’s why I sent it to you.”  I’d then feel great that I helped a friend and good about my design skills.

Try it and tell me how it goes in the comments below!

What Is Your Burnout Telling You?

If you’ve been an entrepreneur for more than five minutes, you’ve probably faced burnout.  Being an entrepreneur can be stressful, a veritable roller coaster, and there are some days that you’ll feel like you’re in over your head.

On those days, instead of allowing yourself to drown, stop for a second and ask yourself this question:

Everyone’s burnout is different, and every stage a different shade.  So grab a cup of coffee, or tea, or whatever your comfort liquid is, and let’s hunker down.

I offer “unplugging” advice as a guest on the Hello Tech Pros podcast.

 

Get to Know Your Limbic System

The Limbic System is the “fight, flight, or freeze” part of our brain.  Often, this part of your brain is called your “Lizard Brain” because it is such a simple base of operation.  In fact, the Limbic System reacts several milliseconds faster than your higher brain.

The Limbic System is also the originator for stress.  In some cases, your Limbic System may mistakenly connect a current situation with a negative past condition.  It is entirely possible to be stressed about something that isn’t actually stressful, simply due to such a connection.  As if we didn’t have enough to deal with already…

The Limbic System is responsible for the feeling that stress is building up, even if you’re not sure why.  With enough stress comes burnout — flight being the usual gut response.  If you’re feeling this way, please don’t abandon your hard work.  Instead, let’s work through what your burnout could be saying — and how to fix it.

Burnout isn’t just burnout.

It is your mind (or body) trying to tell you something.  Even if it is misguided by past experience, it is important to work through the stress and put that trigger experience to rest.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that your stress is coming from your business, and not from a past trigger.  So let’s take a look at the three major types of business burnout and how to deal with them.

The launch is so close.

You’re a week away from a major launch and suddenly your brain has decided to poop out on you.  It doesn’t want you to get out of bed, hates that you’re drinking coffee to try to jump start it, and definitely does not want to make sense of the work you have ahead of you.  How could it be that you are so close to the finish line and your mind just refuses to get along?

Validate the Stress

In this case, your burnout probably  just needs to be recognized and soothed.  Bear in mind, burnout comes from the Limbic System — the part of your brain that is most animalistic, and often rather childish.  Your burnout doesn’t mean give up on the project.  It’s childish to give up when it’s almost completed (unless there is a major red flag), right?

The Limbic System isn’t rational.  It doesn’t know that you’re almost at the finish line — it just knows that its stress threshold has been reached and it wants to be done.  To get past it, stop for a moment and allow yourself to know that you’re burnt out.  Take a few deep breaths, and let it happen.  By not fighting it, your burnout is validated, and your Limbic System satisfied.  Follow through with a good meal and early bed time to let your brain rest.

This mantra I made may help:

cozy

I suddenly feel run ragged.

If you haven’t been working toward a major goal in which the stress will soon subside, your burnout is probably saying something much more significant.  I’m assuming you still love what you do (otherwise, scroll down), which means your burnout is most likely telling you that you’re not paying enough attention to yourself.  I totally get that — I have a tendency to do the same.  In fact, earlier this year I noticed while setting my monthly goals that I was making no personal goals.  It was all business.  And that’s the fastest way to burnout.

Take Care Of Yourself

Ok, let’s start with goal setting.  Have you set any for yourself, lately?  I mean anything from losing ten pounds to finally reading that book that you bought six months ago because it looked amazing.  If you’re not setting even small goals for your personal life, you’re making yourself prone to burnout.  Self-goals are like the Vitamin C & D for your immune system.  Sure, it can get along fine without them, but with them you could go years without getting sick.  Which would you prefer?

My current goals are to finish an art series that is scheduled to show in August, make my second batch of kombucha, and finish a leathersmithing project I started for a friend (back in February — ew!).  My larger personal goals are to hang out at least one week night with friends, and to meet Bono.  I said larger, didn’t I?!

One other important area to look at is self care.  If you don’t even know what that means, click the link.  This is really important and you’ve been missing it.

If you know about self care, have you been doing it?  When was the last time?  Self care is food for the soul and is necessary to fuel the energy it takes to be an entrepreneur.  It also helps the work / life divide, which I believe is important for sanity’s sake.  Take this moment to reassess your self care rituals and, if necessary, form some new ones.  Commit to yourself that you will do these regularly —  preferably weekly.

My current self care regimen includes epsom salt & oil baths, reading in bed, listening to music with good headphones on, and making a big dinner from scratch.  What do you do for your self care? Share in the comment area below so others can get ideas!

I can’t do this anymore.

Ok.  This is a HUGE signal and deserves a lot of attention and introspection.  If you sincerely feel like you can’t continue your work, it may be that you are no longer dealing with a Limbic System reaction.  Rather, your core self is reacting to what you’re doing, and your Limbic System is providing the alarm.  What do I mean by your core self?  However you define your essence — what makes you, you.  Your soul, your spirit, your personality.  And if that is what is conflicting with your business, it’s time for a major change.

Confronting Your Business

This could easily turn into an existential crisis — but luckily, you’ve got me.  Let’s take this one step at a time.  First, answer these few questions as honestly as possible:

  1. Did you start your business to escape a situation?
  2. Do you have trouble identifying with your clients / customers?
  3. Do you feel a sense of dread when it’s time to begin work?

If you answered “yes” to all of these, your business is not right for you.  Your burnout is telling you to take a good look at your life and make some major changes.  It’s time to consider what you are actually passionate about, what problem you want to solve, who you identify with, and why you want to be an entrepreneur.  It is likely that you will be able to pivot your business, but this is a long road, and you’ll need help.  I absolutely can provide that support, but you will need clarity about the above considerations before we get started.

If your answers were mixed, it may be that you’ve been sidetracked from your core values.  Perhaps a mentor made a suggestion that sounded logical but wasn’t for you.  Maybe you jumped at an opportunity without considering if it truly fit your business model (and business self).  So let’s boil the situation down even further with a few more questions.  Please write down your answers, as they will become mantras and reminders moving forward:

  1. Why did you start your business?
  2. What do you love doing for your business?
  3. What do you like about working with your clients / customers?
  4. What parts of your business do you talk about to friends / family?

Have you discovered any discrepancies in your business today versus what you thought it would be at the beginning?  What about compared to what you love to do?  It may be time to rebuild your business – not from scratch, but from a philosophical standpoint.

Print off a copy of the Lean Canvas.  Begin filling it out with your answers in mind.  Take time to do it — several days is not unreasonable.  As you work on it, more realizations may come forth.

The Business Model Canvas will set a new foundation for your business.  It will also make sure you don’t get out of scope in the future.  Working outside your target market or business mission will easily burn you out again.  Now you have, in writing, something to compare every opportunity to.

From here, do two things.  First, boil your answers and Canvas down into several key phrases that will help you remember your core values and business mission.  Place them where you will regularly see them during your work day.  Second, begin working through each aspect of your company to ‘trim the fat’.  What activities, areas of focus, or clients don’t fit your Business Model Canvas?  Begin setting goals to wean off them.  It will hurt your company’s reputation to change overnight, but you can begin making changes right away.  Stop taking clients that don’t fit your Model, for example.  With actionable goals in mind, your stress should reduce and burnout fade.

What have you done to restore yourself after burnout?  Comment below so others might take your advice!

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Awesome Goal Planners & Apps

I recently posted about goals and how important goal setting is to your small business.  I would be remiss to leave you without the tools to get it done!  So here is a list of the best goal oriented programs (both on paper and digital) to help you kick it into gear.  I’m adding to this list as I come across great planners and calendars so feel free to send me what works for you! Read more