There’s no other way to describe it. Right now, my business is in the weeds. I left the American Craft Council Wholesale Show with a whole stack of orders, and a lot of them need to go out the door in the next week or two.
But even though I’m slammed, yesterday I stopped work at 4:30, went for a run, and then headed out to the bookstore (one of my happy places) and then came home and relaxed with a little TV.
I certainly left a lot of things on my to-do list when I called it quits for the day.
But over the last few weeks, I’ve come to a pretty life changing realization. I sell jewelry. (Ok, that’s not the realization.) What I realized is that I’m doing doesn’t have any impact on anyone’s life or death. That’s not to say it isn’t valuable or important. But it’s not mission critical.
So why should I stress out like I’m in some kind of high-stakes situation? The world is not going to fall apart because I ship that order tomorrow instead of today.
None of this is to say that I’m not taking what I do seriously. I believe in my work. And I’m not planning on flaking on my orders.
There’s just no reason to sacrifice my mental well-being over it.
Yes, running a business is stressful. There’s no doubt about that. But I’m starting to realize that for years, I’ve been making it more stressful then it needs to be. Yes, the work needs to get done. But I don’t have to kill myself in the process.
Being stressed is really a state of mind, and I’m choosing not to stress whenever possible!
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “That’s fine for you, Megan, but I need to make money. I can’t just decide to not be stressed and bail on work at 4 o’clock.”
First off, I also need to make money too!
But more importantly, if you feel like you can’t slow down ever, or if you’re struggling to handle a huge production demand yet never seem to have any money, then it’s time to evaluate your business.
Because if that constant feeling of stress isn’t just a by product of our current cultural condition, then it might be symptomatic of larger issues in your business. Alleviating stress starts by exploring the root cause of the problem and assessing the overall health of your business.
Regardless of what’s causing your higher than necessary stress level, here are three strategies to help relieve some of the stress and anxiety from your business:
1. Make sure you’re priced profitably.
I know I sound like a broken record here, but if you’re spending all your time filling orders and still not making enough money, your prices are too low. Period.
When you’re not priced for profit, you end up in a hamster wheel. You work all the time, but there never seems to be enough money. And the only way to get off the hamster wheel is to raise your prices.
I’ve found that many makers are significantly undercharging for their work. But you don’t have to double your prices immediately if that scares you. Run your numbers to see where you really need to be to be profitable. Then, start with small price increases to gradually work your way up to your target.
And yes, your sales might slow if you raise your prices. But you’ll be doing less work for the same amount of money, which is a surefire way to reduce your stress levels.
2. Create an automated savings strategy.
I’ve always said that the smartest thing I’ve ever done for my business (and my creativity) is to put money into savings. There’s nothing like having a buffer if things go wrong to keep the anxiety levels at bay.
But what I’ve found is that most creative business owners aren’t putting money into savings because they’re waiting for “extra” money to put aside. And if you wait for extra money, you’re never going to find it. There’s always something else you could be spending money on for your business.
Instead, the secret is to automate your savings. I recommend using an online bank. (They have slightly higher interest rates so you make a little more on your money – I use Capitol One 360, but there are plenty of great options.) But the real advantage of a savings account at an online bank is that you don’t see that money when you log into your regular bank to check your account balance. Which means you’re less likely to take it back for something stupid (like those pretty shoes you just had to have – or is that just me?).
Then, set up an automatic weekly withdraw from your business account to your online savings account. If your business isn’t making much money, start small, say $5 or $10 dollars a week. If your business brings in more revenue, start a little higher. What you’ll likely find is that you don’t even notice that money is gone. (Most of us spend that amount on stupid stuff each week anyway, like fancy coffee.) Over time, work to increase the amount you automatically save each week and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can establish a nice buffer.
Just knowing that you’re building a little cushion for your business (and your life) can do wonders for decreasing your stress. (And increasing the odds that you feel ok stopping work at 4:30 on a Wednesday just for fun!)
3. Under-promise so you can over-deliver. (Instead of the other way around.)
Part of the reason I’ve got so many orders to go out the door is that I did a really poor job of scheduling this time around. I pretty much said yes to whenever my stores wanted the order. Fortunately, most of the ship dates are pretty flexible, but I could have seriously reduced my stress level even more if I’d just set up longer lead times to begin with.
Obviously, it’s important to set deadlines and get orders out the door. But if you’re running your business solo (or even with a small team), don’t try to run your business with the same expectations as a major company with an entire fulfillment department. Set reasonable expectations about how long it will take you to ship things (whether that’s wholesale or online orders).
It’s better to promise someone an order in four weeks and get it out the door in two than it is promising everyone their orders in a week and take six weeks to finally ship.
You’ll feel far less stress with more manageable expectations, and if you do get the order out sooner than planned, you’re customers will be surprised and delighted! (And happy customers are another surefire way to help lower your stress levels.)
There’s no doubt about it, running your own creative business can be stressful. But it’s also important to recognize that being stressed all the time doesn’t have to be our default state. By taking some simple steps to ensure the health of your business, you just might be able to reduce your stress levels. (And occasionally even blow off work on a Wednesday, because isn’t that what being self-employed is all about!)