How to Go from Crazed to Calm as an Entrepreneur

Michelle Jackson

Leaving behind the comforting confines of a steady paycheck to start your own business is not for the faint of heart. Few of us are prepared for the emotional toll of frequent rejection and inconsistent cash flow, and becoming a “solopreneur” can often feel more lonely than lone wolf. Yet many of us still dream of working for ourselves, if only we can persist through a few financial reality checks.

Among the most sobering scenarios is when your income seizes up just when your business seemed to be going swimmingly. Maybe things were going so well that you stopped seeking out clients, and referrals slowed down. Maybe the work you were counting on suddenly dried up. Whatever the reason, as your business stalls, so does your cash flow. Meanwhile, your anxiety revs up as you inch closer to not being able to pay your bills.

A horrible rite of passage, this speedbump appears in most burgeoning business owners’ careers. And it stops some people from pursuing their dreams any further. I know, because I was in that place last year. Self-doubt, frustration, and anger colored many of my days as I worked hard to right the things that weren’t working for my new business.

With a bit of planning, I developed workarounds to help smooth out my income—and my emotional state. Here are a few strategies to help deal with the ups and downs of entrepreneur life.

Don’t panic

It’s easy to freak out when income slows down, especially if your emergency fund is anemic. But panic can lead to disastrous financial decisions. Getting into the right headspace is the key to tackling a cash flow emergency. When you feel anxiety brewing, resist the urge to jump right in and triage your income bleed-out. Go for a walk, practice mediation or yoga if that’s your jam, or just binge a few episodes of the “Queer Eye” reboot to put yourself in a super confident mood. (The Fab Five are seriously empowering.)

It might feel counterintuitive to slow down when you feel like you should be speeding up, but if you try to power through and ignore the underlying reasons your business is imploding, you’re setting yourself up for a long-term crisis. If you do whatever is necessary to take control of the situation and prevent it from happening again, then it’s likely going to be a short-term crisis.

Go to battle

Once you’re breathing is steady, shift into problem-solving mode. Spend some time examining your books. Look at your expenses versus funds available and any pending unpaid invoices owed to you. Once you have the details you can start to create an action plan to permanently shift your mindset from crazed to calm, cool, and ready to slay.

Such a plan may include the following:

  • Check in with your current clients to see if they have additional projects you can work on. Pro tip: Feel like you’re “begging” for work? You’re not. Finding talented people to work with is hard. Your existing clients will be grateful for the chance to work more with someone they already know and trust.

  • Inquire if your pending invoices can be paid earlier. Some clients will decline, but you might be surprised by how many will empathize with your situation and pay you faster. (A word of caution: This can happen once, maybe twice, but you don’t want to make a habit of these requests.)

  • Bills slipping into the red? Don’t ignore those past due notices. Communicating with your creditors about what you can (or, can’t) do ASAP can help you avoid some serious black marks on your credit report. Many creditors are willing to work with you on debt repayment. After all, they don’t want to have to charge off your debt, either. And as a bonus, you’ll feel good about actively managing the situation.

  • Boost those client rosters. Sure, adding to the client list won’t make you more cash money right this second, but remember you’re in this for the long haul. While it may take a while to reap the financial rewards of seeking out new business, you’re helping to ensure a worry-free future and get yourself out of today’s debt.

Find support

If you haven’t already done so, focus on finding a community. Being self-employed can lead to isolation, but having people around who can relate helps keep you centered and combat feelings of helplessness. Join closed Facebook groups dedicated to entrepreneurs and small business owners, go to local business Meetups, or start similar groups and gatherings in your area if they don’t already exist. Having a community means having a sympathetic, judgment-free shoulder to cry on, even if it’s a virtual one.

Practice self-care

When you’re self-employed, you don’t have anyone else to regulate your working hours. Add a financial jam to that, and the push to work as hard as you can for as long as you can gets very real. Entrepreneurs in particular may experience extreme emotional highs and lows due to the pressure of bootstrapping a business. Finding a work-life balance that allows time for self-care is critical for managing these mental health stressors.

During a rough 2017 (personally and professionally), I found myself dealing with some depression that affected my ability to keep grinding away. The knowledge that everything rested on my shoulders was so overwhelming that, for a short period time, I had to choose me over my business. Since then, I’ve increased my savings rate to ensure I can take time off to focus on self-care when life gets too messy.

On a day-to-day basis, finding your balance is an individual thing. It might mean setting specific work hours and sticking to them, or eating lunch away from your desk, or blocking out some regular “me time” on your calendar. Test a few different methods and try to prioritize them, even if it means working a bit less than you think you should.

Move on

When you’ve slogged through this crisis—or at least feel like you’re on your way—do your best to ensure it won’t happen again. Start by updating your online presence. Refresh your website (or build one from scratch) to showcase your portfolio or experience. Make sure your social media profiles are current and communicate who you are and what you offer. Then link all your sites and profiles together so you’re easy to find online.

Once you’re putting your best digital foot forward, set up recurring times to check in on your goals, be they daily, weekly, or monthly targets. And while few people really love networking, making it part of your routine will pay dividends in business growth. Choose at least a couple of slow hours once a week and dedicate those to updating your social media, reaching out to new clients, and checking in with colleagues.

Finally, remember that while your brain may be telling you to go, go, go, building your own business is a marathon, not a sprint. The only way to move forward as an entrepreneur is to acknowledge the reality that you will experience ups and downs on the road to the success.