Mindful growth: Are we steering entrepreneurs towards burnout and breakdown?

Mindful growth: Are we steering entrepreneurs towards burnout and breakdown?

Posted: Mon 4th Apr 2022

What happened to sustainable growth? When did lifestyle businesses become a dirty word? I meet some amazing entrepreneurs doing this job. But too often the conversations about business ownership in talks and articles is worrying.

Growth is being promoted as an ends to itself. People assume that raising seed funding is more common than it the reality. People are pushing themselves to work long hours and embracing unhealthy working environments.

Presenteeism in incubators and co-working spaces

It's not surprising to find business owners working late. A product might be about to go live or a client presentation needs finishing that's due the next day.

What's strange is seeing people sitting at their desks after 6.30pm chatting, clicking around on social media or generally wasting time. Staying late because you think that's what hardworking founders do or you're anxious about making progress is unhealthy.

Productivity and creativity decrease rapidly when you work too much – you'll end up doing bad work. And it can lead to health problems. Presenteeism is common in the corporate world.

Start-ups need to be smarter than that. That doesn't mean missing out on the value of chatting to people in your co-working space. It means making sure you're not staying late too often and that there's a good reason when you do. Evenings off help you stay healthy, enjoy your work and make you a better founder.

Do you tell the truth about your start-up?

There are two types of conversations we have about our businesses with relatives we aren't close to, friends and ex-colleagues. One is a frank account of what's happening, the other has an Instagram filter feel to it.

The PR approach is when you mention deals won, staff hired or other proof of success, no matter what's going on. The other you lead with your challenges (and it's still usually qualified with something like "But I'm really enjoying it!").

Being a founder means getting people to buy into your vision. Whether it's new hires, partners or clients, it's important to find a confidant or confidants you can be open with and discuss the real challenges you face.

Understand how to measure your ambition

We take a very simplistic approach to measuring success. Journalists ask about investment or exits or look for rapid revenue growth. Everyone else just wants to know how much money you're making. But every entrepreneur should have their own view on what success looks like.

Is the company successful when you're able to quit your full-time job or hire its hundredth employee? Do you want to make enough profit to fuel your creative endeavours or invest in your manufacturing capabilities?

It's important to have a clear vision of what you're trying to achieve. It's worth revisiting when you reach different milestones, particularly if you're making a big decision like taking out a loan.

Being an entrepreneur allows you to build your own company culture and can provide the freedom to create the lifestyle you want. Don't let other people's expectations of success shape your business. Be confident in your dream.

Start promoting healthy work routines

Sharing outrageous work routines has become a cliché. Click-driven publications are making ludicrous claims about what makes people successful.

Chief among this type of content is the articles like "73 things that successful entrepreneurs do when they get up in the morning". More worryingly are columns promoting waking up ridiculously early or limiting the time you spend sleeping.

NHS advice points out how sleep boosts mental wellbeing and the serious health risks created by regular poor sleep. It's important to build a sustainable working routine around sleep and regular exercise that allows you to be successful.

There is another way to approach running a business

It's amazing to see the number of business owners who talk frankly about the challenges they face, understand what they're aiming for and revel in the successes they achieve getting there.

The ecosystem that supports start-ups is evolving. Co-working space Origin Workspace opened with a commitment to creating an "active" community. That doesn't just mean wearing lycra and eating tofu. Events cater to every level of fitness and promote spending time together.

People who write about small businesses are working to have frank conversations about starting up; it's our goal at least!

Relevant resources

Chris has over a decade of experience writing about small businesses and startups. He runs Inkwell, a content agency that helps companies that sell to small business owners grow their audiences through content marketing. You can find him on Twitter at @CPGoodfellow.

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