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3 Principles to Fight Against Business-Owner Burnout

skeleton laying on laptop surrounded by crumpled papers and books

Being a business owner is rewarding, but that doesn’t mean it’s always smooth sailing.

In truth, there is a lot of work to be done in your agency’s long and short-term operations. Depending on the size of your organization, you could be in more of an overseeing role, or you could be a one-person show. You wear many hats—and probably multiple hats a day!

There is no doubt that you’re more than capable of taking on whatever is thrown your way, but after a while, it can take a toll on even the most motivated and organized among us.

And this can lead to burnout.

“But my agency is doing fine —I’m just tired, not burnt out.”

Those are the famous last words of many industry colleagues and friends who suddenly found themselves overwhelmed or simply fatigued past a recoverable amount.

Though many other industries are discovering the sensation of burnout due to the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners are no strangers to this phenomenon, and we’ve been battling it for years.

Burnout can take many forms, and it manifests itself through many different types of attitudes and actions. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the most common signs of burnout are:

  • Increased frequency of infections, or vulnerability to sickness
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Increased sadness or anger, often resulting in increased cynicism and sarcasm
  • Insomnia.

Sufferers of burnout can also experience more severe and permanent issues, such as heart disease and Type II diabetes.

Feelings of inadequacy are par for the course of burnout. But most of the bad vibes that many of us experience when going through burnout generate from two camps: completely unrelated external factors or extreme amounts of internalized pressure.

While burnout can often send negative messages to our brains, know that the following thoughts or feelings have absolutely nothing to do with the reality of your situation:

  • “It was silly of me to think I could run an agency.”
  • “It’s better to quit while I’m ahead.”
  • “My competitors are leagues ahead of me in every sense. My clients wouldn’t even notice that I was gone.”

What might be true, however, is that you need to take a step back and reevaluate your agency’s path. At the very least, you need to rest

So take a moment. Process your thoughts. Take stock of the symptoms of burnout slowly creeping into your body. Finally, look at the three principles outlined in this article. Write them down, reflect on them, and see how they can help you find your way back on a positive path. 

They could be the difference between saying, “Give me just a minute,” and saying, “Goodbye”. 

  1. You are not alone—every business goes through ups and downs
skeleton with glasses looking at a laptop with sticky notes in the background

Before concluding that everyone but you is doing better with no challenges whatsoever, say these words to yourself, “I’m not alone. Ups and downs come with the territory of running a business”.

Now, breathe.

The past two years have taught us quite a bit about the rollercoaster of agency ownership, have they not? 

Unfortunately, the party’s not over yet. (To be honest, it never really is!)

If you’ve been around since the pre-pandemic era, you must have had your fair share of trials. But look at you; you got creative, appreciated the customers that stuck around with all of your heart, and held on for dear life. You survived what many other businesses did not.

One of the ways to put your precious mind and body at risk of burnout is keeping your eyes glued to your business stats, and comparing it with others.  

Think of it like a scale when you’re on a diet. Yes—if you ignore the scale for a long time, you could be misinformed about just how healthy you actually are. At the same time, your weight tends to fluctuate throughout the day at a rate of about 5 pounds. If you spend your day traveling back and forth from the scale, you’re going to drive yourself crazy about information that doesn’t indicate the bigger picture.

Here’s a stat that should worry you: 52% of Americans surveyed in a study by Indeed.com were feeling burnt out as of Spring 2021—and those numbers haven’t seen much decline in the last 18 months. 

While it’s true that 45% of startups fail within the first five years, taking time for yourself and your sanity isn’t going to be what sinks the ship. That’s typically indicated by a long-term pattern, not through a phase of stagnancy or even a slight downward trend. 

Face each phase of your business with the excitement of a new challenge. Use uncertainty as motivation instead of fear.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
skeleton with book over its head, surrounded by books and crumpled up papers

Burnout doesn’t always and necessarily stem from looking at your data like a doomsday clock. It can also be a byproduct of shouldering too many responsibilities while being afraid to ask for help. 

This is an issue that affects agencies of all sizes and ages. Whether you’re a perfectionist who likes everything done just so, or you’re still mentally living in your “one-person operation” days, there is a big chance that you’ve felt panic at the idea of passing off tasks.

You need to trust others in their ability to create top-quality work while you supervise and approve the final product. It may not be exactly what you would have dreamed up, but on the other hand, it could be even better!

Outsourcing any number of tasks and responsibilities that don’t need your immediate attention is a total power move—it can give your agency so much more than just the time that you need to relax and recharge. Outsourcing can provide an invaluable second opinion and even a new avenue for scaling.

No one can do your job or run your agency quite as you can, but you need to define what absolutely requires your full presence and what simply requires your influence. You might be surprised at exactly how much you can pass off to helping, enthusiastic hands (hands like ours here at GoWP, for example) to back away from a burnout situation.

  1. Learn to Rest—Not Quit
crumpled papers and sticky notes, one saying "take a break!!"

Have you been working on a schedule that allows you to relax, enjoy time with family and friends, and pursue the things you love? When was the last time you gave yourself vacation time?  

You no doubt got into the position of owning an agency because you wanted to be the captain of your own ship. That was, of course, before you learned the ins and outs of running your own business.

According to a burnout survey conducted by Deloitte, as of 2015, one in three workers felt “uncomfortable” taking vacation time. And 83 percent have said that work burnout takes a toll on them and their personal relationships. 53% of workers said they are working longer shifts than before the pandemic, and 27% find it nearly impossible to unplug.

If you’re working yourself into the ground without serving yourself and your loved ones, then what is the point of this whole adventure? 

Reaching the point of no longer being able to reap the rewards of your efforts might mean you need to rethink your definition of “success”.

Above all, make time in your day to work for yourself, and not just in terms of your business. Carve out time in your day to do something, like an activity or a ritual that makes you happy. Define hours not by the volume of productivity but by an actual clock. Selfishness may feel strange and uncomfortable at first. But if you stick to it long enough, you will be happier with its benefits in the long run. 

Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.

And as an agency owner, we have no doubt that you’re one tough cookie.

But being tough doesn’t mean driving yourself and your agency into the ground at the hands of burnout.

Paying attention to yourself and your own needs, moving away from stats-related obsessions, and having a healthy idea of what “work-life balance” truly means will benefit your agency more in the end than driving yourself to the brink, or even further.

When you’re ready for help with your seemingly endless workload, we’re ready to provide you with qualified, friendly faces to get you past even your toughest points. 

Trust your gut. Give your mind and body the rest they need. And count on us here at GoWP from the moment that burnout begins to strike.

If you suspect that your agency might be going through pressure that’s beyond burnout, you might want to check out this GoWP webinar we did a while back with Lee Jackson

And for more support (and a listening ear) with your burnout issues, join our Digital Agency Owners Facebook group. You’ll find friendly faces and loads of experience from agency owners who have dealt with what you’re going through now.


Abigail Brooks Santana

Abigail Brooks Santana

Abigail Brooks Santana is a Dedicated Copywriter with GoWP who loves to work with words and challenging ideas! Abigail is a native of Montgomery, Alabama, but now lives in the Portuguese countryside, where she and her partner breed and train Lusitano horses.

You’ll be joining a community of highly-vetted digital agencies and web professionals with one common goal — growth! Learn more. 


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