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Avoiding business owner burnout: Staying energized and building value long-term

Nov 04, 2019

I’ve seen it again and again: Small business owners tend to overwork themselves rather than grow their administrative team. 

Generally, business owners don’t struggle with adding another revenue-generating employee. Another service technician, machine operator, consultant, sure — as long as there’s demand for billable work, owners are happy to add more staff.

But even while the business’s delivery/production team grows, owners are reluctant to expand their administrative group. Instead, they take on a little more work here, a little more there. Suddenly, what was already a full-time-plus job has ballooned into 70, 80 hours a week. Or more!

A business that lasts

Did you know that burnout is the second leading reason business owners sell, after retirement? I talk to business owners all the time who are simply too tired, too overwhelmed or too fed up to continue. I hear it in good economies and bad.

It’s a shame because I think a lot of business owners could have been happy if they had realigned the way they work — if they had focused more on doing the things they loved and been a little more willing to outsource the things they didn’t. 

There’s wisdom in not working yourself to the point of burnout. Your business is more sustainable when you have energy and capacity.  

Building your support team

Right now you might be thinking, “But HR is already the least favorite part of my role. I don’t want to hire more people!” 

The labor market is tight right now. So adding more employees could be a challenge, even if you wanted to. But hiring isn’t your only option. Chances are there are all kinds of roles and responsibilities that could be outsourced to independent contractors and consultants. 

Here’s just a short list of things you might outsource in order to free up your energy and your time: 

  • Bookkeeping, payroll and taxes
  • Marketing
  • HR
  • Safety, environmental and DOT management
  • IT
  • Administrative tasks

You can find consultants to fill any number of roles, from setting appointments and data entry to bigger responsibilities like reporting, project management and customer service. With consultants and contractors, you can ramp your support team up or down as needed, without long-term commitments and expense. 

As you review your to-do list, look to outsource anything that doesn’t give you energy. Let’s call it the Triple D of business ownership: If a job is draining or something you dread, it’s time to delegate

That goes for home too

I once stumbled across a book called A Housekeeper Is Cheaper Than a DivorceThe author breaks down the idea that hiring help is only for the wealthy by pointing out ways that outsourcing home responsibilities pays off in the long run.

For business owners, the line between work and home is pretty blurry. So getting more help at home could generate even bigger returns if it means you have extra time and energy to focus on your business — or, ideally, more quality time with your family.  

Working on, not in

There’s a difference between working on your business and working in it. Working in the business means you’re handling day-to-day tasks. You’re answering emails, making sales calls, managing the details.

But working on your business is the real work of a business leader. It’s how you get to that “next level.” Working on the business means you’re looking at goals and development. You’re looking for ways to deliver faster or get more done with fewer headaches along the way. You’re doing the big-picture things to improve profit and value. 

If you have big goals, you need energy and focus to reach them. And you aren’t going to get there by processing invoices and updating inventory reports.

Increasing business value

Here’s a hard truth: You are not the most valuable part of your business. I mean, maybe you are today, if the business relies on you to make sales and get things done. But the more you can work yourself out of the business, the more your company is worth.

If you’re hoping to sell your business one day, one of the most important things you can do is learn to step back. Develop your management team. Help key employees learn and grow. Build a business that can run (and profit) without your presence. 

Buyers think twice before taking on a business that’s overly dependent on the owner. Because if you’re the business, then what, exactly, are they buying? 

Every time you take a vacation … every routine process you hand off to someone else … every morning you come in late, confident in the knowledge your team has got this … you build business value. And you reclaim a little more energy to focus on the things that really matter. 

How Wipfli can help

Wipfli provides business consulting and outsourced services for accounting, technology and HR. Not sure where to start? Talk to an advisor who will help you review your operations and identify areas to transfer responsibilities, reduce the burden of ownership and increase your overall value.


Kelly R. Runge, CPA
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