How to Stay Cool When You’re a Small Business Owner

Gusto Editors

As a small business owner, cool-headedness is part of the job description. But the actual act of staying cool can be a tricky thing to master.

When you put out dozens of fires every day, sometimes the pressure can get to you. It’s hard to remain calm when deadlines are missed, customers are frustrated, and work is a roller coaster.

However, with a little effort, total coolness can be achieved. The next time you’re on the verge of cracking, get back on the peaceful path with our guide to stopping work meltdowns before they ever start.

Meltdown scenario 1: Someone left a bad customer review

What you want to do

Curl into a ball under your desk and silently weep.

What you should do

Breathe. When a negative customer review arrives, everyone’s emotions can go into overdrive. The entire team puts their heart and soul into helping customers, so takedowns can hurt — a lot. Critiques, however, are rarely personal, even if it feels that way.

First, let the initial shock wear off. Then, revisit the situation so you can look at it with a clearer perspective.

Read the review, and isolate the real problems from the hot air. Is there a valid point you can address? Does it make sense to reply in a public forum, not to sling more dirt, but to explain your viewpoint and help the customer out? If this is the case, use the negative comment as an opportunity to put your extraordinary customer service in action.

Meltdown scenario 2: You’re feeling uninspired

What you want to do

Take a year-long sabbatical.

What you should do

Get back into a positive mindset by seeking out small successes. If a project will take a long time to finish, set mini milestones along the way to create more opportunities for celebrating achievements.

Constantly remind yourself what you’re working towards. One way to do this is by putting your tasks in perspective so you can better understand how they’re feeding into the larger goals of the company.

And finally, find ways to reward yourself — and your team. Locate the sweet spot between a reward that feels like a treat, but is doable during the workday: a longer team lunch at a fancy restaurant? A half-day on Friday? These are small gifts that won’t disrupt work, but can quickly help you shake off the business-owner blues.

Meltdown scenario 3: You’ve set unrealistic deadlines that your team won’t be able to meet

What you want to do

Rewind the calendar back a month.

What you should do

Be honest. Talk to your client about why your team couldn’t deliver, and then propose solutions to remedy the situation. Transparency will help you build stronger relationships with your clients, and they’ll respect you so much more for having the guts to do so.

Once you take care of the current issue, take a step back and think about why you’re over-promising in the first place. It’s common for new business owners to get in the habit of proposing unrealistic delivery dates in a bid to please. The exuberance is great, but if the dates aren’t practical, it can pose a real problem for your team down the line.

Save yourself the heartache by delivering service levels that make you proud and that your team can actually support. Then, work toward hitting those attainable goals.

Meltdown scenario 4: It’s the busy season, and you’re feeling overwhelmed

What you want to do

Sleep on the office couch, live on triple-shot lattes, and tell your family you’ll see them in a month.

What you should do

Stick to your regular routine even in the face of total chaos. Sure, at high-pressure times the workload may be hard to handle, but do what you can to maintain a sense of normalcy. Try not to jettison regular check-in meetings, town halls, or any week-to-week events that keep you sane and your business afloat.

Important business functions, like hiring and partner relations, should always stay moving — even when things are crazy.

Also, focus on the fact that the situation is temporary. Things will eventually swing back to a slower, more manageable pace.

When it comes down to it, staying level-headed at work helps everyone. A relaxed frame of mind is good for your health, and will let you see things more clearly. 

Your company should be a place where coolness rules, and if there’s too much anxiety going around, it can rub off on the rest of the team.

By keeping your stress levels in check, you will gain the clarity you need to effectively manage your business — all while maintaining the calm, cool, and collected attitude that’s been within you all along.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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