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Stressed up to the eyeballs

Stress comes as part of owning a business, but that doesn’t mean it should control you. Read on as the Next Level Tradie shares some expert advice on dealing with it

Tom runs his own landscaping business. It’s 3am in the morning and he’s lying in bed wide awake as persistent worries keep tumbling through his mind. “What’s Jack [his employee] going to say when I give him that out-of-town job tomorrow, everything’s a problem with that guy. What if the Jones payment doesn’t arrive tomorrow, how are we going to make payroll this week? I don’t even know where to start with the cancer diagnosis the parents got last week,” he thinks to himself.

We all know that too much stress long termis bad for your health. But it affects other areas of life too, like self-confidence. High levels of stress for long periods of time can also cause decision fatigue. Procrastination starts to creep in and even the smallest problems can start to feel overwhelming.

There will always be some stress in business, but when it’s overwhelming, how you manage it is vital. Here are some of the strategies that have helped my clients get stress back under control.

Looking the monster in the eye

Every action movie has a version of the hero’s journey. There’s a scary monster or villain you can’t quite see, seeking its next victim. Seemingly too powerful to defeat. A hero emerges and challenges the monster. At the first encounter, the monster gets the upper hand and our hero withdraws overwhelmed, wounded, and defeated.

A mentor like Obi-wan Kenobi appears and shows our hero there is another way. After training with the mentor and much soul searching, he or she becomes a stronger, better version of themselves.

Equipped with their newfound knowledge and strength our hero realises that the monster also has weaknesses. Our hero steps forward looks the monster in the eye and realises in that moment with the right strategy and courage he or she could win the day. An epic battle ensues, and the monster is defeated, and the prize goes to the hero.

It’s also like that in business. I tell clients to look their monster in the eye, to see it for what it is. No more and no less, by writing down the worst-case scenarios.

Then ask, “can I live with that?” If the answer is “yes I can, but don’t want to”, then work on ensuring the worst-case scenario doesn’t happen.

If the answer is “no, I can’t” then it’s equally time to get to work doing everything possible to shift the odds back in your favour so that scenario won’t happen. Or go another way. There is more than one way to kill the stress monster.

Don’t look up at the mountain just yet

Before you look ahead at the mountain, look back to see how far you have come. If you have been in business for any length of time, there are many obstacles you have already overcome. You have a business and are still trading, many don’t get that far.

In business and life, there will always be a mixture of wins and losses. As business owners, we tend to focus a lot on the problems. That’s important because you can’t fix problems you don’t see, but it’s essential to also celebrate the wins.

Just focusing on the losses will drag your confidence down and raise stress levels. So, count the wins both big and small. Write them down and look at them every time you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed.

Make a plan and start moving forward!

If you're feeling stuck and don’t know what to do next, map out the options, then pick the best one and start moving forward. Even if later you have to shift direction, it’s easier to adjust if you are already moving. Staying where you are and hoping things might get better isn’t a plan.

A client I am working with has major cashflow problems. Before we started, he was so stressed that he didn’t know where to turn next. It felt easier to go to the job site rather than face the bigger issues like cashflow, which meant the problems just kept getting bigger. Suppliers were putting him on stop credit, tax bills were starting to pile up, and things were falling apart.

He had come through a bad couple of years, and he was running out of money fast. We calculated his cash position, and it was clear he couldn’t keep juggling cash flow as the gap was too big. He could trade out of it in 12-18 months, but that was going to take too long.

He needed cash to keep trading. So, we put a plan together and he got to work. He’s selling surplus assets, refinancing through a broker, getting his team to be more efficient on jobs and completing cashflow projections so when he’s talking with suppliers, it’s clear who he can pay and when.

The plan likely will need some adjusting as the landscape changes. But he’s moving forward and it’s working.

Control the controllable

Stress is a sign that your brain is freaking out about all the things that either might or are going wrong. Thoughts in your head might be something like “remember when the work dried up and I didn’t know how we were going to make payroll. Better get everything under control now or that’s gonna happen again”.

The problem is that you can’t control everything, so it’s an easy trap to fall into, putting time and energy into the wrong things.

For example, you can control how much time you spend getting new work, but not inflation or government policy. So, spending too much time on Facebook or listening to the media saying that the economy might be tanking again won’t get you any closer to a solution.

So, control the controllables and the levers that will improve your situation… the bonus with this strategy is that you will discover that you can control more than you realise.

Don’t try to carry everything yourself

You don’t have all the answers, no one does and that’s normal.

So, talk with others who have mastered the areas you’re weak in. Struggling with cashflow? Talk with someone who understands cashflow. Need more profit? Talk with someone who understands margins.

Share your goals with the team and your partner. Get them on board with the plan.

Make sure you have a trusted mentor or coach you can call regularly, especially when problems and stress levels are feeling out of control. Getting another perspective from someone who has already been there can make all the difference.

Hit the bag, chuck the chips

Have a physical outlet to get rid of the stress in your body, such as hitting the punching bag or going for a walk. Make sure you schedule a few times a week to get rid of the tension and negative energy.

Diet is also important so start eating healthier food with lots of fruit, veggies and meat. Cut back on the takeaways, sugar, alcohol and chips or, even better, eliminate them completely.

Don’t do that ‘Big Terrible Thing’

I have been reading Matthew Perry’s book Friends, Lovers and That Big Terrible Thing and how drugs and alcohol wrecked his life. 

If this is an area you're struggling in, tell your partner, involve your doctor, and get some help now. The longer you stay on that train the more you pay, and the price is too high – more than you and your family can afford.

What do you really want?

Another client has health issues that flare up when stress levels get too high. Yes, we are working on getting his businesses profitable and cashflow back on track again. But also, asking the tough questions that every business owner should be asking regularly.

Can I be healthy and have the business? Is being in business still fun? Is my family getting what it needs from me? What must change to make this into the business I want? What’s my exit strategy and when would I use it? The reality is that even the best businesses at times will be stressful. With the right plan you can minimise stress, but there will always be some.

If you are stressed out and need a better plan, then check out the options below.  

Trades business coach Daniel Fitzpatrick has been helping tradies increase profits and win back their weekends since 2010. 

Join our new Next Level Skool Group and get our free Cashflow Confidence Toolkit at

or Book a free Stress Buster session with me at www.nextleveltradie/nextstep


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