Tips to be a Kick Ass Business Owner if you have Anxiety / Depression
Greetings, friends. Michele here, coming to you from my bathroom floor, in an oversized t-shirt I’ve been wearing for 3 days now, running on Dunkin’ apple crumb donuts (no literally, they have replaced my last 3 meals), and smelling like a bag of old Fritos forgotten in the backseat of your car in the heat of July. Exactly what you imagine when you imagine someone running a 6-figure creative business, right? Maybe not, but this is occasionally my (absolutely imperfect) reality as a business owner who struggles with anxiety and depression.
For a long time I was under the impression that people like me just did not succeed. I mean, how could we? Does Beyonce have a full blown panic attack complete with hives and a dramatic public fainting spell when she gets too overwhelmed? Does Michelle Obama curl up in bed for 3 days wondering if she could be lucky enough that her mattress would turn into a black hole and pull her into an alternate universe while she sleeps? I don’t know the answer, because largely, this stuff just isn’t spoken about in a completely transparent manner. People will come forward and say “I struggle with mental illness, let’s end the stigma” – but the conversation sort of gets left there. And don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that honesty, and it is by no means our place to demand anyone to profess their most vulnerable truths to the public, but I will say that when I found myself in the position of starting my own business and struggling with my own demons, I felt tremendously alone, and doomed from the start. Heck, I actually didn’t even want to start this business, because I was afraid of how I would cope with my anxiety if I fully committed to it.
So, in case you find yourself in the same boat, thinking “how the hell can I run a business, I can’t even maintain proper hygiene when I’m overwhelmed?!” – I’m here to share some of my most invaluable coping mechanisms with you. Also, I’m going to go ahead and tell you right from the get-go, whatever business it is that you want to start, you CAN do it, but it’s not going to be easy, and that is OK. There’s some practices you can put into place, right from the start, that will help you manage business while also managing the circus happening in your head.
1) SYSTEMS + PROCESSES
If I could give you only 1 tip in terms of how to have a successful business while surviving mental illness – this would be it. GET A REALLY SOLID SET OF SYSTEMS + PROCESSES IN ORDER. This is make or break kind of stuff for anyone, but ESPECIALLY if your mind is already pre-occupied and at times not functioning and full max potential.
Systems and Processes refers to the systems that you use to organize/manage your business, and the process in which you execute projects/transactions. For us, this means our client intake process, the series of steps from booking to shooting to delivering an edited gallery of images, and the systems we use to make it happen. It took a long time, but we have our systems + processes down like a well oiled machine.
The key here is to first, find tools/programs that serve you, then develop processes with them that minimizes your workload. For us, we use a program called Honeybook. Our inquiries come in through Honeybook, and we then developed a series of templates and automations to make our process as fluid and self-sufficient as possible. (Read more about some of our favorite Honeybook features here!). Depending on what your business is, your tools/programs will vary. For service based businesses, a tool like Honeybook is a godsend. If your business is product based, you may utilize programs to help you manage sales, organize inventory, etc!
Whatever it is you’d like to do, be sure you figure out how your transactions will take place, and what steps are needed to get there. Write it out clearly and concisely. This kind of mega organization plays a huge role in decreasing anxiety around being a business owner, fostering confidence, and fighting imposter syndrome. It also will impress your clients, and let them know you know your sh*t, and they can trust you. Knowing you have their trust from the get-go will increase your confidence and help you deliver a better product/service/experience to your customer. Wham bam thank you ma’am.
2) DEFINE SUCCESS
One of the things I hear most often from other entrepreneurs struggling with mental health issues, is that they never feel “successful.” They never feel good enough, they’re always comparing themselves to other people and they feel like they always come in short.
It is really hard to ever feel successful if you don’t have a clear vision in mind of what success means for YOU. Sounds silly, but think about it – how are you defining success? Are you placing value on things that really resonate in your heart, or are you gauging your success by comparison of what other folks in your industry are doing? Is your vision of success based on an insta-perfect lifestyle that actually does not exist because those people are filtering their content to the most perfect blips of reality in hopes of creating some sort of elitism that can make you feel inferior? Was that run on sentence enough to make you reconsider your current mindset around success?
When we think of success – society has conditioned us to envision money, a lavish lifestyle, frequent travel, clothes, cars, smoothie bowls (what kind of monster puts a smoothie in a dang bowl anyway?!) – but are these things success to you?
For me personally, success is being able to live comfortably, in my little rancher, with my husband, not wondering how I’ll be able to pay the bills. Having the ability to know if I’m sick, I can take the day off. If I need to make a personal appointment, I can. If my friend needs me, I can be there. If I want a cheeseburger, I can afford it. Being able to take the weekends off to go to food truck festivals, and pack my lunches for the week, and clean my bathroom so that it’s not a grimy slime hole on days when I find myself too anxious to leave the bathroom floor. Being able to spare the time/money for therapy. Being able to choose to only work with clients whose vision aligns with ours. Ultimately, feeling happy on the majority of days, and feeling hopeful on the rest. This is how I define success. If those things come with good clothes, frequent vacations, and smoothies (in a bowl or not) – then hey, that’s great, but those things are NOT what defines success for me. Having a clear definition of what my personal success is helps me to keep myself in check, give myself credit for my own success, and avoid the comparison game that plagues so many of us and amplifies our anxiety! Once you’ve defined what success means for you, you can envision your own success and figure out exactly what you need to do to achieve it!
3) CREATE A SUPPORT SYSTEM
This may be the hardest piece of the puzzle to achieve, but it is CRUCIAL to your success. Finding like-minded folks who can support you when you need it is an invaluable tool in your entrepreneurial tool belt, especially when you’re often seeing through the warped lens of your own anxiety-ridden mind.
I have found it to truly be critical to my own well-being to not only have external support (meaning, friends in the industry who I love and trust), but also internal support in the form of a team. Way back when, this was a 1-lady show, and let me tell you – behind the scenes was a mess. I was a mess. There was never enough time for everything that needed to get done, and there certainly was no time for my sanity to be prioritized. I had a 1st class ticket on the hot mess express.
Fortunately for me, I was able to coerce Shannon into joining the squad (I currently keep her around by making her homemade yogurt every week – I’m not above buying anyone’s love with delicious snacks). Later on, we added Laura who is an amaaazing family/portrait photographer, as well as a few other badass babes who lend a hand from time to time! But on a real note, having a team has been such a HUGE relief for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no worry-free woodland faerie princess by any means (bathroom floor, corn chip smells, let’s not forget), but having someone else who can step in and handle everything when I’m battling an internal crisis and have plastered my butt cheeks to the cold bathroom tile is something I am beyond grateful for, and could never function at my best capacity without.
Circling back to that idea of external support – it is SO important to make sure you have industry friends who you can confide in, vent to, bounce ideas off of, and ask questions to. It can be hard to navigate these relationships, so take your time finding the right folks, but every successful business owner I’ve ever met will tell you the same thing, community is EVERYTHING. I am extra lucky, because my best business-owner friend is also my best friend in real life. We met each other through business, now share a studio space, host events together, and generally support each other’s business endeavors in whatever way we can. Whether it be sending referrals, asking for feedback, or venting, I have someone who I can 100% trust to be there for me, and vice versa, with no sense of competitiveness or jealousy. Seeing her succeed makes me happy, and if I can support her success in any way, I am there for it! Find you a business bestie, and help each other stay afloat!
4) SET BOUNDARIES
Boundaries. Will. Preserve. Your. Sanity. SAY IT WITH ME! If you haven’t already read my previous post about setting boundaries, check that out here. I won’t bore you with repeating everything I said there – but I will reiterate that putting strong boundaries in place can change your life!
Setting boundaries can be difficult, but once you do it, you will set yourself up to run your business in a way that accounts for your anxiety triggers, and helps you to achieve your own version of success.
Cliche? Yes. Necessary? Also yes. Self care is so important for keeping your mental health in check.
Self care often stirs up thoughts of massages, face masks, and treat-yo-self moments – and while I do think it is super important to take time to treat yourself, sometimes self care manifests itself in less flashy ways, like taking a few extra minutes in the morning to eat a wholesome breakfast, breaking for a mid-day walk, refilling your prescriptions, scheduling a dentist appointment you’ve been putting off, or even in setting boundaries (ooh, it’s an Oprah ah-ha moment!). Self care requires you to recognize what you need, and make sure you’re providing it for yourself, even if that means you don’t finish the work project you’re working on tonight and have to resume it tomorrow.
That can be especially difficult for those of us who have mental health struggles. We tend to not prioritize ourselves, and to feel a fair amount of guilt when we do (especially when that self care time often needs to come from time you were otherwise dedicating to your business). But, fortunately for you, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve already read about 4 key steps that are going to make it possible for you to prioritize your self care! By rocking your systems + processes so you can maximize your time, defining success so that you have realistic goals in mind, creating a support system to help you keep the your business and your mind on track, and setting boundaries so that you don’t work yourself into the ground – you have basically set yourself up to be ready to tackle all of your self care needs, as well as add some treat-yo-self moments to your agenda!
While there is no easy, magical, quick trick to instantly have an awesome, thriving business, while curing your anxiety/depression and filling your world with rainbows and ponies and ice cream sundaes, there’s certainly some steps you can take to get to a place where you’re achieving a level of success that makes you feel fulfilled, and supports YOU as a human both mentally and physically! Have any tips that help you run your business while managing your mental heath?! Share them with us on Instagram and tag us, @QuarterMoonCo!