Stop business owner burnout with better systems

“I used to like my business, now I can’t stand it. It’s just  not the same anymore.”

I have a unique business.  I run around in my pajamas and have fun for a living.  I am a martial arts instructor.  However, I know several “successful” school owners who no longer like their business.  I have had my business for the 18 years (and I still love it).  In addition being a professional instructor and school owner, I am real estate investor, and rare horse breeder.  Most importantly, I have been married for the last 18 years and have a family that I spent lots of time with, even with these businesses.

business owner burnout

Here is the thing.

I have spoken to lots of burnt out business owners over the last nearly 20 years.  I do not think you wake up not wanting to be a business owner. While, certainly, there could be a single event that sours you to the passion of being an business owner, that kind of change of heart only happens over time. It’s what I call the “death by a million paper cuts”.  An owner has so many “plates spinning”– get this task going, now go do that task, hey we are out of toilet paper, John called off again,  we lost our best customer, customer z is complaining again.  All these little things add up so that the cumulative effect is that you wake up hating the thing that you truly loved doing just a few years ago.

But I want to call your attention to the fact that we have a choice in how we react to all the challenges – trivial or substantial – that come with business ownership.  Here are some options that are popular with business owners:

1. Do it all ourselves! 

It’s a valid choice. But I must warn you, get ready for stress, burnout, and poor performance.

2. Delegate to employees

“If I just hire someone this will solve all my problems”. I know lots of people that are actually more unhappy attempting to manage the work of employees than they were when they did it all themselves.

For many business owners who are burning out, these choices feel like a choice between a rock and a hard place. But, when we are riddled with anxiety and exhausted from the burden of decision-making, sometimes we fail to see the nuances of these options – particularly with option number 2.

I remember a few years ago, before I re-engineered my business so I could avoid business owner burnout, I was speaking to a mentor about some employee problems.  He spoke plainly. He said, “your employees do not suck, your systems suck.”  This was like a lightning bolt hitting me. When we hire someone, often times we give them a broad job description, and expect very specific results.  More often than not, those expectations are in our heads. We may not even acknowledge them to ourselves! My mentor was pointing this out to me; I had no system for sharing my knowledge of how to complete all the tasks involved in running my business. We need to create systems clearly spell out how to do all those tasks, and what the result should look like!  Think: “a recipe for getting a job done”.

And this system needs to be “fool-proof”.  Let’s examine that word “fool-proof”.  Your system should be so clear that even a fool should be able to follow along and get good results.

It might sound like a lot of work.  It is.  However, dealing with staff turn-over is more work. When people leave, you or someone else needs to train their replacement.  If you have an “air-tight” system, these transitions will be less painful and less costly.

There are tools now available that can help you to capture exactly how you would like ANY task to be done.  If you have a Google Drive™ account you can easily create a system that uses checklists and videos to train your staff and monitor tasks for FREE.

Even if you are one of the 3% of business owners that have taken advantage of one of these systems,  I would venture to say that less than 1% of the 3% are utilizing these online tools to the fullest. I initially created my systems in a notebook with paper. I even made a VHS tape of what I wanted the system to look like. I had the right idea, but it was cumbersome and old school. I realized that people would lose the notebook, and that I had to be onsite to check it, etc. etc. etc. It had its problems.

With Google Drive™ wherever I am, I can logon, and check my staff’s work.  I can delegate it to them via email, folders, or even on Google Calendar™.

Read this sentence as quickly as you can:

yes yes no yes yes yes sweaty pipes yes yes

Believe it or not, that’s what you do when you supervise your staff’s checklist. You might be asking, “what is that no about, and what are sweaty pipes?”  How easy was that? And you can do it anywhere! On a beach, or at home after everyone is in bed. OR you could go a step further and have a manager check the checklists and then report to you about only the vitally important matters that need your attention?

The problem with creating systems is no one thinks they have the time. So business owners don’t burnout, they must realize that some of the most important time spent in the business is creating and monitoring systems.Quite frankly, whatever your business is, you cannot not afford to NOT do business development work. If you are stressed, fatigued, and lack the drive you used to have for your business, a healthy dose of time and energy creating systems can help with that. It’s hard to describe the freedom you create when you “De-Mythify” your business. When you de-mythify, you take the “myth” of what it means to have a business, and make it real by having well developed systems. 

Now instead of “death by a million paper cuts” you only have “the occasional scratch”. And everyone can handle that.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Korbett Miller

Korbett Miller has been a small business owner for the last 18 years. He runs one of the most successful martial arts school in the state of Washington, is a rare horse breeder and a real estate investor. In his book, De-Mythify: Finding freedom in your small business, he shows you how to create, assign and manage all your systems online, from anywhere! Find him on Google+ and Facebook.


  1. Andy Wilson says:

    Fantastic article Korbett. You are doing good work and it’s already helping at my business.

Speak Your Mind