10 Survival Tips For Entrepreneurs (That Don’t Involve A To-Do List)

Whether you’re a budding solopreneur or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, mindfulness is quite possibly one of the most important factors that can drive your company’s success. Awareness and control of your thoughts and emotion can help to improve your decision-making skills, decrease your anxiety over future goals, and alleviate the stress of day to day operations.

For entrepreneurs and new startups, every day is an adventure and every decision is a risk that we hope will bring us one step closer to changing the world in our own special way.

What can mindfulness do for us?

Over the past two years as a solopreneur, I’ve learned that running a business is about a lot more than just making to-do lists, checking off tasks, and getting paid. Here are 10 of the entrepreneur survival tips I’ve discovered along the way.

1. Be Present

When you aren’t getting paid a steady salary based solely on whether or not you’re sitting at your desk during allotted work hours, staying focused becomes a lot more important. Every interruption or wandering daydream can cost you valuable time. But focus is about more than just putting your headphones on, turning up some punk rock, and handling business. True focus is about making a commitment to your goals and working to ensure that every action you take moves you closer to your desired results. It’s about being present in the moment, no matter where you are.

True focus is something you should actively practice whether you’re at your desk typing away or you’re at home with your family. Being present in every moment is a commitment that you make to yourself to live a life of purpose.

Take time every morning to sit down, relax, and focus on your day. This can be a time of meditation, prayer, or just calm reflection.

2. Be Authentic

Nobody likes a copycat. Too many entrepreneurs try to emulate what their mentors or heroes have done to become successful, and it just doesn’t work. When it comes to your attitude, appearance, style, and behavior, what matters most is that you are authentically you.

Being yourself is the best way to attract your ideal clients and eliminate sections of the market that aren’t right for your services. Embrace who you are, play to your strengths, and you will attract a tribe that loves the real you.

3. Remember Your Why

Why did you choose to start your business? If the only answer that you can think of is because you wanted to make money, then you’re starting off on the wrong foot.

You were meant to do more than just pay bills and die. Success and fulfillment are about more than just making money. So why do you do what you do?

Do you want to change the lives of the clients you work with?

Is it because you want to give your family a better life?

Do you jump out of bed every morning because you just really love your job?

Your “Why” is the core purpose behind everything that you do, and it is the driving force that motivates your actions and your attitude. Take time on a regular basis to stop and remind yourself what that purpose is. Write it down if you need to, and keep it somewhere you can look at it often. Speak it out loud to yourself in the mirror.

This might seem cheesy to you now, but it can be a deciding factor in whether you succeed or fail. Every entrepreneur goes through a roller coaster of peaks and valleys, and navigating the low points will be a lot easier if you remember why you’re there.

4. Give Yourself Time To Think

Don’t let yourself get overloaded with menial tasks. Taking time for introspection is just as important as crossing the next task off of your to-do list. If you find that you simply don’t have enough time to think about the direction your business is going or come up with new ideas, it might be time for you to hire an assistant. Whether you hire someone in-house or get yourself a VA, they can help you offload lower level tasks and clear your plate so that you can have time for the things that require your personal attention.

5. Don’t Make Decisions When You’re Emotional

It’s extremely important that you make upper-level decisions with a clear head. If you’re upset, anxious, or even excited, you could make a decision based solely on that emotion that could change your entire life. If you’re not in the right emotional state to make important decisions logically, you owe it to yourself and to your business to table that decision for another day.

6. Keep Your Desk (And Your Head) Clutter-Free

Your primary workspace might be a private office, the spare corner in your laundry room, or the comfiest chair at your local Starbucks. No matter where you work, you need to keep your office area free of distractions.

Make sure that the space around you is populated only by things that you need for work. Cluttered papers, stacked books, and cute figurines are tempting companions, but they won’t do you any favors when it comes to productivity. The inside of your computer should mirror this mindset, and you should only have software and files that are necessary on any device that you use for work.

The fewer distractions you have around you, the easier it will be to think clearly and stay focused on what’s in front of you.

7. Don’t Get Buried In Email

Email is perhaps the greatest invention of our time. There are many entrepreneurs, including myself, who simply wouldn’t be able to do their jobs without it. However, email can also be a devilish thing that steals your attention and leads you down a rabbit hole full of bright, shiny objects.

You can avoid this temptation by keeping your inbox organized and only keeping priority emails in your main folder. These are the emails that you need to answer immediately or by the end of the day. Don’t sign up for an email list that you aren’t actively going to read, and if you find yourself getting pulled into an email series that isn’t providing you value that will advance your business, don’t be afraid to unsubscribe.

8. Don’t Be A Hermit

For many entrepreneurs, the natural state of affairs causes us to sit for hours glued to a computer screen and slowly pecking away at task after task. It’s important to remember that life is about experiences, people, and interactions. Life is about your “why”.

Take time every week to get out of your office and away from your computer. Take a trip to attend a summit, network with local business owners, or just have lunch with an old friend. Whether your outing is business-related or not, your business will be more successful when it’s run by someone who is happy and takes time to actively be a real person.

9. Don’t Be “That Guy”

Let’s face it: if you’ve made the decision to throw off the mantle of 9 to 5 expectations and become an entrepreneur, you’re probably someone who feels like you can do anything you put your mind to. This mindset is part of what makes entrepreneurs tick, and it’s also part of what makes us successful.

Unfortunately, this makes most of us terrible at asking for help. Whether you’re stuck on something and need advice from someone who has already been there or you’re just stressed out and need someone to talk to, it sometimes feels like a failure to admit that you’re not a superhero.

But if you’re not willing to ask for help, you can’t grow. So don’t be the guy who goes it alone and drives himself batty with a problem he just can’t solve. Don’t be the girl who works herself sick because there is too much on her plate. If you reach out and ask for help, you may be surprised how many people are happy to step up.

10. Get Plenty Of Rest

It’s true that there is a magical subsection of the population, known as the sleepless elite, who can easily function on 4 hours of sleep or less each day. Unfortunately, they only make up about 2 percent of the total population.

The sad truth is it’s much more likely that you, like almost everyone else, need to get plenty of sleep if you’re going to function at your best. It’s tragic, I know. If you’re like me, you’d much rather be able to spend those 8 hours nailing out another day’s work.

Please, don’t do it. I have tested this theory on your behalf. It’s a bad idea.

Sleep deprivation can cause serious impairments in cognitive ability, and studies have proven that lack of sleep can affect you in much the same way as being drunk. Your decision-making skills suffer, productivity drops, and the overall quality of your work takes a major nosedive.

Go to bed early and give yourself plenty of time to get at least 8 full hours of uninterrupted sleep. Wake up early and face the next day refreshed and ready to tackle anything that comes your way.

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Mindfully Upset

No, the title of this article is not a mistake. It is possible to feel upset – or a range of other emotions – and yet remain mindful, just the same. The working world can sometimes leave us feeling unhappy, defensive, blue, or otherwise in low spirits. We don’t have to automatically discount those emotions, nor do we have to pretend that we don’t feel the way we do.

It is said that our true potential is best demonstrated by what we do when we are required to handle difficult situations or people. When feeling upset, we might do any number of perfectly understandable things. We may lash out…choose to give up…or react with anger.

There is an alternative. It’s possible to be mindful while dealing with unwanted emotions. Here are the steps involved:

1. We can start by acknowledging that we feel bad. We have a tendency not to want to feel unpleasant emotions. We are taught that “big boys and girls don’t cry”, or that we should just “suck it up, buttercup”. While we do have to sometimes carry on in the face of whatever is going on, there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that we are feeling something we don’t want to feel.

2. Next, name that feeling. Is it sadness, confusion, disappointment, frustration…? This might be harder to do than it seems. After years of pushing our emotions aside, as we are taught to do, we may have become somewhat disengaged with them. Take a minute or two to wait this out. Sit with the slight discomfort of actually FEELING something, in order to name it.

3. Once we name it, we can be mindful about our emotion. We can silently repeat a mantra of “I am feeling (blank).” This mantra isn’t a judgment. It’s just a statement of fact. It’s a deliberate way to accept the emotion, without reacting in a rash way, or compounding negative feelings with self-blame.

4. After naming the emotion, we can check in with the body, to see where we can physically sense it, and exactly what it feels like. Does this feeling create a heaviness, a burning sensation, a tension, or something else? We can listen to the interior monologue of what the emotion is telling us.

5. As time permits, we can spend a little while sitting in silence, and waiting to hear what the emotion has to say. This can often yield a surprising bit of information. A quietly mindful approach to emotions and feelings can provide us with a successful tool to receive whatever message needs to be transmitted.
It may also be that, given a few moments for mindful reflection, we can recognize the baseline reasons why we have this feeling. It may be other than what we have initially thought was the cause.

6. Once we’ve finished being mindful of the emotion, we can take several deep breaths. When possible, we can journal anything that arises from this mindfulness exercise.
These steps don’t need to take too long to fit into your workday, and can be immensely helpful in terms of self- awareness, regulating your reactions, and staying present. All of these skills can make us better co-workers, managers, or leaders.

Don’t Be A Freelancer

Here’s my list of the top three most disposable things in an office.

1) Last week’s leftovers in the fridge
2) Loose staples
3) Freelancers

It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, designer, or programmer. You’re there because you’re cheaper than a full time employee. You’re also easily replaceable by some other freelancer.

The upshot of it is, because you are completely dispensable, it’s easy to get bullied into accepting less than you think you’re worth.

Now, let’s flip it around, because here is my list of three most indispensable things in a business.

1) Today’s lunch
2) Great team
3) Trusted partners/vendors

That’s right. When businesses find the right partners and vendors, it allows them to focus on growing their business, while the vendors and partners play a critical supporting role.

So here comes the million dollar question. What’s the difference between a freelancer and a trusted partner?

What Are You?

A few weeks ago I ran a completely unscientific survey asking people in my Freelance Writers Facebook group if they considered themselves freelancers or B2B service providers. For those who responded, there were follow-up questions about rates and income.

By and large, this is a group that creates marketing content for business clients. They aren’t writing magazine articles for Atlantic Monthly, or proofreading academic papers for individuals.

I expected that people who viewed themselves as B2B service providers would have higher hourly rates and incomes than freelancers. What I didn’t expect was the of the 23 people who responded, only 2 (plus me) viewed themselves as service providers. 92% of my respondents viewed themselves as freelancers.

Clearly, there wasn’t enough data to compare income levels between the two groups, but it was telling that so many freelancers never really stopped to consider the job they do within the business ecosystem.

Simply put, they are a business, even if they are a one-man show. Their clients are businesses. They provide a writing service. By definition, they are business-to-business service providers. But they’ve told themselves they are freelancers.

Becoming a B2B Service Provider

So how do you break out of the freelancer mold, and become the valued service provider your clients can’t live without? Here are a few steps to get you started.

Change Your Mindset – The biggest thing holding you back is probably the idea that you are a freelancer. Until you understand and internalize that you are providing valuable services to your customers, your customers won’t understand it either.

Change Your View of the Project – Stop looking at freelance projects as standalone pieces. Find out where the project stands in your client’s scope of work, and see how you can expand into larger areas of the project. This might mean contributing something outside the scope of your engagement, but if you do it, you’ll find your client starts to look at you differently. And you could find yourself brought into other areas of the project.

Market Yourself Like a Company – This doesn’t mean go beyond your budget, but it does mean stop using generic URLs like www.wordpress.com/I-write-for-you, and start promoting yourself as a business. Invest in a URL, website, and logo. Write quality blogs, and create infographics or brochures (or go to Fiver and hire someone to do it for you) for your marketing efforts.