Owning your own startup can be fun at first. You have big dreams of things you want to accomplish after the first six months, the first year, and the first few years. Then you invest your capital, time, and energy to build a team and set up an operational structure that is supposed to deliver these results.
But time and unexpected events (such as a pandemic, the loss of a loved one, or a government policy) stop you in your tracks. Suddenly it feels as if all you had were pipe dreams and that your dreams will never come to pass; you are weary and tempted to give up. This article will share ways to boost your productivity – even when your morale is low – and revive your business once again.
1. First, figure out why you’ve lost your morale
Sometimes you need to go backward before you move forward. It’s like a runner digging his foot in the ground before launching forward. You have to ask yourself what went wrong, which caused the fire to die. Sometimes it’s obvious – a tragedy like the loss of a loved one, a change in government policy or market forces, or even technology – and other times it’s not – like operational inefficiencies and spending choices. Something shuts off your passion and you need to discover what it is.
If it’s not easily identifiable, you might need some time off to evaluate how you started and at what point things began to decline. Start by highlighting all the things that make you unhappy about your business, e.g. declining customer retention or visitor retention on your website, and trace the events that led to it. It might be beneficial to also identify what you did right and juxtapose that with the current state of things. What are you doing differently or what have you stopped doing? Oftentimes, the key to moving forward is looking backward.
2. Take a break from everything
It’s important to distance yourself from the business for a while, just to clear your head and get some rest. The body needs adequate rest, otherwise, it will not function the way it should. You just might be experiencing extreme exhaustion and need a change of scenery or a healthy distraction.
Burnouts happen to the best of us; we get overwhelmed by piles of unfinished business and endless deadlines. The effects of burnout include:
- Clouded thinking
- Errors in work delivery
- Body pains and aches
It’s easy to see how this can affect your productivity. The most dangerous result of burnout is the impact on your mental health. Your health is directly related to your ability to reach for new things and deliver bigger results. So, take a break and let your body get the rest it needs, so you can strategize and return to your startup with renewed energy and passion.
3. Change your circle
We’re as valuable/good/happy/productive as the people we surround ourselves with. It’s hard to rise above constant criticism and cynicism. If you find that your circle is full of naysayers who never have anything good to say about you or your business, you need to find new acquaintances.
Your soul needs to hear positive things or constructive criticism; negative feedback chips away at your confidence and passion for your venture until you no longer want to do it anymore. Find a good support system that motivates you to keep going, vets your plans (so you don’t make unnecessary mistakes), and shares resources that you and your startup can find useful.
4. Manage your workload effectively
One of the characteristics of a startup is the overwhelming amount of work that needs to be done to get the company off the ground, and often, founders are forced to take on several roles to get things done. The downside to this is that if you take on more than you can handle, it will lead to burnout and an acute lack of focus that can leave you harried and depressed.
If you find that your morale is low, check your workload and delegate the things you can. If it means hiring one more person, then do it. Overworking yourself will dampen your morale and affect your productivity; you need a clear mind to take on the challenges of building a startup.
I know that a major hindrance to delegating some of your work is the cost of hiring someone, but have you considered non-traditional ways of hiring? With more people choosing remote work, you can proactively recruit the best talent on freelancing platforms for a moderate fee. Even if this is barely affordable at the start, you can recoup the cost of hiring by increasing your productivity in the long run.
5. Get the right tools
One of the reasons why people overwork themselves is because they don’t have the right tools. Do you have the right software tools to improve your operations? These software tools simplify a range of business activities, including invoicing and bookkeeping, communication, collaboration, presentation, branding, file management, writing, project planning, recruitment, website analytics tools, etc. Common examples are Wave, Brosix, Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Office, Google Workspace (formerly known as G Suite), Canva, Visme, Grammarly, Sourcehub etc.
There’s a tool for almost anything you need to do - you can even create your unique logo with a logo maker. Additionally, many of these tools come with a free plan that you can either test or use to coordinate a small team.
6. Cut down cost
A lot of startups make the mistake of spending money on things they don’t need. I assume that this is because they are carried away by the euphoria of a new beginning that they neglect to evaluate early spending choices. These choices are usually recurring expenditure like salaries for unnecessary staff, liabilities like equipment which are unneeded at an early stage, annual fees like rent (for a startup that can function remotely), and even investments that are ill-timed (because the startup lacks the capacity to handle the responsibility).
When the morale of a startup owner is low, often the problem is related to money. Either they can’t pay salaries, or they keep losing business for one reason or another and just can’t seem to break even. If this is your situation, consider evaluating your startup’s cash flow. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is everyone on staff essential; do you have the right technical support to cut down billable man-hours?
- Do we need this much equipment?
- Can we operate virtually?
- Are our operational costs wasteful? For instance, can you really afford to provide daily lunches to your staff, perks, and high salaries, buy vehicles for top staff, or rent an office space in a busy spot of town?
If evaluating your books isn’t something you can effectively do yourself, consider hiring a professional to do so, so that you can identify loopholes and fix them promptly.
7. Eliminate distractions and narrow your focus
Distractions can come disguised as work, work that you think is essential to your startup but really isn’t. Take, for instance, a fashion designer who spends more time developing content for a social media strategy and little time making clothes. Content development is mentally excruciating, so it’s easy to predict that this fashion designer will be exhausted by the amount of time spent doing “work” while neglecting the real work that will bring revenue to the business. This content development can be contracted to a social media manager for a limited period, while quality time is spent designing and making the clothes that will be sold.
In the same way that this fashion designer is distracted, some startup owners are spending time doing work that is not as important as the real business the startup was set up to do. From time to time, startup owners need to confirm that they are aligning with the focus of the business and not getting exhausted by distractions.
Here are some ways to eliminate distractions and maintain your productivity:
- Draw up a vision and set short- and long-term business goals.
- Regularly evaluate your performance; identify what’s working and what’s not (and find out why).
- Get an accountability partner who can keep tabs on your progress.
- Reward yourself for milestones reached. This will teach you to anticipate success and sharpen your focus.
- Develop your ability to recognize distractions and opportunities by weighing them against your vision and goals.
8. Connect yourself to valuable industry communities and professionals
As I said earlier, several variables can affect the growth of your startup and dampen your morale. Some of these variables can suddenly manifest, and some can be predicted, for example, a recession due to the coronavirus. But speaking to the right people can help you to remain one step ahead and counteract negative occurrences.
First, let me share what you can do individually. As much as it lies within your power, make it a point of duty to keep tabs on external factors that can affect your startup. You need to be proactive and think several steps ahead; imagine several scenarios in which these variables can affect your business and what you can do to prevent it. Don’t assume that you’re safe from factors that can suddenly halt your progress.
Here are a few ways to ensure that you are not caught unawares:
- Identify external factors that are peculiar to your business and the ways they can impact positively or negatively on your startup.
- Follow the news; analyze government policies and recognize their direct (or indirect) impact on your revenue or your business’ viability.
- Constantly develop yourself; take courses in any related field to understand current trends and new ways of conducting your kind of business.
That being said, it can be difficult to know or analyze certain events because you’ve not gathered adequate experience. So, connect yourself to people and groups with the latest information on your industry; inside information usually helps in strategizing so that your startup is not caught unawares by change. Find groups of like-minded people on or offline and ensure that you take good advantage of the network; ask questions, seek guidance from more advanced professionals, and be open-minded to industry-related discussions. A saying goes that no man is an island – this is especially true in the startup ecosystem.
9. Evaluate your team’s productivity
Is your team aware of your vision and are they pulling their weight to deliver on results? Do they have the necessary skills, experience, and qualifications to deliver the goals you’re working towards? The fulfillment of your dreams for your startup is in the hands of your team members and their ability to pursue solutions that can deliver the expected outcomes.
Therefore, it is imperative that you regularly measure their deliverables to judge their commensurateness with previously outlined expectations. If your team members interact directly with customers, you should get feedback from customers to discover if the current state of the business is not linked to some inefficiency on your team members’ part.
10. Evaluate the state of the business
Could it be that you are bored with the business because you’ve outgrown the level you’re currently on? A friend of mine discovered, upon deep introspection, that she had outgrown a major part of her recycling business. She had been previously making home décor out of discarded tires and had achieved some level of success with it. But suddenly, she was unenthusiastic about the job and things got so bad that customers started returning her products because of the poor quality.
While we were discussing one afternoon, she said to me, “I’m just tired of this business, I wish I could make things out of something else.” Apparently, she no longer found joy in making these decorations out of tires and felt stuck in a business for which she had lost interest. You see, her creativity was demanding that she move on to another innovation.
I convinced her to go on a retreat to discover what other things she would like to do. She returned with a truckload of ideas on new materials she could use to make new products. After implementing these ideas, the business never remained the same again.
My friend was honest enough to admit that a part of the business wasn’t working. She’s since remained in the business of recycling and designing, but she now knows that the business must keep evolving for it to remain viable. Maybe you need to check your marketing strategy or customer service. Perhaps your products need better quality assurance, or you need to rebrand your startup. Whatever the case may be, you will only discover the problem if you hold a magnifying glass to it and remain truthful to yourself.
On a final note
Don’t give up on that business yet, no matter how demoralized you feel. You can find ways around your peculiar situation and revive your startup.