Whether it’s managing stress or inspiring a team, these tips to stay positive may help you grow your business through an unpredictable recovery.

Being a small business owner can come with higher-than-average levels of stress. That was true even before the COVID-19 crisis. Navigating your business through that, as well as the ongoing uncertainty of the recovery, can require both skill and practice. Not only do you need to stay motivated for yourself, you may need to act as a leader for customers, employees, and even the community.

Here are three ways you can approach staying positive when things are challenging.

Stay on top of stress

Stress is normal when you’re running a business. But when stress gets out of control, it can affect your performance and impact your business. That, in turn, can cause more stress.

Stay positive by breaking this kind of stress loop. Start by identifying that you’re stressed. You may have a shorter temper, change in appetite, or difficulty sleeping.


Action tip: Write a list of the behaviors you exhibit when stressed or angry. If you can recognize the signs early, you may be able to combat stress and improve your mood before your business is affected.


If you notice one of those signs, try to pinpoint the root cause, getting as specific as possible. Uncovering the true cause of stress can help you manage it more productively.

You may also want to make a list of activities that help you manage stress. (You can even separate it by category, like “things you can do in 10 minutes” and “long-term approaches to stress.”) Having a go-to list at the ready can help you tackle stress when you may not be thinking as clearly.


Action tip: Ask your employees to make similar lists about their stress signals and how they manage stress. See if you can make positivity a group effort — you may be able to share relaxation ideas or help one another recognize the warning signs.


Stay on top of unique challenges

Entrepreneurs often experience higher levels of stress even in “normal” times, and business owners have a notoriously hard time balancing running a business with their personal lives.

This means the constant multiple stressors of a pandemic and an unpredictable recovery may have had a unique impact on business owners. In addition to business owners having to wear multiple hats at work and find work-life balance, now they have to confront a changing “game,” so to speak. Employees are rethinking the way they want to work, and customers may have shifting expectations about service, engagement, and their relationship to businesses.

Look at how your customers or employees may be changing. For instance, if your customers are feeling anxious about the health of their families, they may have shorter tempers. You may need to do more on the customer-service front and train your employees on how to handle stressed customers.

Even though the first phase of the pandemic seems to be behind us, there are likely to be unique and unexpected challenges for quite some time. In order to encourage positivity among your employees and, in turn, your customers, consider policies that encourage employees to take time off and focus on their mental health. You might encourage employees to take a day, or even a few hours, off for a mental health break. These resets can make it easier for them to gain perspective and keep a positive outlook that your customers may notice.


Action tip: Make it easier to take breaks by setting clear boundaries. For instance, you might add “I won’t be responding to emails from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.” to your email signature. Being proactive may even encourage your employees or vendors to take a few hours off, too, since they won’t be able to reach you.


Keep things in perspective

It’s one thing to feel positive in the moment. It can be harder to stay positive about your outlook for the future if you’re uncertain about what’s ahead.

How Small Business Owners View Recovery

Going into 2021, few small business owners expected a quick recovery

Graphic: Bar chart showing that few small business owners expected a full recovery until at least 2022. Only 8% expected economic recovery within a few more weeks; 11% within a few more months; 26% within the first half of 2021; 26% within the second half of 2021; and 29% beyond 2021. Source: Statista, Q4 2020.

Source: Statista, Q4 2020.

Three in 10 small business owners don’t expect a full recovery from the COVID-19 crisis until at least 2022. If you’re able to stay positive in your daily tasks, try to convert that to long-term optimism through small changes.

For example, many business owners focus on potential problems, which makes sense: Your job is to look out for roadblocks so you can steer your company past them. The downside of that can be that business owners don’t focus enough on the wins they have along the way. Start celebrating small victories, like each product or service you’re able to offer now that you couldn’t offer in 2020, for instance. Doing so can help you remember the progress you’ve made and start to feel more confident about the progress still to come.


Action tip: Keep a running list of all the positives in your business. Pay extra attention to wins on your team and dole out praise to employees, many of whom may need extra recognition to stay positive.


With all of the challenges facing business owners, staying positive may not be high on your to-do list. But doing so can make a big difference in how you navigate through challenges today and rebuild your business for the future.

Sources: U.S. Small Business Administration, JAMA Network Open, Society for Human Resource Management, Statista, The Balance Small Business


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