Practical ways to get over the hump
Excerpted from the groundbreaking white-paper, Stagnant To Successful, from Oak Street Funding
reprinted with permission
If you’ve hit the wall…
… take solace in theat you are not alone. Every agency owner reaches a point at which work becomes extremely frustrating. Often, that’s because the agency hits a particular level of
business and can’t seem to move any farther. At other times, the daily challenge of growing a business appears to have become a boring daily grind.
Owners usually brush those feelings aside and push ahead. But at times, their frustration and boredom brings the business to a halt. That’s dangerous, because if your business isn’t moving forward, it’s falling behind. Your competitors aren’t standing still, and your lack of activity is giving them an opportunity to carve away at business that should be (or already is) yours.
If that alone isn’t a cause for concern, think about your personal health. Recent medical research has determined that burnout increases the risk for heart attacks, heart disease, stroke, and
sudden cardiac death as much as familiar risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, and high BMI. It also heightens your risk for type II diabetes and sleep disorders.1
The doctors at the Mayo Clinic note that burnout can also lead to depression, anxiety,
substance abuse, and a greater vulnerability to illness in general.2
Get away from it
While no two agency owners are exactly the same, it’s a safe bet that nearly all of them are workaholics to some degree. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because keeping a business viable requires drive and determination. One of the best ways to recharge your batteries and keep burnout at bay is to spend time away from the agency by taking a vacation. Doing so regularly may be critical for your health. Consider a pair of recent medical studies. In one, doctors followed 13,000 middle-aged men who had some risk factors for heart disease.
Those who failed to take vacations for five years were 30 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took a week or more off every year. Even men who missed just one year’s annual vacation saw an increase in the risk of a heart attack. Another study of 1,500 women found that those who vacationed at least twice annually were less tense and depressed than women who did so less often. Plus, women who took fewer vacations reported markedly lower levels of marital happiness.3
Another important point about taking time off: the benefits extend beyond the actual days away from work. The process of planning builds excitement and anticipation that can make it easier
to tackle the daily grind. “You can feel the effects up to eight weeks prior to your trip,” notes Dr. Mark Smith, adding, “And when you’re done with that retreat, start planning the next one. Simply having something to look forward to can be rewarding.”4
Even short breaks can help you clear your head and restore your energy. Include a half-hour walk or a workout in your daily schedule, and you’ll also build up your physical strength. Commit to taking one afternoon off each week to do something you enjoy, whether that’s golfing, fishing, seeing a movie, or taking part in community activities. You can even use your time off to do good
things, such as volunteering at a local school or food pantry.
Just be sure that you include your stress relief in your schedule and protect that time. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to say “I need to get that report done, so I’ll skip today’s workout.”
Entrepreneur Annie Wang recommends a 90/10 rule, in which you promise yourself that you’ll spend 10 percent of your workweek on something other than your business, whether that’s a hobby, a project, or even coming up with ideas for another business. She notes that shifting your thinking elsewhere can reactivate parts of your brain that you’ve been ignoring, and may even get you to look at your business in new ways. 5
Take an honest look
If that sense of frustration is resulting from being unhappy with your agency’s present situation or the direction in which it’s headed, it may be time to stop and take a candid look at where
you’re at and how you got there. Most business owners think of a business plan as a document
that’s appropriate only when starting a business. Actually, the thinking that goes into developing a business plan for a startup is even more important for a going concern. That’s because developing a business plan makes you examine every aspect of your business. To do that effectively, you have to be able to detach your emotions from the process and remember that you’re examining your agency, not yourself. You also have to be completely honest
with yourself. Insurance agents and others involved in sales have a tendency to force themselves to emphasize the positive aspects of situations, but this process won’t work unless you’re honest and objective. 6
That’s why you may benefit by bringing outside advisors into your review. They may spot things that aren’t readily apparent from your point of view, and they can ask the tough questions that will help you get to the root of the problem. Those advisors include professionals like your accountant and your attorney. Another great source of help is an organization known as SCORE, or the Service Corps of Retired Executives. They have representatives in most areas who will sit down with business owners and help them take a fresh look at their companies. SCORE’s website (score.org) also has a variety of helpful templates and tools.
One simple exercise is to look back to the last time you really felt that you were enjoying your work. What changes took you from that to your present situation? It may be that your carrier’s
expectations changed, that you faced aggressive new competition, or that your community’s economic health has declined. If you can identify the factors that have affected your attitude, you’ll be better able to choose the strategies that can turn things around. 7