Burned-out business owners

by Mark Zweig ([email protected]) 1,314 views 

I was talking the other day with a friend of mine who owns a business in Northwest Arkansas.

He has been luckier than most through this thing and has managed to stay in business for 28 years. He said to me, “Yesterday, I had a meeting with potentially one of the biggest and best clients I might ever get in my business, and I honestly struggled with my attitude under the surface.”

As someone who was highly motivated and successful enough to build a business that employs a number of people and has lasted as long as it has, he’s burned out.

As we start to poke our heads out of our holes to get this economy restarted, it’s coming to my attention that a number of business owners who shut down because of COVID-19 aren’t coming back. They are burned out and simply going to shut it all down for good.

Why do people who own their own businesses — the “American Dream” for so many — get burned out?

  1. They went into the wrong business in the first place. They inherited their business and never had a passion for it. Or they went into it because they thought it would be lucrative. Or, the requirements of the business no longer suit their lifestyle. In any case, they eventually lose their enthusiasm for it and get burnt out.
  2. They had a failure of some sort or other setback (like COVID-19). This is so common. Most of us have something bad happen to us or our businesses along the way, and sometimes it’s devastating. Even when we survive it, we get shaken by it and don’t want to go through it again. So, we stop doing what we should be doing to keep our businesses growing and instead retrench and pull back.
  3. They figured out their work was impacting their family life and personal relationships. I’ve done this several times in my life. As entrepreneurs, we often overcommit at the expense of our families. Not to mention being glued to a phone. It all leads to burnout.
  4. They get worn down by the people problems in their business. I was talking with a business owner friend of mine the other day. He’s very successful and has been for many years. But instead of worrying about how he can meet his seven-figure payroll in the midst of the virus-induced meltdown of his business, he’s preoccupied with two good people in one of his many ventures who don’t get along. This is so common, and it leads to burnout.
  5. They come to an awareness that acquiring more money and stuff is not all that gratifying. You only need a house that is so large, you can only drive one car at a time, and you can only go on so many vacations. Sometimes people feel trapped by all their stuff because it costs so much and takes so much of their time to maintain. This happens to a lot of successful business owners at some point in their lives, and they burn out on their business because just making more money isn’t enough.
  6. They decide they want to do something more meaningful. As you get older, just because you have a passion for something and are successful at doing it may not be satisfying. Other needs to help people, do something really good or different, or the desire to create a different kind of legacy beyond business success become more motivational. Of course, ultimately the business usually suffers from a lack of attention in these cases as the owner burns out on it.

Mark Zweig is the founder of two Fayetteville-based Inc. 500/5000 companies. He is also an executive in-residence teaching entrepreneurship in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. The opinions expressed are those of the author.