4 Tips To Help Solopreneurs And Freelancers Survive Tax Time

stressed business woman with hand on head looking down on desk

Another tax season wrapped up for Dawn Mentzer Freelance Writing, LLC.

 

[Sighs with relief.]

 

Over my past seven years as a self-employed freelancer, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. I’ve learned some lessons—some painless, others excruciating.

 

I’ve listed them here, in hopes they might help you and other solopreneurs avoid stress (and distress) through your tax preparation process.

 

Four Tax Time Survival Tips For Freelancers and Solopreneurs

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Unless you are an accountant or professional tax advisor, I recommend getting help. Reputable professional tax preparers/advisors are on top of the latest changes and rules. They know what business expenses are deductible and whether you’ve categorized them appropriately. Having someone with that knowledge to guide you and raise red flags on bookkeeping that’s amiss can potentially save you from falling into hot water with the IRS and state. And recognize that bigger doesn’t mean better. I used a larger accounting/tax preparation firm, but after a few years of not getting timely responses to questions and being treated like just a number, I switched to a solopreneur tax adviser/preparer. He has been far more thorough and attentive—and less expensive.

 

  1. It pays to keep your act together all year long.

The more organized you are year-round, the more painless the tax return filing process will be. Track your income and expenses when they occur rather than allowing deposit slips and receipts to pile up. For my business, I use QuickBooks online, which I’ve found to have intuitive software with the intelligence to automatically categorize expenses correctly through ‘remembering’ what I’ve entered in the past. Regardless of what system or software you use, you need to put forth effort to make sure you haven’t missed anything that will impact your taxes. Good luck to you if you ignore that responsibility until tax time is upon you!

 

  1. Yours and your clients’ records might not match.

It happens. For example, I discovered a client mistakenly included a payment they made to another vendor in the amount on my 1099. I also had a client who included payments made in the new tax year on the 1099 for the tax year prior. To make incidents like these less of a hassle, consider confirming 1099 amounts with your clients before they send their forms to you. I’ve discovered it’s far easier to verify their records match yours in advance of when they or their accountants prepare and submit their forms. By doing so, if you find discrepancies, you and your clients can investigate and correct them right away. If errors are in your clients’ records, you’ll save them the trouble of issuing a corrected 1099. If the errors are in your records, you’ll be able to make the correction and ensure you’re including accurate income amounts on your tax return.

 

  1. What you don’t know could hurt you.

Twice—that’s right, twice—in my seven years of self-employment, I underestimated my revenue and I failed to pay enough tax. As a result, I had to write a substantive check to Uncle Sam upon filing my taxes for those years. That hurt—especially because I had to also cut a check for my quarterly estimated tax payments by April 15. Double whammy! My suggestion to you is to watch your net income closely and adjust your quarterly estimated tax payments if needed so you’re not stuck owing a bundle at tax filing time. In my case, I’ve found checking in with my tax advisor mid-year has helped. I send my profit and loss statement and other info as requested to him at least once during the tax year, so he can let me know if I should increase or decrease my quarterly payments.

 

Keep Calm: And Make Tax Time Less Taxing

Paying taxes is not the most glamorous part of having your own business, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be a massively difficult ordeal. I hope considering these lessons learned along with getting the help of a qualified tax advisor will help you minimize some of the stress that accompanies tax time.

 

Your turn! What tips can you share with other small business owners to help them make tax time less tumultuous?

What if? “La La Land”-inspired Food For Thought For Small Business Owners

If you wander back in time through my posts on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll find evidence I fell in love with the movie “La La Land.”

I’m often skeptical when a film gets obscene amounts of accolades, but this one deserves every single ounce of the kudos heaped Screen shot of Dawn Mentzer's Facebook post about movie La La Landupon it.

It’s a story of chasing dreams, the sting of reality, love found, hopes dashed, and fresh starts.

It’s also a story of “what ifs.” It’s a story of looking back and wondering how life and career would be different if we had done just one thing differently.

We can all relate to that, can’t we? Personally and professionally we wonder what our lives would be like if we had made other choices.

What if I had said that more tactfully?

What if I hadn’t lost my temper?

What if I had gone to that networking event?

What if I had quoted a different rate for that project?

What if I had said “no”?

What if I had said “yes”?

What if I had taken my time?

What if I had been more careful?

What if I hadn’t jumped to conclusions?

What if I had told the truth?

What if I hadn’t been so stubborn?

What if I had spoken my mind?

What if I had tried to be more understanding?

What if I had tried harder?

What if I had been more caring?

What if I hadn’t given up?

Every decision we make, every action we take—no matter how seemingly insignificant—affects how the future will progress. Turning down a coffee meeting, posting a contradictory comment on someone’s social media post, deleting an email before reading it…you never know when something you decide to do—or not do—will make or break opportunities and shape how your relationships develop.

What if we all put a little more thought into the little decisions we make every day?

Your turn: What “what ifs” make you wonder how things might be different today if you had made some other choices yesterday?

What To Do When You’re Not In The “Write” Mind

It’s not easy to admit, but I confess that I’ve been in a bit of a mental and motivational slump where my blog is concerned. Oh, Pen with question marks implying writer's blockI’ve been writing plenty. Just not here.

 

In the past month, my work for clients included…

 

  • 16 blog posts
  • Copy for an email campaign
  • Content for a print newsletter
  • Project managing and editing a magazine for a local medical society
  • Brainstorming and writing abstracts for 10 posts of a “disruptive” nature
  • Content for two websites
  • Two press releases
  • Two industry editorials
  • A corporate retirement announcement
  • Two case studies
  • And a few other odds and ends to boot.

 

I haven’t been sitting around twiddling my thumbs or spending hours meandering around town playing Pokémon Go. Still, I’ve beat myself up about not following through with tending to my responsibilities here.

 

This post isn’t intended to show you how busy I’ve been, but rather to demonstrate that sometimes something’s gotta give. Occasionally, you might find you’re not in the “write” mind or you have put forth so much effort elsewhere that you have nothing left to give to your blog. Feeling guilty or less of a professional because of it won’t change the situation.

 

The moral of the story: Not having the drive and determination to write for your blog doesn’t make you a slacker.

 

Fortunately, my business hasn’t seemed to suffer as a result of my silence in this space, but if you count on your company blog to draw in traffic and produce leads the same might not be true for you.

 

So, what can you do if you’re overwhelmed with your other business obligations and undermotivated to write for your blog?

 

A few ideas:

 

  • Schedule dedicated time for the task. Just knowing you’ve planned for it and aren’t cutting into the time you should be doing something else might help you put your mind to it.

 

  • Pick a topic you’re pumped up about. When you’re enthused about the subject matter, it’s far more enjoyable to write about it.

 

  • Break up the work. Instead of sitting down for hours to write a post, do it in three shorter sessions: One for research and jotting down rough ideas; a second for organizing those ideas and writing a draft; and a third for editing and fine tuning.

 

  • Hire someone to write for you. If you know you absolutely won’t get to it or if you just plain aren’t “feeling it,” don’t force it. Your time will be better spent on other work that’s critical to your business success and you’ll have the posts you need to keep your marketing efforts on track.

 

The next time you find yourself in the midst of a blog writing slump, find some comfort knowing you’re not alone. It happens to all of us—and you have ways around it.

 

Your turn: What frustrates you most about writing slumps? How do you overcome them?

 

The Nitty Gritty Of Non-Disclosure Agreements For Your Small Business

I’ve been asked to sign—and have asked others to sign—non-disclosure agreements in the course of doing business with others. Non-Disclosure Agreement GraphicBut are they really necessary or simply a formality? Nellie Akalp, who is a small business expert and CEO of CorpNet (an online legal document filing service), recently wrote a post that covers why NDAs are important.

 

As solopreneurs and small business owners, it helps to know what legal documents might be in our best interest to secure when working with individuals and other companies. So, I asked Nellie if she’d share more about NDAs with my readers. I believe this Q&A can help answer some of the questions you might have on the topic.

 

  1. What is the purpose of a non-disclosure agreement? How can it protect your business?

 

An NDA, or non-disclosure agreement, is a contract that binds someone to keep a secret. In the course of running your business, you may give contractors, vendors, or other business partners access to “behind the scenes” information that you’d prefer to keep private. An NDA creates a confidential relationship to prevent people from revealing any of that private information.

 

  1. What circumstances dictate when a non-disclosure agreement is necessary?

 

This is a really important question, because small businesses often think that they don’t have any kind of “confidential” information. You may not be building rocket ships or safeguarding the recipe for Diet Coke, but you still have sensitive information that should stay in house. Examples are client information, your annual marketing strategy, financial data, or an analysis about your competitors. Let’s say you hire a contractor to help you with some client work in the background. You might not want them to contact your clients directly and disclose their role.

 

  1. Who should you ask to sign your non-disclosure agreement? (i.e. vendors, project partners, etc.)

 

Anyone who might have access to sensitive information. Think about vendors, contractors, freelancers, and business partners. An NDA is such a standard procedure in business operations these days; most people won’t think twice if you ask them to sign one.

 

  1. Are there any particular types of businesses that need a non-disclosure agreement more than others?

 

Certainly. Tech companies or anyone who manufactures a product will have very specific needs to keep their manufacturing process secret. Or, if you keep any confidential information about your customers and clients, you’ll need to have a solid privacy policy. But, as I said above, small businesses of any kind probably have some kind of sensitive information that should be protected.

 

  1. At what point during your business relationship should you ask for your non-disclosure agreement to be signed?

 

Great question! In most cases, the best time to introduce the NDA and have it signed is at the point of hiring the contractor or signing the vendor/contractor agreement. In some cases, you may need to reveal company information during the interview or exploration phase (meaning, before you decide to work with someone). In this case, you should have an NDA signed before giving anyone access to your information.

 

  1. What are the key elements every non-disclosure agreement should include?

 

A typical NDA should include the following elements. First, it should specify what kind of information should be kept secret. Some people choose to keep this as broad as possible, but I think it’s a good idea to be specific about what can’t be disclosed. The reason for this is it makes sure the other party realizes what their obligations are and what information they need to keep private. In some cases, contractors or vendors may not even realize they shouldn’t talk about your new website or contact a client directly. Remember, the whole point of the NDA is to make sure your proprietary information stays private; spelling out the details will help ensure all parties are on the same page with how to handle information.

 

Other elements in an NDA should be the length of time that information should remain confidential, what happens if there’s a breach, and what method of resolution should be taken when there’s a breach (e.g. court or arbiter). You can find digital templates for NDAs online. Just search on Google for some samples; one example is Upcounsel.

 

  1. What should you do if you discover someone violates the terms and conditions of your non-disclosure agreement?

 

Hopefully, your NDA specifies how disputes or breaches should be resolved. Many small businesses opt to use arbitration rather than the court system. And, while I believe that small business owners can handle much of their legal matters on their own today, this is one situation where you should retain an attorney to assist you with recovering any damages. If the other party is found guilty of breaching the contract, they can be held responsible to pay those attorney fees (note, this is another good point to spell out in the NDA).

 

  1. Are there any other tips or advice you might share about non-disclosure agreements? 

 

An NDA is a very easy legal document to produce and ask to have signed. As I mentioned before, it has become standard practice these days so there’s very little reason not to use an NDA with each new vendor/contractor/partner relationship. With that said, it’s important to realize that an NDA is just a document; it’s not a 100% guarantee that someone won’t misuse your confidential information. The bottom line is you need to use common sense and a little caution whenever sharing potentially sensitive details with others.

 

I hope this information has helped you better understand NDAs, and I thank Nellie for sharing her expertise. Of course, this post is not meant to provide legal guidance or serve as a substitution for professional counsel. Whenever creating or signing any legal document you should consider consulting a trusted legal professional for guidance. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Nellie Akalp, CorpNet CEO

Nellie Akalp is a serial entrepreneur, small business advocate, speaker and author.  She is the founder & CEO of CorpNet.com, an online legal document filing service, where she helps entrepreneurs start, grow and maintain a business.

Four Tips To Help You Stop Running Your Small Business In Circles

As we start and grow our businesses, many of us adopt practices and take on administrative baggage that might hold us back fromFrustrated child at desk working toward our goals and vision. With the vast majority of 2016 still ahead of you, now is the time to take an honest look at your business and ask yourself, “What should I be doing differently?”

 

So, where do you begin? Here are a few simple ideas to get you started…

 

Four Ways To Save Time And Streamline Your Small Business

 

  1. Focus!

 

If you think you’re doing your business a favor by multitasking, think again. A Stanford University study revealed that multitaskers have a hard time filtering out irrelevant information, and they’re more distracted and less productive. Give up on trying to multitask—it’s a surefire way to mess up. Focus on one thing at a time to get more done, more accurately, and in less time.

  1. Use your own photos or source from a site that has clearly stated attribution information.

 

When you pull images from the Internet for your blog and social media, you may or may not easily be able to tell who they belong to, what rights you have to use them, or what attribution requirements apply. Avoid running down a rabbit hole to chase the information you need by using your own photos or finding an online source of images that has very clear use and attribution rules. When I’m not using my own photos, I use freedigitalphotos.net (they have large selection of free photos). I also regularly purchase images from Canva—at $1 per image, you can’t beat the economy of their offering.

 

  1. Don’t let paperwork pile up.

 

Even though we live in a digital world, we still have a lot of cold, hard sheets of paper floating around our offices. In fact, approximately 50 percent of the waste generated by businesses is from paper. Many of us still keep printed copies of client agreements, invoices, receipts, and other documentation.

 

If you let your paperwork pile up, the process of filing it in its proper place can become a gargantuan endeavor that requires hours of your time. The bigger the pile, the more work you’ll have on your hands because you’ll need to sort through and organize it before you can actually put it in its place. Instead, place it where it belongs within hours or just a few days of when it hit your desk to avoid a marathon cleanup session down the road.

 

  1. Give your business a raise.

 

Many of us grandfather long-standing clients into rates from years gone by. It’s a wonderful way to show your appreciation for their continued business. Unfortunately it can cost you when your services are in greater demand and you discover your time spent on lower-paying clients doesn’t allow you time to take on more lucrative work.

 

If that’s the case, you may want to consider raising your rates to existing customers. I recently did this and found that overall my clients (with one exception) were fully accepting and understanding. Just be sure to review the contracts you have in place before taking that leap. And give your clients plenty of advance notice and an explanation as to why you’re increasing your pricing.

 

Running a more efficient small business doesn’t always require making big changes. Little tweaks can mean a world of difference in how much you can accomplish and how smoothly you can tackle your day-to-day to dos.

 

What changes will you make this year to streamline your business and make it more successful?

 

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One Blogging Shortcut To Slash The Time You Spend Writing

Don Purdum of Unveil The Web recently wrote a blog post about how to write a blog post in 15 minutes or less using the Alarm ClockDragon Dictation app for IOS.

 

Naturally, it caught my attention. I’m always game for saving time if quality isn’t compromised in the process.

 

Although I personally doubted my ability to write a substantive, polished blog post in 15 minutes using any trick of the trade, I wanted to find out if dictating a post would make me more efficient.

 

I almost looked into buying Dragon Dictation on Android, but then realized I could convert voice to text using the Gmail app on my phone.

 

Yep. Gmail. The capability of dictating an email has been there for a long time, but I’ve very rarely used it. I never really found the need or desire to—until now.

 

So, I thought I’d give it a try.

 

  1. I dictated a very rough 572-word draft of this post in 8 minutes while sitting in my Jeep waiting for my daughter after her play rehearsal at school.
  2. I then copied the text from Gmail into Word.
  3. And then I edited the draft to create what you’re reading here.

 

How Did Dictating a Blog Post In Gmail Go?

All in all, it appears Gmail’s speech-to-text feature functions much like how Don described Dragon Dictation does.

It spells most words correctly—with a few exceptions here and there. And with the proper voice prompts, it adds punctuation. When instructed, it adds commas, periods, question marks, exclamation points, and colons. I found I needed to use the singular form (e.g., “comma” vs. “commas”) for the app to recognize and insert the marks; otherwise it would spell out the word. I could also start new paragraphs by saying, “new paragraph.” Semicolons and parentheses evaded me, so I’ll have to do some research to see if there’s a way to “talk” them into the text.

 

A Couple Of Gmail Speech-To-Text Quirks

  • If I paused too long between words or sentences, I’d need to tap the microphone in the app to continue recording.
  • I haven’t figured out how to command it to backspace if I want to remove what I said or correct a spelling error. But you can use the manually backspace icon next to the microphone to accomplish that.

 

A Happy Ending: Newfound Blogging Efficiency

This 522-word post required a total of 54 minutes to compose and edit. I estimate it would have taken me approximately an hour and a half without using the Gmail voice-to-text feature for the initial draft.

 

I think after getting more accustomed to dictation, the overall process will go even more efficiently. If my spoken thoughts had been more organized in this experiment, it would have taken me less editing time.

 

I’m definitely going to use this method for future blog posts. It provided a nice break from pounding out every keystroke, and it saved time.

 

Have you used a dictation app or other voice-to-text feature to begin drafts of your blog posts? I’d love to hear what has work for you and share it with my readers.

Good Karma For Your Small Business

I’ve written about the topic of strategic volunteerism on several occasions, most recently for national media personality, investment expert, and New York Helping handsTimes bestselling author Carol Roth’s Business Unplugged™ blog.

 

As a solopreneur or small business owner, choosing your volunteer activities carefully so you take something (other than feeling good about yourself) away from the experience can do wonders for your business.

 

By selecting volunteer gigs strategically, you can improve your leadership skills, connect with influencers in your community, learn new technology, and become more business savvy.

 

But Professional Development Isn’t The Only Potential “What’s In It For You?”

While giving your time and talents, you can also increase awareness of your products and services—and that can eventually help your business’s bottom line. I typically don’t mention that because directly promoting your business and seeking financial gain through volunteering is generally a no-no. But as you volunteer with others to work toward common goals for an organization, people naturally learn more about who you are and what you do—and they spread the word as you earn their trust and respect.

 

In 2015, I can attribute over $8,700 of my year-to-date writing revenue to the connections and exposure I’ve gained through past volunteerism efforts. No, that’s not enough to sustain my business. But it’s a decent chunk of change that’s helping me reach my income goals for the year.

 

What Goes Around Comes Around: Good Karma For Your Business

I don’t advise that making money be your motivation when embarking on a volunteer opportunity—but know that volunteering can present the potential for building your business revenue. The key, I believe, is in leveraging the connections you make—and staying on the radar. Keep in touch, be active and engaged on social media, and do your best to network face to face when possible.

 

Have your volunteer efforts paid off for your business? Tell me more!

 

Image courtesy of KiddaiKiddeeStudio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

The Right Way To Earn Small Business Bragging Rights

Leadership expert Steve Gutzler wrote a post that made me pause to think about the qualities of being self-employed that I tend to Bragging guyemphasize when talking with other professionals.

 

Upon reflection, I realize I too often share about my packed project schedule or the fact that there never seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. It’s as if being overworked or overwhelmed are valid markers on the path to success.

 

They’re not. There’s no glory in excessive stress and leading a professional life that seems to control us rather than the other way around. What’s the point of being your own boss if your business is the boss of  you?

 

Sure, we need to work hard to build sustainable businesses, BUT that’s not what should earn us bragging rights as solopreneurs and small business owners.

 

What should give us something to gloat about?

  • We can choose the types of projects we want to work on.
  • We can choose the clients we want to work with.
  • We don’t have to ask anyone permission to leave work early on a beautiful summer afternoon.
  • We can plan our work schedule around our kids’ ball games and play rehearsals.
  • We can enroll in any professional development course we want without someone telling us it’s not relevant to our position.

 

Having lifestyle flexibility is nothing to feel guilty about. It’s OK to step away from work and enjoy other things.

 

And you shouldn’t feel like less of a business professional because you have the ability to do that when others don’t.

 

Isn’t it time we wore THAT as our small business badge of honor?

 

Of course, having the ability to do more than work all the time means finding the discipline and resources to plan better and work more efficiently.

 

Accomplish that and you’ve really got something to brag about!

 

Your turn! What do you find yourself quickest to communicate when talking with others about your experience in self-employment?

 

Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Does [Client] Size Matter?

The bigger the client, the better?Ruler

 

That’s the mindset of some professional services solopreneurs and freelancers I’ve met.

 

And what’s not to love about landing that big-time corporate client with a limitless budget and an endless stream of exciting projects waiting for you?

 

When I first started my freelance writing business, I had my sights set on moving away from working with smaller businesses and marketing firms to getting signed on by larger companies. After all, they’re bigger so they have to be a better quality client, right?

 

Not necessarily.

 

After working full-time as a freelance writer these past five years, I’ve learned that the size of clients often has very little to do with how fulfilling—and lucrative—the working relationships will be.

 

What Really Matters

If your skills, expertise, and services are a match for a client’s needs, don’t discount them as a bad fit purely because their business is small.

 

Good clients come in all sizes. And so do the not-so-good clients.

 

Rather than using size as a way to qualify or disqualify prospective clients, consider other qualities and characteristics:

 

  • Can they/are they willing to pay you what you ask?

    You might be surprised to discover that the largest of businesses might claim to have the smallest of budgets when outsourcing work. I’ve already turned down work from a very large international company because they proposed to pay an amount so much lower than my billable rate that it was downright insulting. Conversely, I have solopreneur clients and business clients with two or three employees who give me no pushback on my pricing because they value what I do for them.

 

  • Do they pay on time?

    This might be difficult to assess until you’re actually working with a client, but you’ll want to know what to expect. I’ve heard and read horror stories from a few solopreneurs who have waited up to six months to get paid by large corporate clients. When you need that income to pay your bills—and pay yourself—waiting 180 days for a check can hurt. Smaller sized clients can be late payers, too, but there’s far less administrative red tape to get through to get paid. As you’re discussing an opportunity with a prospective client, ask them what their typical payment cycle is and identify what your payment terms are in your proposal. One of my large corporate clients shared that they pay in 45 days rather than in 30 days as my proposal requested. I was fine with that—and they have indeed paid all my invoices within 45 days.

    Tip: Some companies will shorten their accounts payable cycle if you accept payments electronically through PayPal or credit card.

 

  • Do they have their act together?

    Clients who are all over the place with their idea of what they need from you can suck up a lot of your time and energy. If they don’t have clear goals or vision of what they want to achieve, you could find yourself doing a lot of rework or completely scrapping what you’ve done to accommodate their whims. Note that good clients will often need your guidance and recommendations to fully shape their vision. As an expert in your field, you should expect that. But a client who is a “hot mess” will likely be high maintenance and give you more stress than the opportunity is worth.

 

  • How many layers of approval will your work need to go through?

    If you’re an impatient person, prepare for frustration if your work will need the seal of approval from multiple people within a company. Expect to wait longer for feedback and expect multiple change requests. This can happen with small clients, but it’s more typical of larger businesses with various departments and a corporate hierarchy in place.

 

What Really, Really Matters

Last, but not least, never underestimate your intuition. Are you feeling a connection with your prospect? Are you getting a good vibe from them?

 

This may sound superficial, but it can make or break how much you enjoy your work. AND it can affect your attitude and energy level overall. It’s tough enough to manage all aspects of your business. If you’re working with clients who are nasty to you, make unreasonable demands, or are otherwise difficult to deal with, you’ll find yourself mentally drained, unmotivated, and void of self-confidence.

 

You don’t have time for that and your business could suffer under those circumstances.

 

Size up your clients carefully. And remember, bigger may not be better.

 

Your turn! What qualities make clients a good fit for you?

 

Image courtesy of Felixco, Inc. at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What You—And Only You—Can Take Responsibility For

I just wrote a guest post about accountability for the TDS Business blog that broached the subject from the standpoint of how to be accountable for getting Finger pointing at youthings done in your business. As a self-employed small business owner, you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck, formal performance reviews, or a structured monetary award incentive to motivate you. It’s all you.

 

But besides the down and dirty business stuff, there’s another thing you need to hold yourself accountable for. YOU are the only person with ultimate responsibility for it.

 

Taking care of yourself. Physically. Mentally.

 

And your success in doing so hinges a great deal on managing stress.

 

Stress Sucks.

According to statistics provided by the American Psychological Association and American Institute of Stress (which I found on the American Institute of Stress website), 77 percent of people in the U.S. regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. And 73 percent experience psychological symptoms because of stress.

 

That’s nearly all of us. Rather astounding and unnerving, don’t you think? But it’s a little reassuring, too. If you’ve felt the effects of stress like I have, it’s sort of nice to know we’re not alone. We’re not the only ones who have dealt with the ramifications of letting stuff get to us:

 

  • Tightened neck muscles
  • Nervousness and inability to relax
  • Never a good night’s sleep
  • Headaches
  • Moodiness
  • Upset stomach and wacked out digestion
  • No energy

 

The list goes on.

 

Unfortunately, there’s not always a way to eliminate the work and home pressures that add stress to our lives. But the one thing we can do is take responsibility for prepping our bodies and minds to deal with stress more effectively.

 

The Stress-Busting Trio

I’m not a doctor, psychologist, nutritionist, or any other variety of health and wellness expert, so I’m not going to tell you what you should do. But I know what it’s like to have competing priorities and to feel the overwhelming pressure of trying to get everything done (and done “right”). So I thought I’d share some thoughts on what helps me keep stress levels under control in hopes it will help you explore ways to manage stress better.

 

I’ve found my success at dealing with stress depends largely on how attentive I am to three things.

 

  • Exercising
    I’ve been working out for over thirty years and can’t imagine how much of a frazzled mess I’d be if I didn’t get that boost of endorphins that comes from some physical exertion and sweat. Exercise helps reduce anxiety and improve mood and sleep. And then there’s the side benefit of getting fit and feeling better about yourself.
    Now that I work from home, I find it more manageable and mentally beneficial to break my workouts into smaller chunks and do them throughout the day rather than doing a single longer workout.

    According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, I seem to be on the right track with that approach, “Studies have found that people who spend more time each day watching television, sitting, or riding in cars have a greater chance of dying early than people who spend less time on their duffs. Researchers speculate that sitting for hours on end may change peoples’ metabolism in ways that promote obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.”

    As solopreneurs and small business owners, we typically do a lot of work at our desks or sitting in a sedentary state somewhere. In addition to refreshing our minds, fitting in breaks to get our bodies moving could help us keep some potential health issues at bay.

    Not sure you have the discipline to do it? Consider getting one of those fitness bands like the Vivofit (that’s the one I have), that tracks your steps throughout the day and raises the equivalent of a red flag whenever you’ve been planted on your behind for an extended period of time.

 

  • Eating Smart
    “You are what you eat.” I’ve found that to be true. Certain foods can trigger and aggravate stress, particularly processed foods like soft drinks, fast food, microwave and out-of-the-box meals that are pretty much void of nutrients and full of sugar, sodium, and additives.

    I notice a big difference in my ability to concentrate and to deal with challenges when I stray from eating whole foods and indulge in quick convenience foods instead. There’s plenty of evidence to support that food plays an important role in regulating cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. That gives us very good reason to eat wisely.

 

  • Sleeping Enough
    It’s a vicious, frustrating cycle; stress can interfere with your sleep and not getting enough sleep can make you feel more stressed. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations, adults from 26 – 64 years old should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each day.

    Hands down, sleep (or lack of it) is the one thing above all else that can make or break my day.

 

It’s a Package Deal

All of the above don’t work as well alone as they do together—at least not in my experience. Eating better makes me feel more energetic when exercising, and exercise facilitates better sleep at night, and better sleep at night makes me more inclined to exercise.

 

My outlook, energy level, and productivity are all more optimal when I make the trio of exercise, eating well, and sleep a priority. And only I can hold myself responsible for doing those things.

 

How accountable have you been for managing stress and taking better care of yourself? It’s not always easy when you’re schedule is jam-packed and you’re pulled in multiple directions. But remember, if you don’t do it. No one else will do it for you.

 

As I finished this post, by friend, client, mastermind group colleague, and all-around savvy small business owner Rachel Strella posted an article reminding us how important it is to take time for ourselves. Check it out!

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net