FIGHTING ENTREPRENEUR BURNOUT AND DEPRESSION

Being an entrepreneur can be mentally taxing. In June, the Canadian Mental Health Association produced a report with statistics that confirmed what I, unfortunately, already knew to be true.

Nearly half of the entrepreneurs interviewed in the study experienced low mood or felt mentally tired at least once a week, while three in five (62%) felt depressed at least once a week. Nearly one in two felt that mental health issues interfered with their ability to work.

To me, these are more than just numbers. I was the one in two when I owned my company and to be frank, it almost killed me.

In February of 2015, nearly 10 years after starting my company, I woke up one morning to a crushing weight on my chest. My back and shoulders were on fire — it felt like my skin was going to peel away from itself — and I could barely get out of bed. A series of negative business-related events, combined with a divorce, had floored me. The 10+ hour days and lack of self-care had caught up to me. In short, I was burnt out beyond belief.

The days that followed were messy and blurry but I remember trying to pretend like everything was fine and maintain my strong, heroine-like persona. That didn’t last long. One night, after having dinner with my family, I drove myself to a walk-in clinic and told the receptionist that I needed to see a doctor immediately or I might not make it through the night. It was one of the scariest moments in my entire life — I teetered gingerly on the edge of life and death and thought there was only one way out of my burnout and stress.

As I began to seek out various treatment options to get through this period of burnout and depression, I came to the stark realization that there are very few support frameworks in place for entrepreneurs who are suffering from mental health issues. There is no paid leave, no paid sick days and most clients won’t wait around for you to get your life together — they have businesses to run, too.

When my doctor would suggest taking time off, I’d get more stressed out thinking about the bills I needed to pay as a newly single mother. When they suggested I do therapy, I had no idea where I’d get the time to do that while I was also trying to keep my clients happy and ensure my life kept chugging forward. The suggested solutions felt misaligned to what I needed. The other challenge was reconciling the new version of myself.

As an entrepreneur, you wrap a lot of your identity around being a founder. The company you run, being productive, creating solutions for customers, shipping a product – these are all things that become the fabric of what makes you, you. Depression made me believe that the strong, confident, can-do-anything person I thought I was simply a farce. I felt like a fraud and carried doubt, fear, frustration, confusion and vulnerability with me, daily.

In the June study, it notes: “Both popular and academic discussions tend to favour a romantic view of entrepreneurs as heroes, visionaries and pioneers, leaving little room for discussions around their vulnerability.” This couldn’t be more true to my own experience.

In my own article, which I shared on Medium.com shortly after opening up to the world about my experiences, I shared this: “We live in a society that values fortitude and optimism and business owners must have both in abundance. We have been taught that the weak do not rise to the top and as a result, we have become extremely well-versed in ‘impression management.’ We stuff our vulnerabilities down under the sheets knowing full well that there is only one place for them — hidden and out of sight.”

The silence we maintain around struggle, especially as an entrepreneur, needs to be lifted. We need to speak out.

We founders and mental health organizations also need to find better ways to support entrepreneurs who are in crisis due to stress, anxiety and overwhelm. We need to find a way to reduce the stigma so that entrepreneurs don’t feel silenced. I’m fortunate that I survived and made it through – but that’s not the case for many and we need to figure out how to ensure that we’re doing better for our founders.

The report suggested a few recommendations, based on the findings, which included: developing flexible and relevant mental health support for entrepreneurs; creating tools to help entrepreneurs achieve better work-life balance; strengthening research around entrepreneurial mental health; shifting the popular view of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship; and including mental health in entrepreneurship education.

Given my own experience with entrepreneurial burnout and depression, I couldn’t agree more with these points – particularly the first point around flexible and relevant support for entrepreneurs. The current framework around mental health support isn’t set up in a way that many self-employed people, especially contractors, consultants or solopreneurs, can engage with without loss of income or loss of customers.

The other point that feels extremely close to home now that I’m working at a startup accelerator is the last about including mental health in entrepreneurship education. At L-SPARK, we’re actively looking for ways to engage with local mental health professionals who can help arm us with the information, resources and support we need to pass on to our founders in the same way we’d pass on marketing, sales or fundraising support. We also launched an event series called L-SPARK Unplugged, which brings founders together in non-traditional venues to network while doing activities such as bouldering, yoga and hiking.

The role that accelerators and incubators have in the entrepreneurial ecosystem can go far beyond mentoring startups on topics such as investment and sales. We have a unique opportunity to create safe containers for entrepreneurs to connect with other founders and share their struggles. We can also arm our mentors with the tools and resources needed to ensure that, if a founder does come to them with struggles, they are prepared to help.

If you work in an innovation hub of any kind, consider: creating peer groups so that founders can chat one-on-one with other founders; arming your mentors and team with resources that can be referred to, if needed; encourage your founders to practice self-care and disconnect; and ask your community to share their own stories on your blog or social media, if they feel comfortable to do so.

I don’t have all of the answers to how we change the support system for entrepreneurs but I am feeling extremely inspired by organizations like Canadian Mental Health Association who are researching this topic, producing these reports and starting the conversation. I’m grateful that there’s light being shone on this shadowy side of entrepreneurship and I’m encouraged to continue forward with the work we’re doing around mental health in the accelerator.

As I continue to share my own story and create as many containers for this tough-but-needed conversation in the entrepreneurial circles I find myself in, I’m hoping that you’ll look for ways to do the same – because you just never know when a single conversation will save someone’s life.

Re-Blogged from: The Canadian Business Journal

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Do you speak in the style of request or opportunity?

Do you speak in the style of request or opportunity? Most people speak in the style of a request, ” I need money” I need clients” I need customers”. The thing is very few people respond well to request because you are asking them to give up something. What people respond to is opportunity. They respond to the idea that you are supplying them with something of value. So if you want money you have to change the way you phrase your wording. ” I have a great opportunity for you, here you can get a chance to be a part of a new and exciting venture and get a 25% return on your investment” now you have offered them a chance to increase their position. If you need clients you have to restructure your request. ” We have a great profit sharing program, when you send a referral our way and they become a client we are offering X amount of money as a finders fee ” again you have offered an opportunity instead of simply making a request. People who offer opportunities and value will find that the market responds in a more positive manner and will succeed more easily.

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How To Create A Marketing Plan

What steps are involved in creating a highly effective marketing plan for a startup business?

As a startup, 90% of your success is going to fall on the shoulders of your marketing. That applies even if you are doing no big paid marketing or display campaigns. The number of users you can attract, how much you can charge for your product, and the funds you can raise are all outcomes of marketing.

1) Know Where You Want To Go

To craft a marketing plan that works, you need to know what it should do for you. What’s the ultimate goal in terms of users, coverage, profits and an exit for your company? 

Knowing this will help craft every part of your plan, and ensure these components will get you there. That isn’t just the volume you want, but whether the brand and reach you are creating will have the wings to reach that altitude at all.

Knowing these big goals will also facilitate backing out the math. How much marketing will be needed to get to your biggest goals? You probably don’t have the budget to achieve that on day one. So, break it up into milestones, and identify the marketing needed to get you to each marker on the journey. One of the first will be hitting that crucial breakeven point, and paying your founding team enough to be able to afford to stay in business, and enjoy it.

2) Market Research

Research and data is everything. Do listen to your gut. Then back that up and follow the data and facts. You are going to want to include key statistics from this research into your pitch deck when raising funding.

Among the most basic data will be how big the market is and your startup’s total addressable market (TAM).

Creating marketing and user personas is an important and valuable part of this. Both if you are a B2C and B2B venture. Knowing exactly who your best customers are will enable you to pinpoint and nail your marketing better out of the gate. You’ll waste a lot less, and convert a lot more using targeted campaigns and the right messaging.

The more you know about your customer the better. What do they do for a living? What keeps them up at night? What gets them excited about getting up in the morning? How much do they earn? Where do they shop? What’s their favorite color? What time are they online? Where do they hangout?

Then make sure you have conducted some thorough competitive analysis. Who are your competitors? How much do they charge? How is their customer service? What are they doing well? Where are they dropping the ball and leaving room for you to do better?

This sounds basic, but it is scary how many aspiring entrepreneurs try to launch ventures without really knowing if they are just recreating the wheel.

Equipped with all of this knowledge you will be able to craft an effective positioning statement, USP and brand. Creating a style guide and specs for your marketing and branding to keep everything consistent may be a part of this. It can certainly help to keep a unified image. Just don’t let it slow you down, as things are bound to change as you test, grow and raise money from new investors.

3) Identify Your Marketing Channels

After identifying your best prospective customers and the right branding, entrepreneurs will be able to better select the best fitting marketing and advertising channels.

There is no single right answer. What’s best will be a little different for every startup. It may include social media, TV, outdoor display advertising, print ads, email, popup shops or retail storefronts, apps, affiliate platforms, live events, or outbound calls.

Just make sure you have a well-rounded marketing mix, leave room for trial and error and testing, and give yourself enough time for these channels to payoff and reach critical mass.

4) Budgeting

Clearly all of this requires budgeting. Even if you aren’t doing Google PPC ads, Facebook or other big paid campaigns, marketing requires a budget. Even if that is creating great content for a winning pitch deck and getting out there to present it.

You can never afford to stop marketing. When you stop marketing, you stop having a business. If Apple and Nike are still doing it with all of their billions and market position, then you had better believe it.

Investors need to know this information too. It shows that you know what you are doing. They’d normally much rather invest in helping you expand in this way than to pay for salaries or just keep you afloat because your overhead is draining you.

5) Team

Who will create all of this marketing, respond to incoming leads and follow up?

You may be a sales genius and love selling and creating advertising pieces. Though, no matter how good you are, there are many channels and factors to master in this area of business alone. It’s hard to be a true master on top of all these trends and best practices, and run the business and raise funds well too. Your time may be best spent on other higher level tasks. Even in the beginning your time will be better spent simply closing hot leads than on marketing material.

Know who you need, and make sure you are hiring and having them create for your needs months in advance. Not at the last minute. Otherwise you’ll pay more and have rushed collateral which isn’t near as good or as effective as it could be.

6) Formatting

You should have a stand alone marketing campaign you are consulting regularly and your team is working on. All of the core basics will also be incorporated into your executive summary and pitch deck too.

Being specific is good, but don’t go too crazy with creating volumes of marketing plan documents at the beginning. All of this will evolve over time. You need to get to raising money and gaining new users.

Summary

Marketing is the life blood of every startup. Even if you have a very technical physical product you are developing for the B2B market.

While the outcome of the above may be a very simple and concise plan and set of facts and stats for your deck, all of these factors are important for an affecting marketing game plan that works and delivers on the main goals your startup has.

You can also listen into the DealMakers Podcast for free insights into startup life, how to successfully fundraise and survive the process as well as how to make smarter decisions on the execution of your marketing efforts.

Re-Blogged from: Forbes

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5 ways to teach your kid to think like an entrepreneur

Whether it’s a lemonade stand, mowing lawns or even — these days — developing a new app, there are plenty of ways kids can become entrepreneurs.

They don’t even necessarily have to be a big success. Just developing an entrepreneurial mindset can help them form necessary life skills, as well as teach them important financial lessons.

“There are these unbelievable opportunities, as parents, that happen right under your roof to teach kids about money and entrepreneurship is on the top of the list,” said Thomas Henske, a certified financial planner with New York-based Lenox Advisors.

By becoming an entrepreneur, kids can learn about budgeting, saving, spending and investing.

“It makes you value money more,” said Henske, who developed and runs his firm’s smart-money kids program. “It’s hard to make it. It’s hard to keep it.”

Kids are just a sponge. When you expose them to things like brainstorming and prototyping, they get it. They are almost naturals at it.
Don Bossi
PRESIDENT, FIRST

 

It also helps children develop perseverance by learning from their failures, and it begins to introduce critical thinking, said Don Bossi, president of FIRST, a nonprofit organization that helps foster innovations by students in grades K-12 in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Failure is part of the learning process,” he said.

“If they try something and it doesn’t work, instead of putting it down and walking away, nurture them,” he said.

You can ask, ”‘What did you learn from that? What can you do to make it better?’”

Here are other things you can do to encourage your kid become a self-starter — and help them get smart about money in the process.

1. Foster creativity

The good news is that young kids already think creatively.

“Something about growing up sort of beats the creativity out of us,” Bossi said.

“Young kids aren’t as constrained by history or what they know,” he added. “They are not afraid of being wrong.

“They are not afraid of being told their idea is crazy,” Bossi said. “They are not afraid of failure.”

 

Take these money steps now before your baby arrives

Henske agrees, pointing out that adults tend to group-think.

So, if your kid has a great idea, be curious about it and help nurture it. Even if it is a “whacky” one, he said.

“The second you start stifling it … they lose their confidence,” he said.

2. Brainstorm

Does your kid want to find a way to start making money?

The first thing to do is ask them what they can do to make it happen. That’s where brainstorming comes in.

“Some kids will say, ‘I can rake the leaves,’ or ‘I can make the beds,’” Henske said. “You say, ‘Wow, could you build a business around that?’”

GP: Human Hand With Mind Map Concept

AndreyPopov | iStock | Getty Images

 

Henske said he likes to encourage brainstorming by using mind maps. It can be as simple as picking up a pen and paper or using an online tool, such as mindmeister.com.

For example, his 15-year-old son came to him for money because he couldn’t get a job until he turned 16. Henske turned it around and asked him to come up with an idea to earn it on his own. His son is now developing an app and website that connects teens to neighbors who need chores done around the house.

“There are cool opportunities for parents,” he said. “All you have to do is be aware and be on the lookout for it.”

3. Find a mentor

Kids don’t always like to take advice from their parents.

“If your name is Mom or Dad, that pretty much means that you don’t know anything until that child turns 30,” quipped Henske.

That’s why it’s important to have your child find mentors who can help guide them. It can be a local businessman, a family friend or an expert in the given field.

 

To help explain his or her idea, your kid can even build a prototype to show to local experts, FIRST’s Bossi suggested.

That could lead to success down the road. “Think ‘Shark Tank’ but at a local level,” he said.

4. Research the market

If you think your kid’s idea has the potential to be a business, first research the market to see what the need is and assess the competition. Come up with a business model and, if it is a product, figure out how much it would cost to produce it.

“If all those things look good … your kid could start to talk to angel investors to see if someone can fund it, taking it from prototype and concept to production and maybe a real business,” said Bossi.

5. Teach life lessons along the way

As you guide your children through building and running their business, talk to them about profits and taxes, Henske said.

You can also have them read books about famous entrepreneurs.

GP: Elementary age school boy builds robot in technology class.

fstop123 | E+ | Getty Images

 

But don’t overdo it.

“Don’t get caught up, as a parent, trying to use the fire-hose method: You bring the kids in the room one day and sit in the room for five hours and teach them how to be entrepreneurs,” warned Henske.

Instead, think about doing it a bit at a time.

“Let it drip a little, let it sit and then talk about it,” he said. “And see what they come up with.

“Or even let it sit a couple of weeks,” he added.

The bottom line

If you take the time to teach and guide your kids, they’ll soak it all up.

“Kids are just a sponge,” Bossi said. “When you expose them to things like brainstorming and prototyping, they get it.

“They are almost naturals at it.”

There may also be a price to pay if you don’t, warned Henske.

“If we don’t teach our kids to be entrepreneurs, which really means having an idea and taking control of your own destiny, they are going to grip onto their first job and when it changes and goes away, they are not going to be able to deal,” he said.

“As a parent, that should scare the heck out of us.”

Re-Blogged from: CNBC

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