A Pause Is Not a Failure: Seven Ways for Business Owners to Dial Back the Franticness


Most entrepreneurs live for new opportunities. Problem is, when you’re focused on growth, it’s easy to say yes to more than your business can handle. Sure, you can juggle it all for a while, but eventually the stress catches up to you. Your attention is spread over too many clients, and no one gets the service they deserve. Plus, employee coaching and development get the shaft—and before you know it, they’re drifting toward disengagement (and burnout).

In other words, says business owner burnout strategist and small business fixer Julie Bee, your bandwidth is a mile wide but only an inch deep—which means it’s in danger of running dry. The key is to make space for redirection and replenishment before that happens.

“Dialing back is one of the hardest things for entrepreneurs to do, because for many of us, it feels like failure,” says Bee, author of Burned: How Business Owners Can Overcome Burnout and Fuel Success (Matt Holt, June 2024, ISBN: 978-1-6377449-0-1, $28.00). “I feel the opposite is true. An intentional pause can save your business. In other words, say no…for now.”

The idea is to assess where your business is now, where it’s heading, and whether that’s a direction you really want to go. When you’re ready to hit “play” again, you can do so with redefined goals and clarified priorities that will lead to sustainable growth, not burnout.

Bee, who coaches other business owners to get “unstuck,” work through burnout, and take their companies to the highest level, speaks from 15 years of experience as an entrepreneur. In Burned, she acknowledges that periodic stress, struggle, and even burnout are givens when you own a business. Her book provides tactical advice on how to make space for addressing burnout, fix any problems it has caused, and leverage its lessons while running a company.

Here, she shares seven steps spread-thin entrepreneurs can take to slow down, re-center, and get back to focusing on what their business does best.

First, Carve Out Some Space.

(Temporarily) say no to new. Temporarily is the operative word. Just for a while, stop chasing new opportunities. That’s what got you here in the first place. You need to put your time, energy, and thought into strengthening your business, not expanding it.

“Think of this as saying ‘no for now’—not necessarily ‘no forever,’” advises Bee. “Maybe you do have a fantastic idea that is right in your business’s sweet spot—but first you have to make space to properly develop and execute it. Sometimes the best way to speed up is to slow down.”

Pause projects that can wait. Of course you can’t neglect the needs of your clients; they always deserve your full attention. But chances are there are some big-picture initiatives you can put on hold, like creating a new product or transitioning to a new software.

“I’m not saying you’ll never pursue these initiatives; this isn’t a permanent pause,” Bee clarifies. “By putting them on hold, you’re helping make space to reassess so that when you do go back to ‘full steam ahead’ mode, you’ll be moving in a productive direction.”

Second, Figure Out Where You Stand.

Drill down on why you’re driven to do more. Are you afraid of failure? Do you feel that you owe it to your employees and clients to constantly expand? Are you trying to stay ahead of competitors? Do you have a scarcity mindset? Are you working toward some (mythical) point where you’ll finally feel that you’ve made it…and can relax?

“Once you identify what’s motivating you to always do more, you can determine if it’s something that’s serving you and your business well,” says Bee. “For instance, let’s say your fear of failure is prompting you to take on more clients than you can comfortably handle. Ironically, this is pushing you closer to failure than you would be if you capped the number of clients. Other people can often see this more clearly than you, so try to do this self-assessment with a mentor, your mastermind group, a fellow business owner, your leadership team, etc.”

Get clear on what overcommitment is costing you. Are you spending money you probably shouldn’t in order to deliver on your commitments? Are you doing the bare minimum in some areas so you can scramble to keep up in others? Are you able to invest the time you’d like with clients? Employees? Your family and friends? How’s your health? What about your stress and engagement levels…and those of your employees?

“When you say yes to a new opportunity, you usually have a clear picture of what you hope to gain,” says Bee. “But chances are, you’ve never taken inventory of how an overloaded plate is negatively impacting you and your business. This cost-benefit analysis can be eye-opening…or even a full-on epiphany.”

Assess where your profitability is really coming from. If you’re putting forth your best effort, but the business isn’t progressing, ask: Which products and services are making the most money (and which aren’t)? Which upgrades and processes are really improving efficiency? Which initiatives are attracting new business?

“Look at the metrics—otherwise you’ll be wasting time and energy on things that aren’t yielding the results you want,” says Bee. “For example, I recently evaluated my use of social media and found that most of my new business came from just two platforms. I plan to reassess my use of the others.”

Finally, Do Things Differently.

Verify your gut instincts with data and trusted feedback. Entrepreneurs often place a high value on their instincts. But when it comes to making decisions about your business’s growth and future, your gut might prompt you to go too far…or in the wrong direction entirely.

“When your instincts are pushing you in a certain direction, don’t ignore them—but do try to back them up with research, data, and trusted feedback,” advises Bee. “If you’re like me and many other entrepreneurs I know, you might be surprised by how often your gut is not in alignment with external evidence.”

Bee recommends looking at your gut instincts as a starting point for business decisions, not the final decision-maker.

Critically evaluate new opportunities. Once you’re ready to “un-pause,” ensure that you have a better system for evaluating requests and opportunities. Your goal is to be more intentional and less reactive. You might want to write down a list of questions like:

  • Do we have the time/resources/knowledge to do this?
  • Will it generate revenue? If so, how much?
  • Does it align with our core business values?
  • How will it differentiate our company?
  • Will it help us grow or just keep us busy?
  • Does this opportunity energize me and/or my employees?
  • Who is pushing hardest for this: internal or external stakeholders?
  • Am I trying to appease someone else?
  • What is the cost of saying yes? (In other words, what might we have to say no to?)

“At first it may feel uncomfortable to say no to opportunities you would have taken on in the past—but push through that feeling,” encourages Bee. “Steve Jobs said it best: ‘People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.’”

“Implementing these tactics (especially saying ‘no for now’!) will probably feel uncomfortable or downright scary—but the process is worth it,” concludes Bee. “By temporarily taking a step back from your frantic pace, you are giving yourself the space to figure out how to sustainably propel your business two, three, or more steps forward—in a direction and on a timeline that’s best for you and your employees.”

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