If You’re Doing (or NOT Doing) These 10 Things, You’re on the Verge of Small Biz Burnout

Being an entrepreneur is stressful, but small business “fixer” Julie Bee says testing the limits of your bandwidth has real consequences. She shares ten warning signs that burnout looms ahead.


You knew it from the beginning: Being an entrepreneur is no walk in the park. Hard work, hustle, and the occasional all-nighter come with the territory. But if “up to your eyeballs” has become your everyday reality, small business fixer Julie Bee says you’re headed for trouble. That way lies lower performance, poor decision-making, health issues (or health emergencies!), damaged relationships, and more.

“Many entrepreneurs, including me, have trouble recognizing when we’re overburdened, much less admitting it to ourselves,” 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). “And stepping away from work to address our stress really goes against the grain.

“Not only do small business owners tend to overestimate our capacity for burning the midnight oil, we’re also good at carrying the burden for others,” she adds. “We believe that if we aren’t okay, our business isn’t okay, our employees aren’t okay, and our clients aren’t okay. When you have all that weight on your shoulders, it can feel terrifying to admit, ‘I need to dial it back.’”              Bee speaks from experience. Several years ago, she went to the ER for what she thought was a heart attack—but turned out to be a panic attack brought on by business owner burnout.

“In hindsight, this shouldn’t have been a surprise,” says Bee. “I had way too much on my plate, and I had been ignoring the many signs that I was exceeding my bandwidth. I thought that I didn’t have time to be stressed, and not addressing it took a serious toll.”

Bee now coaches other business owners as they work through periodic stress and struggle while striving to take their businesses to a higher level. 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 ten signs that it may be time to step back and take care of your stress—ideally, before it morphs into full-blown burnout.

You may be on the road to small biz burnout if…

…You put all non-work-related tasks on the back burner. This could be something big (ish) like canceling a doctor’s appointment or postponing a vacation. Or it might be something small like hitting the drive-thru instead of cooking or calling clients instead of going on a walk.

“Let’s be real—we all make these choices from time to time,” says Bee. “But when they become the norm instead of the exception, that’s not healthy.”

…You resent “real life” for infringing on work. Sometimes there are real-life tasks you can’t cancel, put off, outsource, or trade in for a less time-consuming option…and that irritates you! Whether it’s a date night with your partner that’s been on the calendar for weeks, your child’s sports event, or even your own need to sleep, you’re borderline annoyed because you could be checking things off your business to-do list instead.

…You always feel like you’re behind. You’re constantly playing catch-up, racing to meet deadlines, and putting out fires instead of steadily working through action items or (gasp!) getting ahead. Maybe that’s why…

…You’re nervous when you don’t have something urgent in front of you. “It’s like that feeling you get when you think you may have left the oven on,” comments Bee. “When you have a rare moment of free time, you obsess over what you’re not doing…because surely you must be forgetting about something important!”

…You’re proud of how busy you are. This is the flip side of feeling nervous when you’re not actively putting out a fire. You see busy-ness as a badge of honor. The more balls you’re juggling, the more successful you must be, right? (Right? Anyone? …Anyone?)

…The word “no” isn’t in your vocabulary. Whether you don’t want to disappoint someone, are trying to avoid conflict, or are afraid to let any opportunity pass you by, you say yes to every client, partnership, project, and offer that you can.

“Of course, that doesn’t mean these opportunities are well-suited to you and your business, or that you truly have the time and resources to devote to them,” says Bee. “Often, they lead to resentment and stress instead of growth.”

…You’re laser-focused on metrics. “Before you bombard me with ‘But, Julie!’ I know that metrics have to be top-of-mind for business owners,” Bee acknowledges. “But be honest: Are you focused on the numbers to the exclusion of your relationships, your engagement, and your well-being? Achieving your goals in one area may still end up negatively impacting you and your business if your work-life harmony is in shambles. Success isn’t solely connected to finances.”

…You score low on trust—and high on perfectionism. In other words, you think that there is no room for error, and no one else can meet your standards (or worse, you believe no one else is willing to pull their weight). This manifests in micromanagement, distrust, and workaholism.

…You’re just not yourself. “Every entrepreneur has burnout red flags, and it probably won’t be difficult to identify some of yours,” says Bee. “Red flags are actions, habits, or behaviors that indicate you’re off-balance, stressed, and running on fumes.” For instance:

  • You’re having trouble sleeping (or you’re sleeping too much).
  • Your interactions with others have become more contentious.
  • You’ve started to socially withdraw from friends and family.
  • You’re finding it difficult to focus, make decisions, and/or come up with new ideas.
  • Your self-care (e.g., grooming, nutrition, exercise, etc.) has slipped.
  • You’re leaning harder into a coping mechanism (e.g., alcohol, medication, etc.).
  • You’re clinging to the belief that if you can “just get through” a particular deadline or challenge, everything will magically get better.

…You feel “stuck” or trapped by your business. The passion you once felt has turned to dread. Instead of fulfilling you, your responsibilities feel like a burden. You wish you could operate on autopilot and let someone else make the decisions, but you’re the boss…so you can’t!

“This is usually one of the first warning signs that you’re out of runway and are plunging into full-on burnout,” Bee says.

“‘Carefree’ and ‘small business owner’ don’t go together—but that doesn’t mean being constantly overwhelmed is okay,” says Bee. “If you see yourself in the list above, I urge you to do the hard work of making time and space to address your stress before you end up in the ER!”

Her advice: Take an intentional pause by saying no to new opportunities for now.

“You need space to review your existing commitments, clarify your goals and priorities, and get real about your work-life balance, or lack thereof,” she says. “Once you have that clarity, you can start taking on new opportunities again, in a way that’s fulfilling and sustainable.”

Julie Bee is the author of the upcoming book Burned: How Business Owners Can Overcome Burnout and Fuel Success. A business owner burnout strategist, Bee has been dubbed the “small business fixer” by her clients and peers. With over 15 years in the entrepreneurial field, she has solidified her reputation as a dynamic consultant, a riveting speaker, and a leader who sheds light on the darker side of business ownership. Having been celebrated by Fast Company and Forbes, her insights are in high demand across the industry.

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