Stay calm: 12 ways to cope with end-of-year stress in small business

As we head into November, it’s easy to feel the build-up of stress in small business. It’s that time of year when we collectively raise the stakes and get hung up on what we want to ‘get done’ before December 31.

But why do we make such a big deal about this ‘end of the year’ milestone? Is it as important as we make it out to be? And is it possible that we’re burdening ourselves with unnecessary pressure? I’m here to tell you it’s okay to ease off the accelerator, to be kind to yourself, and to acknowledge that success isn’t confined to a specific timeframe. We don’t want to just survive the last quarter of a year; rather it’s about thriving at your own pace.

Here are 12 tips to help you minimise stress in small business at this time of year.

Tip 1: Engage in conversation

If you have the energy right now, networking, collaborating and celebrating with others in the small business community can feel good at this time of year. You’re all going through similar things and it can be great to say those out loud. Approach conversations with curiosity and you might make a deeper connection with someone, have a good laugh or let some stress go.

If you’re a team of one, why not plan an end-of-year gathering with a biz bud or other soloists so you don’t feel left out with all the end-of-year and Christmas parties going on? One of my favourite December events is the day I spend with 11 small business friends, reflecting on the year that was, having lunch together, creating vision boards and imagining for the year ahead. 

Just be sure to balance social time with solo time to help you manage your energy.

Tip 2: Reframe the timeframe

Goals and success are not limited to a calendar year, even if we can get stuck in that mindset sometimes. Time is a societal construct, so while a year or end-of-year is one way to set benchmarks, it’s not the only time or way to do this. 

Rather than just thinking about what you want to achieve by the end of the year, consider what tasks will flow into the next – or, conversely, what you don’t want to do/what you’ll let go of. This can help you to re-evaluate your priorities and what’s important to you. 

It’s worth checking back in with your values as you do this and use them to anchor you.

Tip 3: Set realistic expectations

If you’re tempted to set overly ambitious year-end goals, just remember the potential stress that can go with that. You’d be far better off setting realistic expectations that you can reasonably achieve. 

Take some time to identify high-impact tasks so you can focus on the most crucial projects for the year-end. If you can delegate or outsource (or just strike some things off your list), this can help free up time to focus on high-value tasks – and give you time and space to think.

Tip 4: Focus on quality over speed

Rather than rushing to meet arbitrary deadlines, take the time you need to focus on the quality of your work. Often, the best results come from patience and dedication. While there’s a time to push through or embrace imperfect action, think about what’s driving your pace. Are November and December a time to push or are you better off laying quality foundations and preparing for next year? 

Remember your success as a small business owner, freelancer or person isn’t defined by what’s achieved by December 31st but by your consistent effort and progress over time. And there are plenty more success metrics, too – things like flexibility and freedom that are trickier to measure but just as important as the outputs.

Tip 5: Celebrate progress

Make sure you take a moment during this busy time of year to celebrate the progress you’ve made, even if you’re not at ‘the end’ of something. Small victories and milestones are always worth acknowledging and help us to sustain momentum over time. 

What’s something you could do to celebrate? Take yourself out for a hot chocolate or give yourself an afternoon off and go for a swim? A little reward goes a long way. If you’re your own boss, stop waiting for someone else to give it to you. It’s yours for the taking.

Tip 6: Remember life happens

Life can be unpredictable, and at any time of the year, you could face unexpected challenges. We’ve seen this as a collective over the past several years, and we’re now experts at pivoting and adapting. The reality of entrepreneurship and being human is that circumstances change – it’s just part of it. However, being flexible and adjusting your plans can lead to even better outcomes.

Make sure you permit yourself to prioritise your well-being, mental health and family over your business goals when necessary or to adapt as needed.

Tip 7: Keep your long-term vision in mind

The end of the year can feel like a bottleneck. Remember to put your head up to look beyond short-term goals and consider your long-term vision for your business. It’s about building something sustainable, not just achieving quick wins.

Tip 8: Let go of comparison and peer pressure

Comparing your progress to others is never a good idea. You know the expression, ‘Run your own race.’ It’s commonplace for a reason. I encourage you to focus on your unique journey and pace. You don’t know what’s going on in anyone else’s life or business, so it doesn’t make sense to benchmark yourself against others. 

Similarly, success is a deeply personal concept. So you should define it in your terms, with your metrics, not based on external pressures. If this means muting particular social media accounts or taking breaks from socials, do it. Whatever it takes to help you to focus on what’s important to you.

Tip 9: Give yourself permission to rest

It can feel counterintuitive to rest and recharge as the year hurtles towards the end. But burning out in pursuit of your year-end goals could be counterproductive in the long run. 

Things like mindfulness, walking, yoga, exercise or listening to music can help manage any stress and anxiety you might be feeling. Pick whatever works for you. I’m part of a choir here in Melbourne that rehearses every Tuesday night. It’s a tonic because it feels creative but also grounding – and has nothing to do with work.

Tip 10: Show your appreciation

Showing gratitude to loyal clients and customers is a great way to promote goodwill. And connecting back in with your clients and customers at this point of the year has unexpected benefits. It can reconnect you to your purpose and remind you of all the great projects you worked on and people you connected with throughout the year. 

I love taking time to write personal cards and send small gifts to clients who’ve worked with me 1:1 to thank them for supporting my business. I also make sure I organise a Christmas donation for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which is my chosen charity.

Tip 11: Review your finances

The end of the year is a good time to do a financial review. By assessing revenue, expenses and profit, you go into the new year with the ability to make informed decisions.

Knowledge is power – and if times are tight, it could be a way to get some funds back in your pocket in time for the holiday season. For instance, can you cancel a subscription or another unnecessary expense?

Tip 12: Don’t freak out in January

Remember, it’s normal for your inbox to be super quiet from Christmas through January. Try to embrace going slow, like the rest of the world, especially if you’re in Australia, where we’ll make the most of summer. 

Get some sunshine, plant your feet in the grass or on the sand, spend some time with family and friends and without AirPods in your ears. See what comes in the white space and the silence. And get ready to do it all again next year.

Here’s a recap of those 12 tips to reduce stress in small business at the end of the year:

  1. Engage in conversation
  2. Reframe the timeframe
  3. Set realistic expectations
  4. Focus on quality over speed
  5. Celebrate progress
  6. Remember life happens
  7. Keep your long-term vision in mind
  8. Let go of comparison and peer pressure
  9. Give yourself permission to rest
  10. Show your appreciation
  11. Review your finances
  12. Don’t freak out in January.

It’s not about how much you’ve accomplished by the end of the year. Give yourself permission to ease up on the pressure, prioritise your well-being, and set your own pace that allows you to thrive and finish the year with something left in the tank.

Over to you

Would you love some support in your small business? Let’s chat! 

Prefer an audio version of this blog? Listen to the podcast episode: 12 ways to thrive – not just survive – in small biz at the end of the year.