1. Your dreams have stopped.
Remember back when you were so excited about your business? You went to bed thinking about it. Brainstorms popped into your head at the dinner table. You told everyone who would hold still to listen. Maybe you dreamed you would take over or revolutionize your industry or imagined the lifestyle this little baby company of yours would grow up to afford you. If now it's just about making it through the day -- or even more stressful, making it through payroll -- it could be time to consider doing something else.
2. Your body never lies.
Your body knows the truth, no matter what your mouth tells other people, or what your brain insists you shouldn’t even consider. If your aches and pains have made it difficult to summon the enthusiasm to do your job, it’s time to listen to it. Maybe your hips flop over the edges of your chair because the stress or unhappiness you feel at work encourages you to eat in an unhealthy way. Maybe the extreme sports you do to try to escape your unhappy work-life are causing injuries. Or perhaps repetitive motions like typing, hammering or lifting have just plain worn you down. If your body is miserable in your line of work, it’s sending a critically important signal that it is time to find other options, and soon.
If you no longer have a passion for learning about building your business, doing better for your customers and keeping up with trends, that doesn’t indicate that you know everything there is to know. It means your heart and mind are no longer engaged.
4. The money just isn’t there.
Maybe your industry shifted because of competition or changing technology, or maybe you can’t force yourself to go through the motions and your customer service is lacking. For a thousand reasons, the millions of dollars just aren’t there. Maybe they never were. Regardless, if the money is gone and you find it easier to complain than to take action, that’s one sure sign that you need to move on. You don’t need to spend your life with financial worries. Besides, if you apply the kind of guts, courage, energy and vision you (used to) have as an entrepreneur, you certainly can do anything you want to do with the next phase of your career.
5. You don't like your customers.
If all your customers suddenly seem like a bunch of whiners or know-nothings, then you are definitely beyond burnout. These are the people who bring you money for whatever it is you do. If you find them loathsome, believe it or not, they can unconsciously pick up on it. Your business grows in proportion to how well you serve your customers and how happy you can make them, and that’s how they make you happy in return. Ask yourself why you are putting yourself through this ordeal.
6. Complaints are up.
I’m talking about two kinds of complaints: Those that come from people who interact with your business (customers, vendors, employees, virtual workers, etc.) and the most dangerous kind, i.e. those that come out of your own mouth. Summon up the courage to ask some people who know you well, “Do I complain a lot about my business?” Be open-minded when listening to their responses.
7. Sloth syndrome.
If it takes you three times as long to get ready for work in the morning, six more cups of coffee to open your inbox or 10 times as long to return that client’s phone call, chances are you’ve been stricken with sloth syndrome. It’s not age-related. It’s not that you’re overwhelmed. You’re slow because you’re forcing yourself to take actions that you know deep in your heart you really don’t want to take. It's possible you’ve just plain held on too long to the corpse of your business.
If just one of these seven signals applies to you, you can strategize some practical ways to fix it. Get out a physical sheet of paper and a pen, and force yourself to list at least 20 solutions, however zany. Sit there until you get to 20, though, because usually, the best ideas don’t show up until around number 16. Apply those good ideas sequentially, starting with the most viable one. See if that simple process resolves your malaise.
However, a majority of these seven signals are true for you, it’s time to get serious. You are wasting your precious time. There’s no amount of money that will bring you back the time you’re losing moping around. As entrepreneurs, we’re hardwired to take pride in being tough and for getting ourselves out of (and into) tough spaces. Bravo! Yay us! But here’s the stark truth: Only you can get yourself out of this particular tough space, and there’s no space tougher than lugging around a business you no longer love, don’t care about, don’t want to do and that isn’t making you enough money. Your life is worth more. You are worth more. Take action.
Wendy Keller has owned six businesses, starting at age 15. The most recent is Keller Media, a literary agency for authors and speakers, founded in 1989. Wendy is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Platform Building (Entrepreneur Media) and other books.