You snap to attention and look at the clock: you're awake. It's 3, maybe 4 AM and it's impossible to go back to sleep.
Your mind is racing. The fundraising. The clients. The code. Or worse: the unpaid bills. Even a payroll you might miss.
You drag yourself to work at daylight, and face the same problems you had the day before, except that, with one fewer night's sleep, you are actually less prepared to address the underlying issues than you were the day before.
It is the under-appreciated side of our entrepreneurial culture: your business can hit a bump in the road, causing you a great deal of stress. Often the pundits have an easy answer: pivot.
Pivot? When payroll is late and the bank is mad at you? Or when the board says they'd like to see a re-evaluation of the business model?
Pivoting is hard when your head is pounding and REM deprivation makes you feel, literally, a little unsteady on your feet. And at a time when sleep is being recognized as a key health concern, as soon as you detect this symptom, you should recognize it as a warning sign.
Here's What You Need:
Recognize that you need help. Not necessarily psychological help, but help from a business coach who has worked with others in a similar situation. Because without addressing the underlying business conditions at the company, you will be continually faced with the same miserable work life that is causing you the mental distress.
Losing sleep is the number one reason to get a competent advisor who has seen this all before. This means squarely addressing an underlying theme of American entrepreneurship, which is that rank amateurs can achieve miracles all alone.
Yes, they can. And they can also make mistakes that experienced professionals can help them navigate. It is often said that entrepreneurs are loners, Type A personalities, drivers.
But is it necessarily true? Wouldn't your rather succeed with some well-placed help? Isn't that better than failing while going it alone?
...And Where To Turn
There is no single source of business advice for companies with urgent needs. There are a number of reputable associations, including:
Turnaround Management Association and Association of Insolvency and Restructuring Advisors. These are rival, well-established groups that represents business revitalization experts and Chapter 11 bankruptcy mavens. The member firms can range from the largest consulting firms in the country to solo practitioners. Both associations offer education and certification programs that mandate ethics training. The TMA's directory also allows you to search for specific industry expertise.
Association of Interim Executives represents solo practitioners. It also has web-based tools that describe members' expertise.
For less urgent business problems, some companies offer peer-to-peer coaching, such as Vistage. These provide monthly group sessions that permit CEOs to use the expertise of fellow group members, usually 10-12 in number. The Vistage group facilitator is also a business expert who can weigh in between sessions.
I also admire the coaches at Gazelles, many of whom are certified in business improvement techniques popularized by Verne Harnish.
The Unshakeable Rule
If you are going to invite someone to work with you in a critical time, there is one thing you must do: check references religiously. Are your potential advisors analytic? Responsive? Empathetic?
Have they seen this problem before? And what results have they achieved? Be particularly careful in screening out those who have one or two claims to success in a corporate environment. You'll want someone who has specifically worked on problems in companies of your size.
Your sleep problems will go away. Perhaps not immediately (my clients usually get better in 4-6 weeks). But if you and your advisor develop a hard and fast plan, you can rest your head knowing that you have done everything in your power to bring the company to a better place.