Running a Business as an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person)
I haven’t talked for a while about being an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) and how that affects the way that I run my business.
In recent weeks I’ve caught myself beating myself up a little for choosing to take life at a slower pace during the summer – telling myself that maybe I “should” or “ought” to be doing more…
But here’s the thing: As a HSP I’m simply not wired the same way as other people who can be on the go, and juggle a million different things without getting overwhelmed and burned out.
In this video I talk about what it means to be HSP in business, as well as some of the things I do, and some of the things I choose not to do in order to prevent overwhelm, and prioritise my health and well-being – while running a successful business.
Maybe you’ll find some of what I share reassuring, especially if you’ve also been falling into the trap of thinking that you somehow need to be “more of” or “less of” something in order to be successful in business. The truth is you can design your business to be just right for *you*.
As a result of my HSP nature, before I started in business I had a long term history of a chronic health condition. So I have had to adapt the way that I run my business, to support my my health and prevent burnout – and I do pretty well at this most of the time. But sometimes I can slip in to forgetting that I’m highly sensitive and that there are reasons why I do things the way that I do and I can easily start looking around at what others are doing and beating myself up for not doing “more”.
For example, this summer I’m following a long-held dream of touring the UK while living and working from a campervan and part of that arrangment is that I’m working reduced hours compared to normal. I’m still serving all the clients within my programmes and membership, but other than that I made a conscious decision not to take on anything new and to take a slower pace so I can enjoy the different places we are visiting over the summer.
Yet of course I’m still online, and so I see my business peers launching programmes, creating new things and generally being “Go, go go”. And I hear this whisper: “what is it about me that wants to take things at a slower pace when others obviously don’t? Why don’t I take this time to really focus on my business? Why aren’t I more like “them”? Why don’t I do more, to grow my business? What about that podcast I’ve had on the back burner for the last several years?” Aren’t I just holding myself back?”
And then a gift came my way in the form of a new member joining my free Facebook group who said that she’d come across me talking about being HSP and didn’t want to learn sales and business from anybody who was not HSP. And it was an important reminder to me:
“Aha, I’m highly sensitive!!”, it was as if I’d temporarily forgotten!
I had temporarily been tempted to drive myself harder, to be “more like” those people who are not highly sensitive. And that’s what can happen so easily if you also identify as HSP. There are so many messages from people online telling us very confidently that we should be more like this, or do more to be successful. Whereas the real strength for us if we identify as HSP is to do business in a way that supports us and plays to our strengths.
Now, this doesn’t mean for a minute that I’m against the idea of personal development or personal growth, and sometimes we do need to stretch ourselves out of our comfort zone to fulfil our potential. But there’s a big difference between personal growth, working through those things that actually hold us back in damaging ways and forcing ourselves to be something that we’re not, in order to create a business that looks and feels like a business for somebody with a very, very different makeup and wiring.
So what does highly sensitive even mean?
Here are some of the traits I have that are typical for anyone who would identify as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
- Easily overwhelmed
And if I’m not careful this overwhelm leads to burnout. Which is why I had a decade with a a debilitating chronic health condition (CFS/ME). Part of my recovery was understanding that I can’t run my life in the same way as people who are not so sensitive.
- Sensitive to over-stimulation:
This is things like noise, large crowds etc. In business it includes things like the number of different channels where I receive information, or juggling too many different things at once.
- Emotionally sensitive personally
- Emotionally sensitive to others feelings and responses
- Need a lot of personal space and alone time
I’m also an introvert (HSP’s don’t always identify as introverted) which combines with the HSP traits to make running a business like the one I have that little more challenging at times. I love what I do. And I feel so fortunate that I came across this work and this way of working. I love teaching and supporting my clients, and I also I love the fact that I can do that while sitting in a field here in Devon with a view of the sea . But sometimes the things that I need to do for my business to be successful don’t feel as comfortable or don’t come as easily for me as they do for other people who are less sensitive and more extrovert and “Gung ho”.
I have zero tolerance to stress and overwhelm
One of the most important things that I do that I see that a lot of my business friends and peers don’t have to do is to avoid stress and overwhelm. For me, overwhelm in particular is pure kryptonite. When I get overwhelmed, I quickly become miserable and unhappy. I start to question what I’m doing with my life, whether I really want to run my business, and quickly get emotionally overwhelmed. It also affects my health – long term stress is the biggest thing that could tip me back into my old chronic health and chronic fatigue patterns. So as far as possible I design my business to minimise stress and overwhelm – of course it’s impossible to run a business and avoid overwhelm completely (after all I do run launches to sell my programmes!) but I try and minimise it and have strategies to get out of it when it hits.
THINGS I DO AS AN HSP IN BUSINESS:
- I build in lots of downtime and holidays:
I have a cut-off point every day beyond which I don’t work, no matter what is going on. And I try and ensure that I have quiet time to myself every day. I also take a reasonable amount of holiday. For example I always take the summer months at a slower pace, and I take a long break over Christmas to recharge my batteries. It’s hugely important to take holiday that is true holiday where I’m not working at all complete switch off my brain from thinking about business and looking at social media.
- I have an (almost) fully online business:
In the early years I used to do a lot of speaking, running live events and workshops and networking at events and while I loved it and it definitely helped me get my business off the ground quicker than I would have done online I would get a “social hangover” afterwards and it could take me 1-2 days to recover before I was able to work effectively again. I still recommend offline activity to most people as a great way to get started in business (obviously outside of pandemic lockdown periods!). But in the end I learned that being around too many people absolutely zaps my energy, and I eventually made the decision to switch to a fully online business which allows me to manage my energy much more effectively.
- I set clear boundaries:
I have very clear boundaries about when I’m available, who I am available to and what communcation channels people can reach me on. And I set boundaries on the amount of time each day that I spend replying to emails and messages (and yes, that does mean that not all emails get a reply – but I’m OK with that if it means protecting my wellbeing). This might seem a bit “precious” but nothing zaps my energy as fast as the need to constantly respond to the incoming flow of messages via all these different platforms (email, social media, Whatsapp, Voxer!). Connected to this is the importance of having an assistant who can deal with emails into the business – that was my very first hire, and is still the highest priority as nothing overwhelms me as much as too many emails. And of course there’s no way of getting away from email – the more your business grows, the more in the more messages, emails and incoming stimuli there are so I prefer to have someone to handle most of it for me. And yes, this does mean that I have lost some friends and distanced others because I’m not available 24/7 but I also know it’s essential for my wellbeing.
THINGS I DON’T DO AS AN HSP IN BUSINESS:
- I don’t take on multiple projects:
I’ve learned that if try to take on multiple projects I get overwhelmed and when I get overwhelmed I become unhappy. So I focus on a maximum of one or two projects at any one time and I focus on those projects until they’re done – and anything else has to go on the back burner unless I have a member of my team who is able to take on a project for me and see it through to completion with a minimum amount of input with me. And if you are wondering Yes!, this can be really frustrating sometimes! Because there’s also a part of me that’s very ambitious and very capable with a big vision for what I want to achieve. And I would move forward a lot more quickly with all of this if I was able to juggle multiple projects without burning out – and I see lots of people who can do this very successfully, who almost thrive on it. But that’s not me.
- I don’t have a complex business model:
I don’t run a complex business model with lots of different products and lots of different levels to my programmes. Every time you add a new level or product it means more tech, more automation, more admin, more accounts, more team maybe more Facebook Groups, and so on. And one way or another, that all has to be managed. So I have a business model where my core revenue comes from my Business from the Heart membership. If I don’t focus on anything else my business is still OK and that takes away a huge amount of pressure because I can choose how much or how little of everything else I take on.
I also have an online course called Get More Clients Saying Yes! that I launch just once each year, and how much work goes into that launch can vary depending on my levels of overwhelm and my energy levels. And a business Mastermind for a small group of women that’s really more of a “passion project” right now.
So it’s a very simple business model without too many bells, whistles and moving parts. And it relies on just one core revenue stream, which is the membership.
If you also identify as HSP just know that there is no rule that says you have to have multiple different programmes and you can keep your business model as simple as you choose – even if that’s just one group programme that you launch annually, or just one core 121 programme.
- I don’t do a lot of social media:
Social media is another thing that creates a feeling of overwhelm for me if I’m not careful. I do Facebook Lives like this one occasionally, and I always share my videos and blogs on Facebook as part of my content marketing strategy but I’ve never adopted social media as a marketing strategy in it’s own right, simply because I find it overwhelming to need to keep up with all the responses and messages, and of course the more I “output” on social media the more “input” comes back. Of course, I’d be a bit silly to ignore social media completely as it allows me to reach people the world over. But by not making it a core part of my marketing strategy, it means that I can do it in a way that feels more in flow rather than feeling under pressure to “be consistent” and to “keep up” or feel scared my business will fall apart if I don’t do it.
- I’m not “on the go” all day:
I have start times and finish times. And when I’m not working I’m fully off. Sometimes when I hang out with business friends I see that they are effectively never “off”. Now granted, they are far more productive than me. They have bigger businesses than me. They launch new programmes and new products all the time, they create new revenue streams, they manage larger teams than me. But they are also usually on the go all the time. Now of course some people absolutely thrive on this sort of multi-tasking all the day long. But if you identify as HSP operating like that might not support your wellbeing – and you will be far more successful if you are taking care of yourself as your priority.
You can create a business that works for you!
The core message from this today is that if you also identify as being highly sensitive, please don’t fall into believing a lot of the messages that come at you from the online space in particular, telling you that you need to be different to who you are, or that there is something really integral about you, that has to change in order for you to be successful. That’s just not the case.
Your sensitivity actually brings it’s own gifts and superpowers that others don’t have, you just need to learn how to nurture and protect those superpowers and create a business that supports you to do your best work, and that works for you at your own pace – rather than set off too fast and burn out before you get anywhere near achieving your vision.
Choose your teachers wisely
Connected to this, and as a final piece of advice is to be mindful of who you choose to guide and teach you as you grow your business. There there are some very strong, extroverted (and entirely brilliant) people out there who will teach you a certain way of being and doing in your business. What they teach is fantastic – but it might not be for you. Be very mindful of their messages and whether those messages really are true and what you need. And also look out for those people who are more like you – the highly sensitive people who have grown successful businesses or the people who feel who you feel you’ve got a lot more in common with and role model them instead. For a long time at the beginning of my business I chose as my role models women who were extremely extrovert and high energy and then beat myself up because I couldn’t seem to do what they did, or do what they were teaching without dropping into overwhelm.
These days I’m more interested in following and learning from people who are successful in business, but who are also committed to their health and well being, and to their families, rather than business at any cost, people who are ambitious and want to create great things and make a big difference in the world, but there’s a limit to what they’re willing to sacrifice to do that.
Over to you…
I’d love to hear from you. Do you identify as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? Let me know if I’ve given you any lightbulb moments. Maybe I’ve given you permission to do more of something, or to not do something that you feel that you you’ve been telling yourself, you have to do? Let me know in the comments below. I always love to hear from you!
With Love & Gratitude,
This is a very interesting post and I have actually come across the HSP term in your Membership group for the first time a few weeks ago. I didn’t even know there was such thing… Now a lot of things fall into place for me. Why I feel overwhelmed. Why I had an unsuccessful experience with a business coach (who just didn’t understand the amount of emotions I was going through and called it all ‘you’re scared’). Why other people’s 24/7 switch on business running gets me overwhelmed even just thinking of it. Why traditional pushy way of marketing and selling get me to cringe…
I followed your advice I learnt ages ago and check my emails twice a day (unless I’m expecting some super important news), have my weekends free and plan at least 2 holidays times a year when I switch off completely. I had burnout twice. Thank you, I don’t want that anymore.
I’m still looking for my perfect way to run my business, and I still ask myself a question whether business running is for me… Let’s see what comes out on this journey.
Hi Eugenia, I LOVE that you’ve had this insight about yourself. I think the realisation about HSP can be life changing for so many of us – we can stop wondering “what is wrong with us” and why we can’t be “fully on 24/7” like all the successful people we see around us, and learn how to make life and business work in a way that supports our own happiness and wellbeing. Am not sure there is a “perfect way” to run a business though – I’m certainly still working towards that balance myself! 🙂
The ideas that you have brought up in this blog are really worth taking note of. Your ideas about limiting the amount of channels that you need to interact with, hiring someone else to do this if it’s essential to your business and planning down time as well as uptime are really valuable pieces of advice. I take note particularly and know that I need to allow myself the down time at the moment to work through new ideas whilst the world is changing around COVID 19.
Hi Gillian, I’m so pleased you’ve found this valuable – us HSP’s get easily overwhelmed by things that others take in their stride so it makes sense that we learn to design our businesses to support us and be gentle with ourselves.
This is a message that is so important. I have a strong personality and pre-menopause seemed high energy (much less now) so people, and thus me too, assumed I wasn’t HSP. With videos like this it is so clear that I am! I too have found many of the same strategies are necessary for me to function positively. Listening to this I realise it’s why I advocate so strongly that we find our own unique brilliance and step into our leadership in a way that works for us as individuals. No cookie cutters allowed. Lol. Love this video/ blog. Great share.
P.S. Would be interesting to address how you as a person with high standards manage the stress that often comes with a need to achieve things to a certain standard.
Hi Helen, Thanks for your comment and insights. Ha! What a great question about how as someone with high standards I manage the stress of not always being able to meet those standards… not always easily, but I’m learning…. 🙂
I love your video on how to be a HSP.