Running a business isn’t easy at the best of times; when you’re running a business and fundraising, the threat of burnout is all too real, and ever present.

In this article I’ll talk about this exact issue; burnout, and how to avoid it while managing the formidable challenge that is fundraising for your business.

Welcome to club “workaholic”

Many of the Founders I coach frequently work 6- or 7-day weeks. They’re dedicated, ambitious, and willing to do whatever it takes to get their venture off the ground. They’re also not unusual in this…

A recent survey run by the entrepreneurial community, Startup Grind found that 49 percent of participating founders work more than 50 hours per week, and that a further 28 percent work more than 60 hours per week.

If your knee-jerk reaction to those stats is to think, “Wow.. 60 hours. I need to work HARDER”, then congratulations, you’re officially a founder.

Joking aside, this workaholic, “everything-else-comes-second” mentality will eventually come back to bite you in the backside (because contrary to popular belief, we founders are not super-human!).

The sad truth is that very few founders apply the same diligence and care to looking after themselves as they do to growing their businesses. As a result, and unsurprisingly, their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing can suffer. 

Throw the additional task of fundraising into the mix… and the countdown to burnout begins.

Fundraising: A mental, emotional and physical challenge

Fundraising is effectively like taking on another full-time job; it is mentally, physically and emotionally draining.

If you enter a fundraising round while still spending upwards of 40 or 50 hours a week on other business tasks, you’ll soon find yourself without time for ANYTHING else. 

Say goodbye to socialising, hobbies, rest, sleep, eating, bathroom breaks, and your sanity.

This is exactly what happened to Alex, Founder of Kandidate, when he found himself neck-deep in a seemingly endless fundraising cycle back in 2019.

Alex joined me on the last episode of Future Fit Founder to share his personal experience with burnout, and the lessons he learned as a result.

His brush with burnout occurred during a time when he was creating around 8 to 15 pitches a week, and making dozens of phone calls a day. He was worn down by exhaustion, self doubt, the day-in-day out challenge of explaining his business to investors, and the looming threat that it could all come to nothing if he failed to get all the “yes”s he needed at the same time…

(Any active CEO who has single-handedly managed an extended funding round will tell you it’s somewhat like trying to run a marathon while solving a rubix cube – it’s not fun, and anyone who witnesses it will think you’re insane).

Anyway – when burnout struck, Alex found himself in a very bad way emotionally, and physically. He was unable to go on, and ended up having to take two weeks off work at what was probably the worst possible time.

He’s unfortunately not alone. Of the 500 founders interviewed during the Startup Grind survey, a worrying 67 percent say they suffer from personal health issues as a result of their professional lives. 38 percent of respondents reported frequent episodes of insomnia, while 26 percent stated they had mental health issues due to the stressful nature of their work (though, the stigma attached to mental health issues could well mean that the true percentage is much higher).

Several years on, Alex is thankfully able to laugh at the total madness of the situation he’d gotten himself into – though it was far from funny at the time. He also shared some excellent burnout-avoidance advice for fundraising founders.

Here’s a little snapshot of that advice:

  • Delegate: don’t expect to be the hands-on, omnipresent business leader you usually are – there just aren’t enough hours in the day. If the budget allows, bring in someone to help with the process.
  • Mentally de-risk the situation: Wrap your head around the idea that things might not go to plan, and that not hitting your target will not lead to the end of the world as you know it.
  • Find moments of quiet: Preserve your sanity by making time to rest, and to do the things that make you happy.
  • Most importantly, prepare yourself for the mental and physical challenge ahead.

Train for the marathon

One of the best pieces of advice I give to founders is to recognise the physical, mental and emotional toll fundraising will take, and to approach the challenge like an athlete preparing for a sporting event – and I’m not talking about like an 80s footballer!

You can’t run a marathon without training and expect to finish it, just like you can’t approach fundraising with zero preparation and expect to get through it unscathed (or, indeed, successfully – remember that “preparation leads to peak performance”).

Just like athletes, founders can strategically plan for a fundraising round to make sure they reach the finish line. This should include basic practical steps, like:

  • Ironing out a realistic picture of what you need to raise
  • Preparing ready-made responses for difficult questions 
  • Setting up a dedicated fundraising workspace

Most founders also benefit from adopting healthy lifestyle habits, like eating well, getting enough sleep, and limiting alcohol consumption. This may be slightly unwelcome advice, but it can make the world of difference to mental resilience and physical stamina (both of which you will need – in spades).

Finally, make sure your family, friends and team members know you’re going to be low on time and actively prioritising self-care.

“Would you like to… dogsit this weekend / go out for a drink / take over this project?”

“Nope – I’m afraid I’m fundraising.”