Search marketing is the ultimate seductress. It lures you in with the promise of an interesting, exciting career that can actually pay the bills, but soon you’re regularly pulling 12 hour days with no vacations. There’s intense pressure to achieve high search rankings and triple digit ROIs to keep clients happy in a dynamic industry where the rules change frequently and the competition is growing in leaps and bounds. It’s no wonder search marketers feel stressed. Stress is running rampant in the search marketing industry and failing to address its effects on you and your client relations can destroy your SEM business faster than a low Google ranking.
So how do you avoid burning out?
A little stress can be good and helps keep us productive and focused. However, excessive stress over a long period can lead to burnout. Burnout is an unhealthy mental and physical state that can damage your health and business. It has made many excellent search marketers leave the industry in search of an alternate way of life. Anyone who has been in the industry for any length of time has faced the burnout syndrome at some point.
Signs of SEM Job Burnout
Remember when you first started in search and loved every minute of it? That was a time when you couldn’t wait to check your rankings on Google, travel to the next SEM conference, or pitch your services to that new client. That was good stress—the kind that helps launch a successful business.
But, over time, the demands of such an intense industry can become overwhelming as it gets harder to balance client, co-worker, and family demands. When that happens, the symptoms of burnout may start to appear:
- Irritable with family, clients, and co-workers. Do you start the day in a bad mood and never get better? Do co-workers and family members hesitate to approach you with problems and questions?
- Physical and mental exhaustion. This includes headaches, sleeplessness, fatigue, forgetfulness, muscle aches, and tension. Your body responds to stress and burnout by getting sick. If you’ve had more than your share of colds, headaches, and other illnesses, that’s a huge warning sign.
- Apathy and listlessness about your job and with co-workers. You may have little interest in new projects, be eager to leave at the end of the day, and pull back from socializing with your co-workers at work or away.
- Sense of hopelessness about your job situation. Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you have, think you’ll never get ahead, and have difficulty setting goals and priorities?
- Cynical and sarcastic reactions to everyday events. Of all symptoms, this is the most destructive to you personally and professionally. Your relationships suffer when every reaction you have is negative or cynical.
Burnout is a gradual process. You don’t just wake up one morning burned out, so it’s critical to recognize the symptoms before they get too severe and affect your business and personal life.
Ten strategies for avoiding burnout
Everyone is vulnerable to burnout, but people with an entrepreneurial spirit that the SEM industry especially attracts seem particularly susceptible. Getting a small business off the ground is a stressful but exciting adventure. Every small business owner usually starts as a one or two-person operation. There’s no distinct job description: you’re the manager, worker, accountant, search marketing guru, and customer service department all rolled into one.
But, as the business grows, so do the responsibilities. It’s hard for many owners to let go and spread the responsibilities across several people or departments. When one person tries to do it all for too long, he or she is inexorably headed for burnout.
A job doesn’t have to be that stressful for someone to experience burnout. The reason for burnout in most cases is the feeling that you have little or no control over your job duties and obligations. The best antidote for burnout is balance—in your professional life and personal life.
Here are a few antidotes to SEM burnout, from the personal to the broader aspects of your professional life.
Take a deep breath—literally. A slow, deep inhale of air followed by a slow, measured exhale is a stress-busting technique you can use anywhere. Slow, deep breathing lowers your heart rate, blood pressure, and reduces stress hormones.
Make time for exercise. For most search marketers, breaking away from the computer to go exercise is a foreign concept. It’s easy to say you’re too busy or too tired to exercise, but physical activity is a great way to keep stress from overwhelming you. Exercise tires out your body so you sleep better, releases endorphins to improve your mood, and makes you feel healthier and more in control.
Remember, doing nothing IS doing something! Okay, this is one of the hardest steps for search marketers who feel their work is never done. Stop feeling guilty about taking time for you. Nobody should—or is able to—work all the time. Get a massage, spend a few hours at the movies, or go on a hike. Do anything you personally enjoy that has nothing to do with work. Can’t spare an hour? Even 15 minutes of peace and quiet can help recharge your batteries and clear your head.
Keep your sense of humor. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, laughter really is the best medicine. A 2007 study found that “…mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels,” but laughter helps protect your heart.
Don’t be “on-call” all the time. Schedule downtime. Make time for your family and friends. While the internet is open for business 24/7, you don’t have to be. Set your hours of availability, and guard your free time. Turn off the email, IM, and let the answering machine get the phone at certain times and don’t feel guilty about it.
Spread the work around. There’s no law that says you have to write every blog post yourself or take part in every conference call or review every piece of web site copy. Find good people you can depend on to get the job done and trust them.
Learn to say no! You don’t have to accept every speaking opportunity, agree to serve on every community board, or take on more clients than you can handle. Part of building a good business reputation is visibility, but accepting more responsibility than you can handle hurts your business and your health in the long run.
Choose clients carefully. Who doesn’t have at least one high-maintenance client who demands instant response and far more service than he’s willing to pay for? Unreasonable client demands can sap your time and energy and offer little or no payoff for the business. Chances are, the client has already burned through other hapless SEO consultants before landing on your doorstep. Show them the door as soon as you can.
Don’t sell yourself short. When starting out, many owners are tempted to give low price quotes to clients in order to build up a client base. But then you find yourself locked into low-paying contracts that take just as much energy as those priced more realistically. The original clients still deserve your best effort, so it’s easy to feel trapped by obligations and feel as though you’re doing a lot of work for (almost) nothing.
Return to what you loved about your job. As your business grows, you may find yourself removed from the work you used to enjoy the most. The National Federation of Independent Businesses describes how that can lead to entrepreneurial burnout, noting that business owners were dismayed when “…the intricacies of running the business overshadowed the thrill of growing it.” If that’s happening to you, delegate some tasks you enjoy less, and take on a project you do enjoy.
One way to bring back joy into search marketing is to keep a hobby fun site just for you. When regular work becomes too much, take a break and spend some time on your fun site. A “play” site will allow you to keep your skills up and will give you a place to decompress and remind you why you love search.
What’s important is that the act of reclaiming a favorite task gives you a feeling of control and accomplishment. It helps you avoid this trap: “Entrepreneurs commonly suffer burnout when they feel like they no longer have any challenges or room to be creative in their work”
Burnout can hurt you physically and mentally— and it can kill your business. In a small organization, the owner/manager sets the tone of the entire group. If you’re unmotivated, depressed, irritable, and resentful, that attitude affects the people around you, including your clients.
Preventing burnout isn’t just a good idea—your business and your health depend on it!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.