Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person entrepreneur

How to Succeed as an Entrepreneur When You’re a Highly Sensitive Person

HSPs are pros at forming deep connections with people. So, as an entrepreneur, don’t be afraid to use those connections.

I started my own business before I realized I was a highly sensitive person (HSP). I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and have always loved business. Even as a kid, I “hired” my sister and her friends to run my lemonade stand for me so that I could make more money by working two stands instead of only one. Of course, as an adult with a real business, I actually had to pay my employees.

In Canada, in certain provinces, as dental hygienists, we are able to own and operate independent dental hygiene practices that do not have a dentist. I was lucky enough to be one of the first graduating classes that would have this opportunity. After graduation, I started working as an employee for a dentist. I learned the skills I needed to be a good dental hygienist. Then I started to expand my knowledge and learned how the overall practice was run. Finally, I took a business course — as well as earned a Masters in Business — before I eventually pulled the trigger to open my own practice.

I have since sold that business and moved on to other life adventures. But, looking back now, knowing that I am an HSP, I realize I could have done things much differently, especially in the planning process of starting my business. I am not sure it would have changed anything in how much profit I made, or who I employed, or even how I ran the business, but I am sure it would have made the entire thing more enjoyable and maybe even a bit easier. 

Here are some things I learned: what I would do again the same way and what I would change if I were to do it all over again.

5 Tips for Excelling as an Entrepreneur as a Highly Sensitive Person

1. Don’t start from scratch: Use your current relationships and resources to help get your business off the ground.

I moved back to the city where I was born to open my business. I had been living and working in a city three hours away for a decade. My thought was that more people would be more likely to support me if I was at “home.” Unfortunately, patients tend to get attached to their care providers and don’t easily change who they see. By moving away from the patients and the community I had developed over a decade of my adult life, I forced myself to break all of these bonds. And, as an HSP, I’d had deep, meaningful connections and relationships with people.

But it didn’t matter: No one drove three hours to have their teeth cleaned. And because I had not built up adult or professional relationships in my home city, no one felt the need to support me (other than my wonderful family). It was hard and lonely because of this.

If I were to do it over again, I would have moved home for at least a year and worked, volunteered, and become integrated into the community where I wanted to start and grow a business. I would develop relationships and gain the trust of those around me so that there would be a reason people would want to see me. Or, I could have started my business where I had already been living for a decade, where I had already built up those relationships. Either way, this concept of being well-connected and involved where you want to have your business is crucial. The support that I needed as a business owner and as a highly sensitive person wasn’t there because I had not created that necessary network.

2. The people you hire matter — if you need an office manager, hire an office manager. Don’t try to do it all alone.

The people you hire to help you really matter. Clearly, this makes logical sense and I am sure that any business owner would tell you the same thing. But as a highly sensitive person, this matters even more. As people-pleasers, we tend to strive to create harmony around us and are aware of any discord or negativity that may be surrounding us. Because of this, if you hire people that stress you out or who tend to carry heavy emotional baggage, it can really be a burden for you as the boss/business owner.

I hired good people. We worked well together and apart. But it was still stressful for me to manage different personalities within a small space. I constantly worried if I was upsetting one of my employees while I was working to make another happy. I lost sleep over trying to balance the emotions I felt like I was taking on from each of the people around me (and if you’re an HSP, you know how important it is for us to get enough sleep!). And because I was the “boss,” I found it challenging to ensure that each person was pulling their share of the weight without feeling like I was being negative or mean by enforcing the office policies. This should come as no surprise to my fellow HSPS since it can be hard for us to set boundaries. I was constantly worried that I was offending someone, and it caused me a lot of anxiety.

Had I been more aware of my highly sensitive personality, I may have invested in a part-time office manager or a trainer who could have set everyone on the same path. It would have put an arm’s length between myself and my employees, which may have made it more comfortable for me to focus more on running the office.

3. Try not to take everything personally (no matter how difficult it may be).

I know, I know, as a highly sensitive person, you have probably been told this your entire life: “Don’t take it personally!” And I, too, have shed many tears over this statement through the years — as a business owner, as an employee, and just over life in general. (Of course, it doesn’t help that HSPs cry more easily than others!) As an HSP, things are personal. And sometimes other people just don’t realize how their words and actions come across to someone with a more sensitive soul.

Plus, because it is your business, it is going to be so much harder to not take things personally when it’s your finances, your livelihood, and your dreams that are on the line. You will overanalyze that comment a customer made or the way that employee left on Friday. And criticism isn’t easy for HSPs! You will lose sleep over the little things that seemingly roll right off of other people’s backs.

So aside from telling you the obvious — to let it go — make sure you have a support system in place. Have people you can call to vent. Have spreadsheets that back up your decisions. Understand where your personal breaking point is, and know when you need to take a step back and recharge so that you can keep going, which is so important for HSPs to do. Self-care will seem like the last thing that you will have the time or money for when you are starting your own business, but don’t neglect you. Without you, there would be no business. And everyone has time to squeeze self-care into their day, whether it’s a walk around the block, a bath after work, or a five-minute meditation or breathing exercise.

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4. Have a back-up plan: What are other ways you can make money, just in case?

Most entrepreneurs have a “worst-case scenario” plan. I had roommates living in my house that were paying my mortgage, which made me less stressed about my personal finances. That way, if I had to bail on my business, at least I wouldn’t lose my house. This would also give my overstimulated HSP senses some relief from having one more thing to worry about. In addition, I repeatedly told myself that if the business didn’t make enough money to make ends meet, or if there was something I needed to buy for the business, I could always clean houses to get extra cash. (As a teenager, I had started a house cleaning business because I wasn’t happy making minimum wage, so I knew this was a viable option.)

Having this back-up plan made it easier to take the risky step of starting my own business. I still had to take out a loan from the bank, but I knew that I could pay it back with money from side jobs if I needed to.

The stress of starting a new business is immense. As an HSP, I was even more paranoid and petrified about the enormity of what I was doing. But I also leaned into my HSP strengths. By creating logical plans and answering the most bizarre and unique “what if” questions, I was able to keep my anxiety in check and follow through on what needed to get done.

5. Ask yourself what your definition of success looks like.

Asking yourself what your definition of success looks like may seem like an odd question to be asking as you are planning your entrepreneurial journey. But it is an important step in knowing, and being ready for, your and your business’ future. It is easy to get stuck in the weeds: spending too much time and energy on the details of running your business. And as an HSP — since we tend to focus and overanalyze a lot of extra information — being stuck in these little details can be even more all-consuming.

So planning for success is an important step — not just visualizing where you see your business heading in the future, but really knowing what your version of success is. And know that it is OK to redefine what success is as your business plan, and your business, grow and evolve. Also, don’t compare your success to anyone else’s. Everyone’s journey is different!

Now that I have been out of my business for four years, I see how important this concept is. I felt like I had failed when I ran to a job opportunity where I had the opportunity to be an employee, leaving my business behind. However, when I look back from where I am now, I realize that I did have a successful business. I learned a lot. I didn’t go into debt. I was even able to sell my business at the end. Just because I didn’t stay where I was for a decade didn’t mean that I wasn’t successful. Which goes back to my initial point: Ask yourself what your definition of success looks like.

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