Holiday season stress at small businesses is more intense than usual this year as pandemic-driven staff shortages and supply chain disruptions continue. With so much out of their control, company owners have to find ways to keep their anxiety in check.

Coping strategies vary, but some owners say fine-tuning their operations or merchandise eases some of their concerns. Self-care and downtime with families are also stress busters. And keeping a realistic outlook about what they can and can’t control gives owners peace as well. For those who are worried about the season ahead, there are ways to manage your mindset – and help your business get through tough times.

1. Minimize the impact of the supply chain bottleneck.

Small business owners who develop a strategy to deal with the ongoing supply chain problems are more likely to have an easier time, not only during the holidays but also into the next year.

Many business owners still don’t know if they’ll get manufacturing components or merchandise in time for the holidays; dozens of container ships are anchored off the West Coast while ports are overwhelmed. Alex Willen relieved some of his stress by getting products shipped from China months ago.

“The good news is that everything I ordered for the holiday season has either arrived or is slated to arrive before Black Friday/Cyber Monday,” says Willen, owner of San Diego-based Cooper’s Treats, which makes and sells dog treat mixes and molds.

But Willen still has worries. If sales are stronger than expected and the supply chain issues continue, it’ll be too late to reorder and get delivery in time for the holidays. Another concern: Delivery services can’t guarantee customers will get their orders on time. Willen already plans to remind customers via email and on his website to order early — and hopefully save himself the stress of having to apologize to disappointed procrastinators.

Other owners are turning to supply chain alternatives to ensure they’ll have the goods they need. Brian Lim’s apparel companies, Into the AM and iHeartRaves, have brought inventory in by air freight, at a cost four to five times more than what it costs for shipping by sea.

2. Not enough workers? Scale back your expectations and your business.

Owners are learning how to keep working despite a labor shortage that predates the pandemic. For some, it means keeping their business smaller until they can fill job openings.

Warren Byington, co-owner of a San Antonio outdoor contractor business, has had to regretfully turn down business when he doesn’t have enough workers, and he’s concerned that he may have to say no to some customers during the holidays. November and December are a busy time for his company, Backyard Brothers, as homeowners want to get their pools repaired during the colder weather. And staffers usually want to take time off.

Byington already has a workforce deficit — Backyard Brothers has four full-time staffers instead of the ideal six to 12. And he knows it will be harder to recruit when the weather gets colder, and people would rather be indoors. He copes by being realistic about what his company can and cannot do, and making peace with the fact he has to turn some customers away.

“If I were committing to things, then scrambling and struggling to fulfill them with not enough time or manpower, then it would be stressful,” he says.

3. Look beyond the holidays and focus on the long term.

Retailers often expect to make a substantial portion of their sales during the holidays. But the uncertainty of this season is forcing some to take a more holistic approach, lowering their expectations for this year and concentrating on revenue opportunities for the next year.

“I’m trying not to pin all our hopes of success on this one holiday period,” says Keta Burke-Williams, who launched Aspen Apothecary, a New York-based perfume company, with her sister Kaja.

Another startup, Black Diamond Junk Removal, began operating in Northeast Ohio in late October with one truck. Owner Tucker Anderson had hoped for a second truck by now, but the manufacturer can’t finish building it because components haven’t arrived. Anderson is limited in the amount of work he can do during the holidays, a busy time as homeowners decide to get rid of clutter before their guests arrive.

So, he’s focusing on the future, putting a marketing plan together that he can launch when his second truck arrives.

4. Take heart – everyone’s struggling.

The pain points are universal this holiday season – supply gridlock and labor shortages affect companies across industries. Owners can take solace from the fact they’re not alone.

Into the AM and iHeartRaves ordered early from their overseas factories and bought larger amounts of inventory, but they have 60% of what they wanted already in their warehouse. But Lim, whose company is based in Anaheim, California, says the global supply chain problems have leveled the playing field.

“We have tons of inventory waiting at the port. Everyone’s waiting,” he says.

5. Avoid burnout with self-care.

When faced with circumstances beyond their control, owners look to a work-life balance to help them with stress — they know when to put the business aside and spend time with their families. Burke-Williams sits down and enjoys her sister’s good cooking.

Byington focuses on his three young children: “When I’m with them, I shut work out of my mind, goof off and have fun and just be Dad.”

A holiday season coinciding with a pandemic poses extraordinary challenges for small business owners. By relying on the qualities that small businesses are famous for — perseverance and resilience — it’s possible to ease the stress and stay optimistic.

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