How To Run A Sustainable Business Without Running Yourself Into The Ground

Now more than ever the world needs small businesses to rebuild it, lift community spirit and strengthen the economy once again.

But many entrepreneurial ventures are abandoned before they have time to change the world.

For Shannon Hayes, learning to find balance and true wealth beyond monetary value are keys to achieving a flourishing business journey.

We sat down with Shannon to talk about how she manages to live the dream and the steps small business owners can take to avoid burnout.

There was a moment, just after I’d completed graduate school, the ink still wet on my diploma, when I stood on the cusp of achieving my goal: I’d been offered an entry-level position at the college whose faculty I most wanted to join.

I was starting on the path to becoming a college professor. I had a chance to begin introducing the concepts that were so important to me and to my students: sustainability, and the value of small farms and life-serving local economies.

My husband, Bob, and I had gone camping that weekend, and I spent hours staring at the mountains across the lake where we were set up, journal in my lap, pen in my hand.

As I scrawled away on the pages, unleashing raw emotions in my book, something dawned on me.

I was on the cusp of achieving a goal. But it was at the expense of a dream.

I was going to teach about the value of small business, local living, making choices today to ensure a better future for tomorrow.

But what Bob and I most wanted to do was apply our hearts and life energy to being the sustainable future, to building a vibrant, life-serving economy.

Not just professing its value while living in the mainstream extractive economy.

We packed up our things and drove home, where I turned down the job.

We turned our hearts and our attention to the most uncertain of futures: joining my parents to work our family farm that was in the red while pursuing our creative passions and our drive to turn our rural down-and-out community into a hub of local joy and prosperity.

From dream to reality

The neighbours inquired as to whether we might have a drug problem.

Family members shook their heads in confusion.

Twenty years ago, it seemed like a dangerous proposition — to forego steady paychecks and pensions, to rely on our wits and the land for sustenance.

We had long days on our feet, nights where we nearly fell asleep with our faces in our supper plates, years where cash flow management felt like a juggling act.

But the farm grew, we created a community cafe, renovated properties to create quality affordable rentals and vacation lodging, raised and schooled our children, took on a third kid who needed a home and did the same for him, and worked with my parents and our employees to provide food for the region.

We pushed through economic hardship, we flourished through a pandemic (so far), and we’ve stayed happy and in love.

Living the dream, it turns out, is waaaaayyyy more fun than professing its value.

But the longer we live it, the more we want to see it grow in the hearts of other entrepreneurial adventurers.

Give those dreams a fighting chance

Too often, we see prospective farmers and small business owners burn out, divorce, or abandon dreams similar to ours before they’re even off the ground.

And that’s a tragedy because in times like this when the world is torn asunder and life must be re-built, it is the small farmers and the small businesses that we most need.

Those ventures that rebuild each community’s spirit, neighbourly connections and resilience bit by bit, create a new world with a life-serving economy that was better than the last, making room for joy, play, justice, health and prosperity.

If you’re one of those entrepreneurial adventurers, I want to assure you that nothing needs to stand in your way.

But there are definitely a few tips and lessons that will help to ensure your success, empowering you to launch your new life into the stratosphere, before you run yourself into the ground:

How To Run A Sustainable Business Without Running Yourself To The Ground

1. Start with a Quality of Life Statement (QOLS)

This is a simple, one-page statement written by you and whoever your household partners may be (pre-teen and teen kids should be included in this).

Don’t worry about what your life looks like right now.

Think about what you want your life to look like.

Do you want time to walk in the woods? To paint?

Play music and take more naps?

Live someplace different?

What labours do you envision in your ideal daily life? Gardening? Cooking?

Every life is made joyful by its labuors, so think about the ones you’d willingly assume to make your days full.

Everyone’s wishes matter here. Get it all down.

Then, once everything is written down, post this someplace where you can easily refer to it every time you make a major decision.

The more you delve into this new world of the life-serving economy, the more opportunities you’ll discover.

The QOLS will become your compass, helping you to navigate your choices.

2. Plan to diversify your income stream

It’s unwise to plan to do just one thing for your household income.

Jobs go away, businesses go through rough economic patches.

Here in the life-serving economy, I’ve observed there are four basic categories of income that enable prosperity:

  1. meaningful employment
  2. business income
  3. non-monetary income (home cooking, gardening, food preservation, child care or schooling, do-it-yourself repairs and building — all activities that do NOT count as income, but that reduce a household’s expenses).
  4. passive income (my definition is broader than most accountants’ — examples of this might be royalties, patronage, rental income, investment income, peer-to-peer lending).

I’ve found that, of these four income types, a family thrives best when it has at least three of these categories represented. The income categories may shift over time as well.

Meaningful employment (a job that doesn’t suck your soul) might be good at the outset while you build your passive income portfolio, for example.

3. Identify true wealth

We are trained in conventional business that “wealth = money.”

But in truth, money plays a much smaller role in quality of life than you might think.

You can’t eat it.

You can’t sleep beneath it at night.

And beyond a certain amount that helps you meet basic needs, studies have shown that more of it will not make you happy.

So that means that life on this path should be the pursuit of true wealth, those things that will truly make you happy.

These can be things like:

  • a safe and comfortable place to sleep
  • time to read/play music/write/dream
  • nourishing food
  • fresh air and clean water to nurture your health
  • loving relationships
  • access to the natural world to hike and play
  • opportunities for spiritual growth
  • a good place to go skinny dipping

All of these things will do more to ensure you have a good time here on this planet than the size of your bank account.

As you plan your business and work life, these factors must be taken into consideration.

It is likely that a new business, even with a solid business plan, will be in the red the first few years of operation.

But if you’re still able to hike in the forest, sit down to a home-cooked meal, have friends and neighbors who make you laugh, and time to play with your kids, you’re still building wealth.

All of these things will not only keep you happy through the hard times; they are worthy investments that will pay you back in the future with greater health and joy.

And the more you invest in them, the more there will be for others.

And that compounds and comes back to you.

Keep this in mind as you make business decisions, and as you interact with your employees and community.

4. Get organised

My personal organisation system is to think like a chef – I have a planned mise-en-place for my life, my business, as well as my cafe kitchen.

I’ve learned that every minute I am willing to slow down to clean my work area, eliminate clutter or organise my day and remove unrealistic expectations from my to-do list, leaves me with more joy for my work, and more peace of mind when I leave it behind to play.

5. Learn to say NO

Remember that QOLS we talked about in step one?

That’s going to guide you in this process.

Many people enter the life-serving economy with dreams of greater freedom and sense of purpose…but with a lot of fear.

Fear leads them to say “yes” to every opportunity and request that comes their way.

And that causes them to surrender their freedom and lose their sense of purpose.

Do not say yes to anything that interferes with your quality of life.

Expect to say “no” more than you will say “yes.”

This will keep you focused on achieving your greater dreams while ensuring you have a balanced life where you can enjoy the true wealth you’re building.

It is not your responsibility to make sure that every project, initiative and relationship is a success.

When you step out of the way with your half-hearted enthusiasm, you make room for someone else’s heartfelt engagement, or you enable a path to unfold for deeper growth and innovation.

No’s create just as much opportunity as the yeses.

The world is tired.

We’ve had generations of getting heartless jobs, complying with expectations and getting by (or not).

It’s time to build a vibrant future that can nourish and sustain everyone.

Keeping the above tips in mind, it’s very doable.

We just need your creative spark to help kindle the fire. What’s your dream?

Shannon Hayes operates Sap Bush Hollow Farm, Cafe & Vacation rentals with three generations of her family. Learn more about her farm & her work at

The above story is excerpted from her newest title, Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles and Smart Living, from BenBella Books. Find it on Bookshop.Org.

She is author of several books and the host of The Hearth of Sap Bush Hollow Podcast, chronicles & lessons from a life tied to family, community and the land.