Stress Less This Holiday Term"

Have you seen those before-and-after pictures floating around the Web of Presidents, from Barack Obama and George W. Bush to Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush? Over the years, multiple websites have published these presidents' inauguration pictures side-by-side with pictures of them in office or finishing their terms.

Perhaps needless to say, their "after" pictures show noticeably older men - carrying years of stress in their faces. It's no wonder why. In office, they had arguably the toughest job in the world, responsible for the life and liberty of hundreds of millions of people.

At scale, running a business can feel like running a country. Small business owners (SBOs) are not only responsible for their company profits, but also their employees' wellbeing, as their staff counts on them for steady paychecks, at the very least. Often resource strapped, SBOs are some of the hardest working people in our economy with Bank of America reporting on average, 72 percent of them work 40-plus hours a week and sacrifice a work-life balance we all seek.

The holiday retail season - 61 days between November and December - can be even more trying for SBOs, as many of them depend on the revenue of this season all year long. For some retailers, the holiday season can represent as much as 20-40 percent of annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation. In fact, in 2012, holiday sales represented 19.3 percent of total retail industry sales.

Talk about stress. Despite this, even retail SBOs who heavily depend on strong sales during this time to ensure success, are feeling hopeful (66 percent according to FedEx). Even 47 percent of SBOs counting on the season are actually excited. Is this their before picture?

Maybe, but they do have reasons to be excited. Ecommerce is a thriving environment fueled by innovation and changing consumer habits, but the demands of providing a consistent, reliable retail experience can quickly pose problems - adding fine lines in faces of small business owners and small cracks in their companies' foundations. Some issues that arise this shopping season may be unavoidable, but others are nearly 100 percent preventable. Most - if not all - businesses that sell consumer-facing products will see a spike in holiday traffic this month and next. That said, the additional influx of traffic can send a website crashing down. SBOs can call their Web hosting companies to take measures against downtime, before the fact. A few extra hours of employee training, a calendar for email promotions or thumbing through the pages of this magazine couldn't hurt either.

Time management is also of the essence this busy season. There are countless Web-based productivity tools that Website Magazine writes about nearly every issue, but good old-fashioned to-do lists can help manage some stress and ensure there are no loose ends simply forgot about because of mind-overload. And, when it doubt, taking a deep breath or a quick walk can go a long way in stress relief.

Expectations are high at the inauguration of this holiday "term", as they should be. Quickly, however, the stresses that come along with increases in marketing activities and customer interactions, as well as life-work management, can take a toll. Start the season off right by relying on trusted providers or solutions, delegating to reliable employees, learning to say no if you need to and staying organized. In doing so, the twinkle in your digital eye should stick around for your after picture.