Angie and Colin Raja are part of an elite group of entrepreneurs. The married couple, who live in Queens, N.Y., built their business, RIMSports to a profitable $1 million in revenue in 2016, before they even hired their first employee. In doing so, they joined a growing continent of founders who’ve achieved seven -figure revenue with no payroll in million-dollar, one-person businesses and partnerships, a trend that continues to pick up steam, according to Census data.
Their business took shape when Colin, an amateur boxer, got Angie interested in Cross Fit and boxing training. She noticed that much of the gear for women came in drab colors like black—and they realized there was money to be made by selling it in hues that appealed to women.
At the time, both were working in the financial services industry—Angie in marketing and Colin in IT. To test their idea, they raised money through a side hustle where they sold water bottles they bought for $1 for $20 on eBay. Then, through online and telephone research, they found a private label manufacturer overseas that would make the gear, like cross-training gloves, in the colors they wanted.
Their business took off, but keeping up with the fast growth became an endurance challenge. They put in very long hours to make sure there was 24/7 customer service. Often, there was no time to stop for dinner until it was late in the evening, when their only option was to order takeout food. Their shared passion for health and fitness took a back burner, and they felt tired and unhealthy, though they were only in their mid-thirties. “We got lost in our business,” says Angie.
They also experienced emotional burnout from their demanding schedule. “We were not able to be very focused,” says Colin. “Our performance was going down.”
Finally, they realized they had to get away. Last summer, they traveled to Thailand to study Muay Thai, a type of Thai boxing, for a couple of months while running their business remotely as digital nomads. Ultimately, they got back into shape, lost weight and felt better overall.
“I didn’t think I would be successful in trying a new sport,” Angie says. “Once I got into the momentum, though, I realized how much fun I was having and how much strength I was gaining. It gave me that feeling that anything was possible.”
The Rajas are not alone in finding that running a business can take a toll on your health. A whopping 67% of startup founders reporting having personal health issues tied their working lives, according to a new study of 504 founders by RB, a global health company, and Startup Grind, a global community for entrepreneurs.
One reason is the long hours some put in. Among those surveyed, 49% said they log more than 50 hours per week, with 28% working 60+ hours. That compares to the 38.6 hours average workweek for employees in the U.S.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 38% of startup founders say they suffer with insomnia or poor sleep, while 26% have mental health complaints, including stress, anxiety and depression.
Meanwhile, many founders struggle to eat well, with 34% believing that their work has caused their diet to deteriorate.
The good news, as the Rajas found, is that when you’re self-employed and control when and where you work, it’s very possible to hack your schedule to fit self-care into your routine.
“Entrepreneurs can get lost in the mix of all of the tasks they have to do,” says Angie. “Taking some time out for themselves is very important for their health and future.”
And many people do. Sixty-four percent of respondents to the Freelancing in America survey by Upwork and the Freelancers Union said their general health has improved since starting freelancing (slide 31).
So how did the couple get their health back on track? They shared their strategies with me recently.
Start TODAY: The Rajas realized for months that they needed to make wellness a priority, but they kept putting it off.
“Many months we’d say, ‘Monday we’ll start,’” recalls Colin. But, given the demands of running a fast-growing business, that perfect Monday never came.
Change arrived when they decided to stop waiting for Monday and said, ‘We’re going to kickstart the journey today,’” he says.
For other entrepreneurs battling procrastination, Colin advises the same approach: “If you desire to get fit and have a healthy lifestyle, start on the day you think about it—not tomorrow,'” he says.
Fit workouts into whatever type of day you’re having. Often, the Rajas found themselves skipping their workouts because, after a long day at the office, it was hard to get to the gym. Rather than miss a whole day of exercise, they decided to fit physical activity into their day, no matter what their schedule looked like.
For instance, they might climb the 350 stairs in their office building, repeatedly. “Whatever is available to us, we will use it to further our fitness and stay on track,” Angie says.
Focus on “small wins.” The Rajas’ business wasn’t built in a day, and they realized it would take time to create a healthy lifestyle while also growing their business.
To stay motivated, they decided to focus on achieving small daily victories. “One small win will bring you a bigger win in your life,” says Colin. “If you are consistent and wake up every single morning and go on a 10-minute walk and you lose 5 pounds after 30 days, that’s a small win.” Over time, a win like that could add up to a much bigger victory, he says.
Keep an eye on calories. It’s easy to consume more calories than you need if you order takeout. And in a foodie mecca like New York City, there’s temptation all around.
Without depriving themselves of their favorite foods, the Rajas started paying more attention to the calorie counts on the foods they ate, to cut their intake by 400 to 600 calories a day. “We could easily slip back into old habits by not being aware,” says Angie.
Embrace mindfulness: Once Angie added meditation to her fitness journey, she didn’t want to stop doing it. “I found that it helped me re-center and become more hyper-aware of how I’m spending my time and how effectively I’m spending my time,” she says. “It also helped me realize there were other compartments of life that are important, in addition to being in business.”
She now uses both meditation and prayer to break down the mental barriers she feels herself facing during the day. “You can use this to zoom out and visualize your life and all of the different compartments that make us human beings,” she says.
Track your progress. The Rajas found that recording their progress on activities like eating healthy, drinking more water and working out in writing kept them motivated.
Drawing on their own experiences led to a new product: The RIM Sports Fitness Journal, a 90-day fitness planner. “Our experiences helped us see the perspective some of our customers have,” says Angie. “They think they can’t do it.”
But having a written record of everything they’ve accomplished so far can help turn that mindset around, she found. “I used it to remind myself of how far I’ve come,” says Angie.
Rethink your business operations. Although the Rajas managed to make lifestyle changes while running an ultra-lean operation, they realized it would be hard to stick with them and grow the company without adding employees. They have hired 14 customer service employees, who are based in Chennai, India, where Colin is from, so they no longer have to be on call 24/7. Having a bigger team fueled growth, and, according to the Rajas, the company now generates more than $3 million in annual revenue.
It also gave them a new mission: to empower women who do not have the family support to work outside the home: 90% of their team is home-based. “We’re giving them an opportunity to gain confidence so they can achieve something on their own,” says Colin. As the Rajas found, it’s not hard to build confidence once you start working toward your goals and getting results.