Nicole Sullivan | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Nicole Sullivan


BookBar opened at 4280 Tennyson St. in north Denver in 2013. The combination bookstore and wine bar has become a popular place for readers to sip and shop.

Due to the success of BookBar, Nicole Sullivan started offering small business consulting to other bookstore hybrid concepts across the country in partnership with Paz & Associates in 2017.

The Mistake:

I neglected my work-life balance.

Opening a business is all-consuming. People like me tend to think that if you can make it through that initial push, you’ll be able to take a step back, get back into good routines, and let the business run.

That’s just not how it works if you’re doing it right. You never really get past that initial push. Instead, you’re constantly innovating, changing, and growing your business. That point where you can get back to a healthier lifestyle never comes.

Before I opened BookBar, I was running marathons. I was doing CrossFit. I was really serious about my health. Then, when I opened the business, my life became all about the business and those things fell away.

There have been days when I worked for 12 hours straight. At the end of those days, I was just so burnt out and so tired that I probably wasn’t on top of things. I didn’t use my best judgment and maybe I got a little snappy with people. Those are things I’d have liked to avoid, and I could have had I taken a walk or done some exercise that morning or just taken an hour off.

On top of that, I’m just not as healthy as I used to be. I sure couldn’t run a marathon right now if I wanted to. I’m getting back into it, but I’ve been saying that for a long time now.

It’s so hard to rebuild healthy routines.

I recently heard this interview with Pete Souza, the former White House photographer. He released a book of photographs from his time at the White House, and it was a big seller over the holidays. In this interview, he talked about how much President Obama impressed him with his healthy eating and exercise routines. Whatever was going on in the world, he never fell off from his good habits. Souza says that’s why he thought Obama was able to be a successful president. I’ve been thinking a lot about that story. If the president could do it, I should be able to do it.

Opening a business is all-consuming.

The Lesson:

I think you have to set boundaries for yourself. Being your best self is being as well-rounded as possible.

When you’re starting out on a new business or a new project, you have to be disciplined. You have to say, “This is going to take a lot of time and effort and willpower, but I’m still going to set my alarm for six o’clock in the morning so I can fit that workout in.” It has to be a priority.

You’ve got to stick with what makes you happy.

Now, I create a schedule for myself where I fit in a workout first thing in the morning. I just know that if it doesn’t get done then, it won’t happen. I’m also making more of an effort to eat healthier.

It’s making me healthier and happier, and when I’m happier, I’m a better boss. I can tell, when I run in the morning, I make better business decisions and I can focus better throughout the day.

A big part of my job is book ordering. When you’re doing that, you go through pages and pages of books, and at a certain point your eyes start to cross. It’s important to be able to focus. Otherwise, you’ll bring in something that isn’t going to sell.

Nicole Sullivan is on Twitter at @sullivanic and BookBar is at @BookBarDenver.

Photo courtesy of BookBar.

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