Ask any successful entrepreneur how they spend their days and you wouldn’t be surprised to hear them talking about sales forecasts, business plans and social media marketing. Local governments offer training on every aspect of running a business and local networking groups hold regular meetings to swap leads and promote their products. In today’s fast paced environment, every small business needs to have goals and direction or they may find themselves on the road to failure.
What you may not hear however, are small business owners speaking honestly and openly about the importance of mental health to the success of their business. We can talk about client retention, staff challenges and supplier issues, but the day-to-day mental health challenges that many of us experience seems to be a taboo subject. Often, the things that most appealed to us about running a business are the very things that cause stress and anxiety down the track.
Many of us will go into business for ourselves for the flexible working hours, the ability to remain autonomous and the satisfaction of having a variety of tasks to complete on a day to day basis, but what we fail to appreciate is the stress that these things will cause if we do not carefully manage them. All too often, the boundaries between life and work become blurred, with soloists spending countless hours at their computer, isolated from friends and family and not taking time to enjoy the very things that they thought running their own business would provide them.
What we often fail to realise until it’s almost too late, is that unless we manage our business holistically, we can lead ourselves down a path to self-destruction. Like an athlete training for a marathon, it is as important for the individual to have a healthy balance to avoid burnout: a training schedule that is balanced out with nutritious food and rest is the key to avoiding injury and it’s the same for soloists.
Here is some suggested mental health ‘training plan’ for soloists:
As a new business owner I know I’m guilty of putting all my energy and focus into my new venture. It’s all I think about from waking to sleeping (and probably what I think about during the sleeping too). We think that if we can just get to the top of the hill it will be plain sailing from there on in: we just need to finish that training, get the website finished, sell the first 50 products, reach the first year’s target. What happens all too often is that we never make it to the top of the hill as the peak gets further and further away. By setting clear boundaries and sticking to them, we can help prevent burnout and give our business a greater chance of longevity.
Make a decision about how many hours a week you want to dedicate to your business – if you decide that you will finish each day at 6pm, set yourself an alarm and stick to it.
As a parent who works from home, I am guilty of getting up and switching my computer on as soon as I wake up. I tell myself that I’m just checking my emails whilst I have my first cuppa of the day, but the reality is that I will still be sitting at my computer three hours later, not having eaten breakfast. I will then grab something on the go, which is usually toast or biscuits and continue working until mid-afternoon when my growling stomach reminds me of my need to eat.
Anyone with mental health challenges will know that sugar plays a huge part in how they feel, but are usually at its mercy, living on a rollercoaster of highs and lows from quick fix snacks and soft drinks and feeling dreadful because of it. A healthy and balanced diet is essential to staying well, both physically and mentally.
Meal planning is essential to your success – taking time to eat breakfast and lunch away from your desk every day will not only give your body the physical requirements it needs to be productive, but the headspace to think with more clarity.
Every successful business owner I know takes time out to look after their body, because they know that their physical wellbeing impacts on their mental wellbeing. Often soloists will use their exercise time to think creatively, problem solve and plan the day ahead, or they will listen to business podcasts or audio books to help further their personal growth and learning. These business owners will tell you that the time they spend exercising is non-negotiable and an essential contribution to their success.
You don’t have to spend vast amounts of time in a rigid exercise regime – a 30 minute walk each morning before you begin your work day is enough to not only reduce the risk of some cancers, prevent obesity and diabetes and slow the progression of Alzheimers, but is proven to assist in the prevention and recovery of depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges.
Running a business from home is more often than not a very solitary lifestyle. With technology as it is, we can conduct our sales and marketing and even our client appointments from the comfort of our lounge chair. Unfortunately, this also means that we spend upwards of eight hours a day alone and this can be highly detrimental to our confidence and mental health. No longer do we chew the fat with the receptionist, talk to the warehouse staff about our plans for the weekend or vent our frustrations about a client to our team mates. Instead, we suffer in silence and often lose touch with the reality of our struggles and for this reason alone, it’s imperative that we build a support team of people around us who we can turn to in the moments of both frustration and success.
There are many organisations both real and virtual where we can get support from others and Flying Solo is a perfect example of that – visit the forums, ask questions, seek advice and get involved in conversations. There is a wealth of skills and experience there just waiting for you to interact with.
Seek out local business networking groups, co-working spaces, local government support services or private Facebook communities for your industry. I have found many of these online groups to be nothing but supportive and caring and have learned a great deal from my online peers.
There are a number of forms this can take and I think they are all important in their own way.
It’s so important to remember that you do not have to do it all alone – your strength may be in making handmade soaps or designing logos, but running your own business also involves marketing, advertising and book-keeping. If you can afford to outsource some of these tasks to others, fantastic, but if your budget won’t allow external paid help perhaps you have people in your network where you can trade services. Failing that, there are a number of excellent online training courses for small business and your local college or TAFE will also offer business courses. It’s important of course to ensure that you work out the cost of your time to do these tasks, versus paying someone else to do them more efficiently.
If you do find yourself struggling emotionally or mentally, know that there is help out there. You are not failing by asking for help or admitting that you may be finding your business challenging. If you feel sad, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed or depressed for more than a few days, visit your GP who will be able to assist you with a mental health plan. This may involve therapy, medication or a combination of treatments.
Where does mental health sit in your business plan?
For more resources on the subject of small business mental health and to learn how many leading bodies and organisations are rallying to add their weight to this important topic, visit our information page on small business mental health.