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Opinion: The emotional toll of running a small business

Running your own business may sound glamorous, but business owners will often tell you that while the rewards are there, it can be extremely challenging – not just financially but emotionally.

A recent Business Mentors NZ survey* revealed that 70% of small business owners are stressed and anxious and nearly half of those surveyed* felt burnt out. Being solely responsible for your company’s success or failure can take an enormous toll.

Fortunately we now have a business environment where mental health is being acknowledged and many companies have a very strong focus on keeping their people well, physically and mentally.

However, if you’re at the helm of a small business, there’s a high chance that you’re overlooking your own mental health while you focus on staff, revenue and challenges. When cash flow falters, putting it on the credit card – or worse, putting it on the house – brings with it massive stress. I know. I’ve been there. And I’ve coached and mentored many small businesses owners over the years that have also had to make sacrifices to keep their business going during tough times.

Covid has exacerbated the situation for many but struggling to cope with the complexities and stress of a business is not new. Long hours and blurred boundaries between work and home are the norm when running your own business. Finishing a day in the office does not mean you’ve finished your day. Administration, accounts and keeping up with industry information and regulations more often or not can become nightly tasks, along with catching up with unreturned calls and working on new business opportunities. Home and relationships go on the back- burner and you find you’re not the only one being affected by the daily stresses of running a business.

We know that social isolation can negatively affect people’s mental health, including insomnia, fear, stress, depression and emotional exhaustion. Of the 1000 small business owners surveyed, just over one third of them reported feeling isolated and vulnerable. Sometimes it is just that awful feeling of being overwhelmed. Not enough people to do the jobs and no one who understands to really share the challenges and provide an ear and sounding board.

Getting a mentor can provide support in a number of valuable ways. From helping you find ways to be more effective with your time, sharing a problem and getting help to solve it, to generating new ideas and connecting business owners into relevant networks. One of the biggest benefits reported by business owners who use a mentor is just having that sounding board. New Zealand is a nation built on small businesses with around 97% of all businesses being classified as small businesses (fewer than 20 employees), contributing over one quarter to GDP. Nearly half of new jobs are created by small businesses.

The rewards of owning your own small business are plenty, but there’s no doubt, that for many, these rewards come at a cost. Never before has there been a greater need for support for this critical – but often overlooked – segment of New Zealand’s commercial landscape.

*Business Mentors NZ surveyed 1000 small business owners nationwide in June 2021

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