Over the past two years, challenges posed by the pandemic as well as the rising cost of living have not only made it increasingly difficult for small businesses to survive and thrive, they’ve also placed a huge strain on owners’ mental wellbeing.
According to our study with CEBR (Centre for Economics and Business Research), only around half (55%) of small business owners know where to turn to get the mental health support they need. This is why we launched our ‘Brains of the Business’ report and toolkit, designed to highlight the pressures small business owners are under and offer practical advice and support.
Xero customer Jessica Rose, founder of the Jewellers Academy, has faced her own mental health challenges over the past two years, battling burnout. Jessica is now sharing her own experience to help other small business owners better manage their mental wellbeing.
The working life of a small business owner can be intense, with long hours and extreme pressure taking a toll. Jessica explains, “I would work at least 14 hours a day, procrastinating or worrying about the to-do list rather than being productive. Every night I would go to bed with a massive list to start the next day – this was de-motivating and stressful.”
She adds that she felt an over-responsibility towards employees, heaping more pressure on herself. But perhaps the greatest driver of stress was revenue – she explains that the business had perhaps set unachievable targets, and coupled with the high overheads in London, the question became: Would they break even?
Jessica says, “This resulted in a lot of fear and anxiety around whether we will be able to pay everyone, all while trying to keep a positive atmosphere.”
Unsurprisingly, this pressure bled into Jessica’s personal life.
“Before I burned out, my eating was really bad. I was stress-eating or not eating at all. At one point, I would just look at the screen and couldn’t make sense of what was going on and I found myself very confused. It can be quite a scary place – you spend so long going on the adrenaline and then it stops and you realise you aren’t functioning and have completely neglected yourself.”
Jessica found that she didn’t have hobbies or nurture relationships – work was always put first. She became so unwell she was unable to work for nearly a year. It was time for a change.
Making positive changes
Using the experience to re-evaluate priorities and reset habits, Jessica made a lot of practical changes to help her overcome burnout. First, she focussed on her working hours and made clear boundaries around when they would and wouldn’t be.
“It’s very easy to work all the time or to just be excited as a small business owner because you want to finish something,” Jessica says. “It takes discipline to work less, not necessarily to work more and be ambitious.”
Jessica found that by working fewer hours she is more productive, and now also tries to adapt them to different seasons. “The Christmas season, for example, is very busy so I know I’ll be doing extra hours. But in the summer, I’ll take the time off to pay myself back. It’s okay to overwork for short periods as long as you pay yourself back,” she says.
This extends to employees, too. Jessica explains, “I try not to hire people more than four days a week – some people work five days but work fewer hours each day, but I don’t hire for 40+ hours a week as I don’t think that’s the best way to be productive.”
As for taking on too much responsibility for employees, Jessica decided upon a change of mindset. “While I respect them a lot, they are grown adults and they’ll work for someone else if they don’t get what they need from me. You aren’t their parents, and that realisation really helped me.”
Jessica also explains that she started to take holidays again, after taking none for around five years during her burnout period. She adds that it’s important to take a minimum of four weeks off, if possible, to ensure you are recharged when you come back.
Finally, Jessica found and rediscovered hobbies, and offers this advice to other small business owners:
“Really prioritise looking after yourself and find out what works for you. Everyone’s a little bit different. Try meditating, exercising, eating well, but chocolate and Netflix is self-care too! Maybe join some groups – taking up hobbies to build a community is really important.”
Now, Jessica’s wellbeing has improved immeasurably and her business is thriving. And while it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience is different, we hope these tips can help you overcome some of the challenges you may face.