Mental Health Awareness Week - The day to day stresses of running a small business

Marie Walsh

When we were considering what we could offer our followers with a focus on mental health awareness week, we decided to speak to each other about the issues we personally deal with at home and at work and how these impact us generally with regards to stress and anxiety. This has been a really great exercise and enabled us to be more transparent with one another as a team and also to better understand each other. We subsequently agreed to share our thoughts in a series of blogs.

These have covered the challenges faced as a part time worker, the impact of returning to work after successive maternity leaves, balancing work and full-time study and finally the issues faced when an individual changes careers all from a personal perspective.

I am sure you can all relate to one of our blogs and we hope that it might open up discussions in your workplaces or at least give comfort to those who experience or have experienced similar issues. We are all ultimately managing our own day to day stresses and anxieties and none of us are alone in that.

In the final of the series, I have taken this opportunity to look at the day to day stresses in my life from the perspective of running a small business. I have also thought about how I already address some of these issues and what I could to do improve things. Here goes:-

We set up the business in 2014 and so are now in our 4th year of trading. We have had loads of support and encouragement from our friends, families and our clients and our team is fantastically supportive. 

That being said I have lost a lot of sleep during this time and here are some of the issues that keep me awake at night (you may be able to relate to some of them):-

1. Confidence – I have massive ups and downs in confidence. Some weeks I am ready to take on the world and other weeks I lose confidence and worry about when and how my business will end. This is a strange one because I know that we do a great job for our clients and that they are happy with the work we do for them (always taking into account the odd client which we all have). The confidence is not lacking in client work or care but rather the business side of delivering that and everything that needs to be in place alongside the day job of being an employment lawyer and mediator. For example:

      • Systems and IT (including data protection)
      • Property
      • Recruitment and retention of employees
      • Compliance
      • Cashflow
      • Debt collection
      • Accounts
      • Insurances
      • Marketing ...

I could go on but if you run your own small business you probably know what I mean. These are things that need to be dealt with as a minimum alongside the income generating workload and are normally out of hours jobs which add to the stress of day to day life. Certainly prior to starting the business I was not schooled in these additional responsibilities and it’s been very much learn on the job with a lot of help (thankfully) from other professionals or friendly contacts.

2. Change – I struggle with change and the business has been through quite a lot of this in its infancy. When I talk about change I mean in all areas for example growth and the speed of it took me by surprise and was overwhelming initially (still is from time to time). Office moves and new office openings. Changes in ownership of the firm and staffing changes I have found highly stressful despite a lack of any animosity. I think change for me has just been hard to manage both from the practical perspective of it adding to an already onerous workload but also it has taken a lot of my emotional energies.

3. Balance – I worry about balance a lot as a small business owner. I originally set up the business to be in a position to work round my 2 young children both of whom had started junior school. I wanted to balance the job I love with my family life but I am concerned all of the time about whether I am getting that balance right. I’m a “family first” type of person and sometimes I feel happy that I am getting a balance which is good for us all but more often than not there is the guilt! Guilt that I haven’t spent enough time with my family (not just my husband and children but including my mother, father and sister and also the in-laws. If it’s not that then its guilt about being perceived to have let the team down by not being in work for example if the children are ill or earlier in the year when my father had a heart attack and I had to take time off. This isn’t perpetuated by anyone other than myself but can certainly hold me back at times. I know from speaking to a lot of working parents and carers that this is a common problem. I’m still looking for the magic wand for this one.

So taking all this into account what do I do and what can I do to improve matters?

1. Delegate – we have already delegated a lot of what we are not good at for example debt collection to a third party who now deals with this for us. This was the major source of my stress at work. I have a very good relationship with my clients and this is always a last resort in the event of non-payment but I think I have finally got my head around the fact that a client is not a client if they are not paying or more importantly that there is no relationship with a client if they only want to speak to you about an invoice once the debt collection agency has been appointed despite your best efforts. Cash is king and cashflow is everything in business. We also outsource IT and Book keeping and this has been a life saver. As the firm grows we are looking to appoint other sources to help in other areas and we review this monthly as finances allow.

2. Tackle change head on – get the job done whatever it is and don’t over think it. Also accept that change can be good and working with it can be even better both at home and at work.  Don’t look back and don’t dwell on the past. For example, forget things I can’t change, learn lessons and focus on all of the positives. I’m definitely more forward looking this year and I’m working on this.

3. Get some exercise and remember to look after myself. I seek to do this all of the time but we always put ourselves last on the list. I adopted a dog last year and I wouldn’t change that for the world. I go out twice a day with him and just having space and exercise for that time without technology is calming and gives me headspace. I’m looking at coaching in the future and getting a mentor to help me to grow both as a person but also as a business owner. I need to give myself some time and not feel guilty about it. I’m also working on saying “no” more. A few of my contacts practice mindfulness. I’m looking into that. 

Finally, I am open to any suggestions that you may have :) if you have discovered any great techniques to help you combat stress please do let me know. I’ll share the feedback anonymously in a follow up blog so that maybe we can all become a bit more transparent and share our best practices.

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