As of 2022, there were 5.5 million small businesses in the UK, with SMEs accounting for 99.9% of the business population. There's no doubt that many people dream of one day becoming their own boss, and it's easy to become captivated by the perks of working your own desired hours and reaping the financial rewards that come with setting up your own business. However, this is not the entire picture. As a small business owner, you're responsible for overseeing all levels of the business, from people management, allocating and monitoring workload to driving new business, and managing cash flow.
Overseeing the entire operation is not an easy task and small business owners can soon start to feel overwhelmed. This can happen slowly, and creep up on you in such a way that you get burnt out before you even recognize that you've been overworked and stressed. It's crucial to recognize the signs of stress before they become overwhelming so that you can take action and ensure that your approach to your business is sustainable. Here are a few tell-tale signs that you could be experiencing unhealthy levels of stress as a small business owner:
Changes in your personality
As the person in charge, you will be constantly interacting with staff, intermediary companies and customers. You are expected to be at the forefront of meetings and management and have to maintain the ‘face of the company’. Some early signs of stress include finding that the pressure is starting to get you, with routine situations making you feel frustrated quicker. You might find you are struggling with your focus and concentration, your mind is in overdrive and eventually, this could lead to exhaustion. It's important to recognize this, and often, you may find that your close friends and family notice this before you do. If you start feeling as though you're changing, it's time to step back and take a break from the office so that you can recharge your batteries.
This will start to present itself more gradually but you might start to find your overall performance starts to waiver. If your management style has shifted, you might find the enthusiasm of your staff has also started to wane. This can lead to a downward spiral such as poor people management and a culture where nothing seems good enough. There is much to be said about leading from the top and performance is no exception. Noticing your own performance faltering is another sign that it's time to take a step back and invest in some self-care.
As an owner of a small business, it is easy to become isolated and lonely. You might begin to feel anxious, under pressure to keep your business running profitably in order to pay staff and cover your own living costs. When challenges arise, you might start to think you are not good enough and begin to doubt yourself in your role. Procrastination begins to creep in and suddenly, you may find yourself spending all day completing a task that the ‘old’ you would have finished in minutes. Self-doubt can lead to low confidence, and anxiety. It's important to recognize when you start thinking negatively about yourself and instead remind yourself of how much you've achieved so far and the support channels available to you if you feel as though you need someone to lean on.
Outside of work
A normal working week for many people is 37.5 hours but when you are a small business owner, work will usually spill into your evenings and weekends. The constant pressure makes it hard to switch off. You might start to decline social events, becoming more reclusive particularly if you are feeling isolated because you feel no one understands your situation. This might start to affect your ability to socialize on a personal level and affect your relationship with your partner. Although working long hours comes with the territory of running your own business, it's crucial that you recognize when this becomes too much and starts to have a negative impact on your personal relationships.
In today’s world, the emphasis placed on mental health and wellbeing illustrates the importance of recognizing these traits and symptoms and finding a solution to help you succeed in your role while maintaining your own health. If you're beginning to feel the strain, there are wellbeing charities such as Mind, along with other health professionals, ready to listen and provide the support you need in life as well as in business.
Being a small business owner has the potential to become all consuming, but with the right support in place, a focus on achieving a reasonable work-life balance and making sure your mental and physical wellbeing remains a priority, you can take positive steps towards keeping your stress levels at bay.
About the Author
Henry Brookman is a senior partner at Brookman, a highly experienced family law firm, with expertise in a full range of family legal matters, complex financial issues, property settlements and children’s matters. Brookman is ranked by the Legal 500 and has been awarded the Law Society’s quality mark, Lexcel.