Want to be strong in business? Then put your healt...

Want to be strong in business? Then put your health and happiness first

Shop Talk
Small business owners need to look after themselves too. Pictured is a bakery counter from behind in the kitchen.

With so many small businesses run by enterprising Aussies who have sunk countless hours and personal finances into their passions, it is obvious that taking care of business means taking care of yourself.

When you own a small business, it is just as important to spend time working on your business as it is to spend time working in your business. Yet too often, the daily quest to keep the doors open and manage the many immediate demands prevents time being spent thinking about the health, future and goals of your business. And for that matter, your own health.

That’s why it is vital those running or managing a small business look after their mental and financial wellbeing. Sometimes it can be as simple as making time to pause, reflect and reconnect.

Talking to trusted advisors and networks is a great way to find solutions. An independent but dependable view can be a vital ingredient to blend with the optimism that drives enterprising people.

When taking care of business means taking care of yourself

For small and family business owners, their identities are interwoven into their business and the stakes are so much higher than just a job.

Many people have invested a lifetime – and put their family home on the line – to build up their business, which amplifies the emotional challenges. Small business people know it is often not just their own livelihood but also that of their team members who are invariably well-known to the owner.

Of course, small business owners are ‘up for’ the big responsibilities of leading their enterprise. And many have developed good techniques for managing the stressors this involves, including:

Time management

Structuring your day to negate the feeling of ‘not enough hours in the day’. This includes proactively scheduling time for important stuff – time-blocks for calls, lead follow-ups, emails, social media engagement and admin tasks, plus timely reminders for compliance tasks. And setting clear boundaries, including all-important ‘breaks’ or getaway time.


Implementing a personal wellbeing plan for both physical and mental health, including sleep, exercise, diet and water is imperative, as is finding ways to relax, clear the mind and unwind, such as thinking time while walking/exercising or locking in family time. Implement tactics to ‘unplug’ from the business, release and connect with family and other interests. Commit to not regularly taking the work of the business home, and set times to turn off tech.

Prioritise and set boundaries

Prioritise what matters most from the list of what needs to be done – don’t try to do everything. This can be achieved by cutting unnecessary tasks, delegating or outsourcing where possible, and not being afraid to ask for help. Writing down what is on your mind so not everything is being processed at once can really help, as can saying ‘no’ sometimes so as to not overcommit.

Positive mindset

Focus on what can be controlled – on positives like what is being achieved, such as things ticked off the ‘to do’ list or business and personal milestones reached. Remember the ‘joy’ that drove the business motivation and focus on implementing business systems and processes to allow for short breaks, holidays, hobbies or enjoyable ways of being involved in your community that help you ‘recharge’.


Build a support group of peers to share and discuss daily challenges, such as joining business groups or industry associations and engaging with trusted advisors. Ask for help for both yourself and your business.

Research published by Treasury just before Christmas confirmed that many small business owners struggle with mental health challenges. One in five of those surveyed had been diagnosed with a mental health condition by a doctor or health professional. In some industries such as manufacturing, retail trade, accommodation and food services, it was one in three.

One of the insights of the study was that small business owners feel acute pressure to ‘do it all’ and to keep up the appearance of being fine even when they were struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. They feel others – family, business partners, employees and suppliers – depended on them. One of the respondents to the survey said: “It all rests with me.”

Yet most of those small business owners surveyed had not used any of the support services available.

Where to reach out for small business help

Being able to speak to someone who understands the mental load of running a small business makes a big difference and is why we have been supporting the New Access for Small Business Owners mental health support service developed by Beyond Blue. It is free and offers one-on-one telehealth sessions tailored for small business owners, with specially trained mental health coaches providing evidence-based advice on strategies for managing stress.

If help is needed to sort and deal with debt or cash flow issues, or to navigate the maze of grants or government assistance available, the Small Business Debt Helpline operated by Financial Counselling Australia has a team of qualified financial counsellors who can answer calls directly or assist via a web chat function. The helpline provides free, independent and non-judgemental advice.

A small business isn’t a shrink-wrapped version of a big one. They don’t have a slightly smaller HR department; there isn’t a smaller team of compliance people running around. Too often policy makers, program designers and regulators seem to imagine that a small business has all the time and bandwidth, all the diversity of skills, all the capacity to satisfy some new expectation from government, when they’re already so time poor.

No one got into business for the ‘back end’ of running the business. It involves unrelenting obligations and duties, and typically it is one person doing everything after-hours.

We should not forget just how vital small and family businesses are. After the global financial crisis, the bulk of new job growth was driven by small businesses. The same can be true now.

Small business leaders are innovators, producing new ways of delighting customers and new ways of creating wealth and opportunity.

They should have the wind in their sails, not the wind in their face.

This article first appeared on It has been edited for brevity and republished here with permission.


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