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The Emotional Impact of Running a Small Business

3 Mins read

There is undoubtedly, and sometimes unfortunately, a psychological price of entrepreneurship. In fact, a small business survey demonstrated the unwelcome emotional consequences that come with operating a small business, with 81% of owners saying that running the business is taking away from their personal lives. This includes many of them missing out on a romantic or family life, with 39% of singles unable to remember the last time they went on a date and 53% not enjoying a family holiday because of work-related pressures. Lack of sleep was also common, with small business owners collectively missing out on more than eight million hours of sleep each week due to the demands of running their businesses.

However, this doesn’t seem to be deterring innovative entrepreneurs, and new small business ventures aren’t slowing down anytime soon. In fact, 5 million US-based small-business applications were submitted in 2022 (only a scratch behind the 5.4 million applications filed in 2021).

Entrepreneurship is often romanticized, but running a small business is not for the faint of heart. The reality is that owning a small business is difficult, and there’s often so much administrative, operational and financial work that takes time away from the original purpose for which the small business was created – for the owners to follow their passion and serve their customers.

As someone who grew up in a family of small business owners and who is now working for a small business cloud accounting and bookkeeping platform, I have always been very motivated to alleviate the burdens that get in the way of the joy of running a business. I have found it helpful to prioritize a holistic “work/life integration” mindset, which can be replicated across business sectors and assuage some of the stress of running a small business. This includes:

  1. Developing a trusted task management system where everything has structure implemented within. This frees up the mind to focus on the right thing at the right time. Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain is a helpful resource for this. As Getting Things Done author, David Allen, reminds us, “Your brain is for having ideas, not holding them.” To the extent you can get things out of your head and into a trusted system (e.g., paper, task management software), then do it – and it will help you to prioritize and meet goals more effectively.
  2. Practice self-care. Build resilience and know there are times you will be busy and hyper-focused on the business, but also times when you should prioritize yourself. Staying mindful is important – ensure you are not only watering your business but your life as well. I liken this to flying an airplane – it’s against the law to land a plane with very little fuel in the tank. The same metaphor is true in life – we let our battery get so low that it’s unhealthy and holds us back from doing our best work. Put on your proverbial oxygen mask first before helping others.
  3. Work with trusted partners and build a team of advisors – accountants and bookkeepers, peers in other industries, therapists, friends – who can be your personal board of directors to lean on. They can guide you through tasks you may not be as familiar with, like tax reporting, financial planning, hiring new employees and more. You don’t have to be an expert in everything, so trust your outside team and delegate tasks.
  4. Don’t underestimate the power of a proper tech stack. Think of the benefit that Zoom has brought to how you can communicate with customers from home or the ease that Stripe has allowed in automating and processing payments and billing, so you don’t need to chase customers each month. Tech can not only increase productivity when you are focusing on more operational aspects of the business but also remove some of the time-consuming things like inputting paper receipts into spreadsheets ahead of tax return season. Remember – there’s always an app for something! Look for partners who can provide a full suite of services, such as Xero’s app ecosystem.

There is a lot out there about “work/life balance”, which I don’t necessarily agree with – prioritizing “work/life integration” and utilizing technology to alleviate the operational and financial aspects is key, and it’s ultimately what allows you to focus on enjoying the business and making a difference long-term.

Chris O’Neill is the Chief Growth Officer at Xero.

Emotion stock image by Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

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