Small businesses are the backbone of our communities and economy globally, but this responsibility can be quite taxing for the entrepreneurs themselves; after all, the journey is rife with long hours, uncertainty, and a never-ending rollercoaster of emotion.
A new global report from small business accounting platform Xero uncovered the financial stress and lack of rest (both physical and mental) that many small business owners struggle with daily in the U.S. For example, only 19% of U.S.-based owners feel that they wake up feeling fresh and rested most or all of the time, and just 42% claim to feel calm and relaxed most or all of the time.
There is nuance to be found, though. The study surveyed entrepreneurs across seven countries (the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, and the United Kingdom). It found that 59% derive a strong sense of fulfillment from their work activities. Surprisingly, U.S. small business owners rank above the curve, with 62% reporting a fulfilling work life.
Small business ownership is a rewarding experience for most of those who take it on. But this good news ought not to discount their challenges and hardships. Regarding overall well-being score, tracked against the World Health Organization’s WHO-5 framework, U.S. small business owners rank a dismal fifth out of the seven countries surveyed. Having a passion for the business is a beautiful thing. Still, if the other side of that coin is extreme stress, fatigue, and a negative impact on a person’s wellness, small business owners must be offered solutions and a robust support network.
With that in mind, here are five ways small business owners can tweak their approach to their day-to-day activities to inject a greater sense of balance into their work lives.
Don’t be afraid to automate
Routine tasks can easily stack to create a time-consuming layer of redundancy for a small business owner. By automating as many of these tasks as possible, they can quickly free up time to prioritize their work-life balance and expand to more exciting or creative work. Regarding automation and AI, we’re no longer “early adopters” – McKinsey found that more than 50% of companies have used AI in their daily business functions since 2020. Today there are new and approachable solutions being rolled out seemingly every day.
Meanwhile, those of us in the tech industry must prioritize digital adoption for less tech-savvy entrepreneurs. Small business owners would benefit from more packaged turnkey offerings that can simplify the daily operational churn of a small business.
Ongoing education is critical.
The most successful people in any field, whether astrophysics or sports, commit themselves to career-long learning and development. It keeps them intellectually sharp and ahead of changes around them and can lead to newfound interest and engagement that keeps the spark alive. For small business owners, this could mean enrolling in online courses for a graduate degree, seeking a tech certification, or simply developing a new hobby that can inspire their work life.
Time is the biggest roadblock here for most small business owners. The feeling of being in a near-constant time crunch can lead owners to de-prioritize this proactive mindset. The best way to drive a learning-centered, R&D-focused approach is for business owners to first look for tasks that can be automated (see above) and then focus on upskilling in one of the existing critical business functions that they are passionate about, whether it be sales, marketing, product development or otherwise. Small business owners should look for educational opportunities that could lead directly to a streamlining effect in work, which frees up more time for additional learning opportunities.
You can take ownership of the role.
Small business owners have a unique position in the labor force, with fantastic flexibility in creating their job descriptions and responsibilities. Unfortunately, outside influences like customer demands, tech issues, and competitors constantly threaten this sovereignty. They can bring a semblance of normalcy to their position by scheduling themselves for recurring “performance reviews.” Owners can objectively review themselves or, better yet, ask a mentor or advisor with intimate knowledge of their business.
The key for small business owners is to determine the business functions they, as an owner, most excel at and enjoy doing. The other parts can be delegated to a staff member, an external specialist, or even automated via technology to reduce stress and burnout.
Foster a culture that inspires.
Creating a company culture of innovation and creativity is as essential today as designing the ideal product or maintaining airtight finances. Small business owners ought to encourage a culture of learning for their employees (just as they do for themselves), which can, in turn, drive the owner to level up their mindset while honing their management and HR abilities. A PwC study found that just 40% of employers are upskilling their employees. Establishing this type of culture for a small business can be a vital tool for hiring and retaining talent and leapfrogging the competition. By prioritizing that no one of us is smarter than all of us, an owner can empower employees to generate great ideas and relieve themselves of the pressure to innovate independently.
Complacency is poison – don’t drink it.
As in any area of life, it’s easy for small business owners to sink into a slump of complacency and accept certain aspects of their business as “just good enough.” That’s not to say the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality is fundamentally wrong. Many proven processes can best be left untouched for small businesses. But when entrepreneurs think outside the box and mesh their ambition with a culture of curiosity, they’re far more likely to feel inspired and fulfilled in their approach to work.
Most small business owners start with the excitement of uncovering new possibilities, and they love the rewards of following this philosophy. By pursuing new technologies and investing in upskilling, owners can help ensure they keep reaching for the stars and remind themselves why they became an entrepreneur in the first place.
There is plenty of baggage that small businesses carry with them. But owners shouldn’t be expected to tackle their well-being pitfalls alone. With broader industry support systems and a more robust network of resources – such as better turnkey tech solutions and mentors who can help “review” their performance – small business owners worldwide can feel more confident in tackling the daily stressors they face while bettering their mental and physical wellness.