Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Running a small business is no easy feat. While the concepts of flexibility, financial independence and personal fulfillment create a glamorized perception of what it’s like to be a small business owner, the role usually isn’t always rainbows and butterflies – particularly given often-rocky economic climates.
Small business entrepreneurs often wear several hats, operating as the sales, marketing, finance and product development leads all at once. On top of juggling multiple roles, the global pandemic, followed by a turbulent economic environment, has further exacerbated existing challenges small business owners face by creating an even more unpredictable future.
Decade-high inflation, rising interest rates and labor shortages have also played a substantial role in fueling concerns about a potential recession. These factors bring into question whether small businesses are resilient enough to weather the storm. And small businesses may be small individually, but they account for two out of every three jobs added in the past 25 years and constitute 99.9% of all businesses in the U.S. It’s safe to say their role in the economy is meaningful.
If you run a small business, all of this likely resonates with you. We live in a world with increasing pressures from stakeholders, constantly changing customer expectations and volatile financial conditions — which for many, especially business owners — can make it hard to create clear distinctions between professional and personal emotions.
However, despite current conditions, small business owners don’t need to forgo their personal lives to experience professional success. Knowing the emotional impacts of running a small business, identifying solutions to help lessen the burden and learning how to create (and enforce) a healthy work-life balance can help to alleviate pain points and allow entrepreneurs to forge a clear path forward.
1. Utilize business advisors and technology solutions to supercharge business growth
Let’s face it — as small businesses grow, the likelihood of being able to manage all operations as a one-person show doesn’t seem feasible. Trying to juggle product development, various social media accounts, balance sheets and operations all in one as the business grows will eventually prove to be impossible.
Leaning on external solutions and support is one way to expand a business and alleviate the added – and often unnecessary – pressures felt as a small business owner. These solutions can come in the form of either a trusted business advisor, an efficient technology solution or both. Leveraging external support often means getting the job done better, faster and more efficiently than you could on your own.
Some examples of technology solutions business owners can utilize to help streamline the growth of their business include tapping into a CRM platform like HubSpot, which can automate follow-up reminders for current and prospective customers, manage a small business’s pipeline, and effectively generate new streams of revenue. Additionally, cloud accounting platforms like Xero can provide the financial tools necessary to run a business and help automate tedious tasks, freeing up time for business owners to put towards other business operations. For more efficient marketing and social media management, platforms like Hootsuite can help to streamline social media accounts and allow users to preemptively schedule content. Canva, an online design platform, helps business owners (even those who aren’t experts in design) create graphics with ease to utilize for social media, their website and more. Platforms like Shopify and Etsy are great for small business owners as well, as they allow merchants to create an online storefront to market and sell their products.
According to recent data, a whopping 30% of small business owners still use spreadsheets to manage their accounting books, rather than utilizing software or an outside advisor. Research suggests that small businesses spend, on average, 30 days — an entire month — per year on accounting and administrative-related tasks. By digitizing the accounting function, business owners will not only free up more time to devote to business and personal ventures but there are benefits to the overall business as well, including minimizing room for error and providing more accurate and detailed reports. Additionally, working with a trusted outside advisor can help identify weaknesses in current processes that may not be obvious to the business. From there, business owners can work with their advisors to implement solutions in order to strengthen the foundation of their business.
While it might seem intimidating for business owners to completely lean into technology solutions to help manage business functions, it’s beneficial to adopt in order to get ahead of competitors and best position your brand business in continuous economic volatility. The predictability of these solutions allows for a black-and-white picture of what’s to come and encourages the removal of emotions from important financial decisions.
2. Establish mental, emotional and physical boundaries to achieve a healthy work-life balance
While adopting technology solutions and trusting in business advisors can help to free up some of your time, it’s important to be mindful of how that time is used. Countless studies show that working long hours can inflict serious physical and emotional consequences. Despite this, many business owners still struggle to overcome pressures and neglect to create healthy habits that separate professional and personal interests.
In order to create a healthy work-life balance, it’s important to create a sense of flexibility in your schedule that allows you to get things done in your professional life while still having the time and motivation to enjoy your personal life. Set work boundaries that allow for time spent with loved ones and create a setup that truly enables you to unplug from work-related tasks. There are different types of boundaries small business owners can set, including physical, mental and emotional.
Physical boundaries pertain to your physical workspace. Creating a separate space that’s dedicated to solely work-related tasks can help to clearly define times dedicated to work priorities versus personal priorities and can make it easier to unplug at the end of the workday when you step out of your workspace. For those who work in an office, the same concepts apply, but it’s also important to establish boundaries with colleagues when you are focused on work. To establish this, individuals can put in place designated “office hours” that serves as a time for colleagues to pop by your desk with questions, proposals, etc. By creating this boundary, ideally, your time will be better allocated for individual-focused work time, versus collaboration time in the office, which can help free up some additional personal time at the end of the day.
Setting mental and emotional boundaries as a business leader is essential to maintaining your wellbeing and preventing burnout – which are two important components of overall business success. As a business owner, there are a handful of tactics to incorporate into your business strategy to achieve this, both as an owner and for your employees. One way is by designating key roles, responsibilities and expectations for all employees. This can be achieved through tactical planning and reviewing both the short-and long-term goals of the business. On a regular basis (at least once a month), it’s important to assess how each employee is contributing to the company’s goals. By doing so, business owners will have a better sense of how they can adjust staffing to ensure these goals are being met. It also gives business owners the opportunity to assess the workload of other members of staff, which may require some staffing adjustments. From there, business owners should communicate expectations, responsibilities and feedback to employees, allowing for an open line of communication with any questions or concerns.
By establishing these solutions across a business model, entrepreneurs can foster an environment for themselves and their employees that prioritizes well-being and work-life balance.
3. Conduct periodic audits on business performance
Conducting an audit to evaluate how each component of your business is contributing to the long-term goals of the company can provide valuable insight into where more focus is needed versus where to lean out. There are a few priority areas to assess within a business audit, including financials and operations. To conduct a financial audit, businesses should review their financial statements and balance sheets to ensure compliance, evaluate for any discrepancies and determine if there are areas to cut back on spend. Operational audits analyze the internal departments and processes that make up a business’s operations to identify if there are opportunities to finetune internal controls. To run this type of audit, business owners will need to define their operational audit objectives based on the goals of the business. From there, they can either hire an external company to perform an internal operational audit or plan to manage operations in-house by hosting internal interviews with key stakeholders and reviewing how the business is tracking against its short- and long-term goals.
Additionally, identifying the core competencies where your skills and expertise are best utilized for your business to be successful is a helpful way to potentially weed out some tasks that may not require your energy. From there, you can adjust which areas of the business your contribution is needed, and which areas you could potentially reallocate your work to other team members. By assessing and adjusting your current workflow periodically, you’ll be able to maximize efficiency and productivity, freeing up time previously spent on less crucial activities. Conducting these sorts of assessments periodically is also important, as it allows you to make necessary shifts as business priorities may change. Always being heavily involved in the details makes it hard to step back and see the wood from the trees. Carving out time to work on the business, rather than in the business, is critical.
Regardless of the external factors impacting the health of a small business, owners need to remember that their emotional health should be of greater priority. Without taking the necessary steps to meaningfully address the emotional impacts of running a small business, it’ll prove difficult to succeed and take your business to the next level. Working with the right partners, adopting new technology and creating a healthy work-life balance can help to alleviate some of the everyday pressures that business owners face.