Tips for managing the three most important relationships as a business owner

Just as everyone has physical health, everyone has mental health. Man, woman, student, employee, retiree. We all sit somewhere on the scale of good to bad mental health.

October is Mental Health Awareness month, which got us thinking about the different mental health challenges a business owner might face compared to a traditional employee

Generally speaking, it is safe to say that whilst most business owners hope for greater freedom, more money, and better control when they start a business, deep down, they know to expect stress and financial worries. Recently our Director, Charlie Clarke, spent time interviewing fellow business owners to uncover some of the more unexpected challenges they had faced that impacted their mental health.

The most common issue spoken about with Charlie was the effect being a business owner, particularly a new one, had on their relationships with others, more specifically; 

  • Their partner
  • Their friends and family
  • Themselves

Relationship with partner

By its very nature, the relationship we have with our chosen life partners has a direct impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Money is often touted as the no.1 argument factor for couples, and although the ‘financial risk’ of owning a business featured in the friction with their partners, the business owners we spoke to identified many other tensions associated with this professional life choice. Some are actually reassuring, as they are a testament to the fact that they love the people they are in a relationship with. 

Relationship impacts included;

  • Less quality time spent together
  • Inequitable or changing domestic share 
  • Opinion of each other
  • Idea sharing/investment in business 

While we did have a good whinge talking to these business owners, we also pooled our tips on how to tackle these challenges. Tips from the pack include:

  • Agree to share and celebrate wins together, just like you would if you were a traditional employee who got a promotion, a bonus, or closed a sale.
  • Be clear about when you are going to work. Help your partner understand that although the business brings flexible working, being flexible also means you will likely work outside of ‘traditional’ hours. This is especially the case when you are getting a business off the ground, organising a new launch, or if there has been a ‘crisis’… but, this is all with the bonus of taking a long lunch, working from the beach, or never missing a school event. 
  • It sounds obvious, but ask your partner if they want to be involved in the business, and in what capacity. If they choose not to be involved, look back to yourself to see what it is you are seeking from them, and how you can get this elsewhere – i.e.,  join a board, a networking group etc. If your partner doesn’t want to be involved, respect that and maintain those boundaries.
  • Set boundaries and expectations around domestic work, and what is acceptable to each other. 50/50 won’t work for all couples. 
  • Help them understand that just because you enjoy your work… it shouldn’t be treated as leisure time. It’s still work, not down time. You aren’t sitting in your office getting a manicure.

Relationship with friends and family

In traditional employment, your friends and family are often your greatest cheerleaders. Celebrating your promotions, indulging your need to whinge about terrible bosses, and running into the weekend with as much gusto as you do.

When you transition to being your own boss, it seems there are quite a few shifts in the previously level playing ground. Of course, your loved ones are excited for you, but your new business venture can also come with a side of friction.

Relationship impacts included:

  • Shift in respect as you leave a ‘real job’ to play boss or work in a side hustle. 
  • The expectation of ‘freebies’ or discounts, not only for them, but their wider circle.
  • Worry or concern for your financial security or career prospects.
  • Trivialising issues as more easily solved than they truly are.
  • The expectation of availability and frustration when you can’t just drop everything at any time.

Tips from the pack:

  • Set the tone from day one – do not downplay your success, be confident in your business concept, and be firm that this is a full-time occupation you believe in.
  • Set boundaries around when is working time, and when is grabbing a coffee time. If a friend calls you in the middle of the day, it’s okay to let it go to voicemail, or ask if you can call them after you’re finished work. 
  • Don’t expect your friends and family to be a business sounding board. Remember that they aren’t as invested in your venture as you are. Be conscious of boring them with ‘shop talk’ and try to discuss other topics when they’re around, not just your business.

Relationship with ourselves

Many of the group expected to feel a lightness of self employment. The power, the freedom, the self reliance. However, many other emotions were also faced, that weren’t that great. These included

  • Poor self-esteem and lack of confidence (i.e. imposter syndrome)
  • Fluctuating motivation
  • Lack of resilience
  • Improving intellectual health 
  • Self discipline and appropriate boundary setting

Tips from the pack

  • Have a readily accessible list of wins. There will be major downers when you own your own business, so a tangible win list is a great reminder that you’re not a failure, and can help talk you off the ledge. 
  • Invest in self development. As a business owner, we tend to become a bit stagnant in this area, unless we have a plan for areas we want to expand our knowledge. This is also true of non-business related growth – you need other stimulus or else your brain will always default to thinking about your business. 
  • Draft up a health and wellbeing strategy. Sure you are a small business, or maybe just a solopreneur… but if you don’t plan this stuff out, time passes you by and soon bad habits are formed and entrenched in the way you work. Having a plan can help you commit to healthy desk snacks, a lunchtime walk, daily meditation, or other self-care and wellbeing activities.
  • Find your community, be it online, a networking group, a board, a business group – wherever it is you feel at home and connected. This will not only combat loneliness, but also gives you the opportunity to ‘workshop’ the things that keep you up at night. 

On a final note, we don’t want to mention COVID-19 but…

If you are anything like us, you are likely bored of hearing about, talking about, and thinking about COVID. However, if we were to put on our positive pants, we would see COVID has given us a bit of a gift. 

Pretty much everyone has put their hand up and said, ‘yep, I struggled mentally the last few years’ (that’s not the gift, obviously). But it has shown we are all human. We all have struggles, and we all react to stress. And most importantly, it has normalised it! This is an opportunity to more broadly smash the stigma around mental health. We have long accepted and sympathised with physical health issues. It’s time to give the same treatment to mental health. More importantly, it’s time to prioritise your mental health as a business owner – it will pay your business and your personal life dividends in the long run. 

Thanks to all my lovely contributors who chose to remain anonymous.

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