4 ways to cope when you’re running a business alone

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Don’t let your SME control your life, says Opus Energy COO Nikki Flanders

It takes a lot of energy to run a small business. Whether it’s working all hours to get it off the ground, holding conference calls in the middle of a family day out or missing drinks nights with friends, owning a business involves sacrifices.

However, there is a fine line between making a sacrifice for the greater good to drive success, and making sacrifices which end up draining yourself and your colleagues.

We recently conducted research with over 500 SME owners and it appears that many are currently finding this line hard to tread.

Over 80 per cent of owners had made sacrifices for the sake of their business in the last 12 months, including sacrificing personal time, reducing holidays and going without pay. More worryingly, 76 per cent were kept awake at night by their business, with finances, work/life balance and attracting new customers the main reasons for restlessness.

Unsurprisingly, this had resulted in 38 per cent regretting starting their own business – a stark number when you realise that’s over 2 million of the UK’s 5.7 million SME community.

What can be done?

 It’s time we helped SME owners take back the control they want. We know that some of the top motivations for starting a business centred on control – mainly future earnings and workload – but it’s clear that many small business owners are not able to realise this. So, to help those who are struggling, we collated advice from our network of SMEs.

Below is the best advice on how to turn things around, and not let the business rule your life:

Be structured

For those sacrificing themselves for their business, it’s crucial to remember that time away from work is needed for headspace if nothing else, so managing your day is key. Ultimately, a rested brain is more likely to come up with the innovative ideas to help drive a business forward, instead of a tired one which is simply trying to get through the day. Try to introduce some structure into your day. Work up a routine so you can have family time or time for yourself on a regular basis. Be it putting the children to bed, going to yoga or even sitting down with a good book, structure your day so time is carved out for non-work-related tasks. From doing the most important jobs in the morning or delegating more, be strict with yourself. Working flat out will dampen your enjoyment, so don’t let your business run your life – take control.

Making mistakes is okay

No one likes to admit they were wrong. However, making mistakes is natural and we all do it. It’s also true that you learn far more from mistakes than you do from successes. So, if something doesn’t go your way, learn for the future so you don’t stew over it. Go for a walk, talk to friends or family or simply write it down. Just get it out of your head so you can move on.

Thriving small business Perlego, an online subscription service for textbooks, advocates everyone in the business freely sharing failures and the outcomes from it. This way all team members can benefit from the advantage of hindsight, and it empowers more team members to not only come to the table with possible solutions, but also know what not to do if faced with a similar quandary.

Take holiday

I recently spoke to the owner of 1n1 fashion n pizza, and she told me the best advice she could give to others is make yourself take a holiday. It’s important just to relax and take stock. While small business owners don’t need to necessarily travel abroad, getting away and leaving the phone at home is a must.

Most of us live by our phone, in fact, according to research, the average Brit checks their phone 28 times per day – or over 10,000 times per year. It’s also not just the need to check the phone, we’re so used to a digital limb that we touch our phones over 2,000 times per day, and for many SME owners, this is probably about right, as many run their business through the touch of an app.

However, information overload confuses the brain, and sometimes we all need to get away from the stress and strains of the business to remind us what really matters. So, leave the emails for a few days, put on an out of office and make the most of the time you have with people you don’t work with.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Just because you’re living out your vision it doesn’t mean you need to do it alone. It is so important to seek outside help to fill your skills gap. Many of the small business owners we spoke with said the same –that if they could do it all again, they’d ask for more help, particularly in the early stages.

I’d recommend using resources to help research key influences such as your market or location. There are some great free sites like the Federation of Small Businesses or Brighter Business to help guide you through. Additionally, taking the opportunity to sense-check your business plan through someone who’s had business success and knows what to look for is a chance to spot any challenges — before they arise. Collaboration makes us all stronger, and sharing a problem can ease up some of the stresses of running a small business.

Running a small business can be a labour of love, and does take plenty of blood, sweat and tears. However, letting it run your life won’t guarantee success. Control doesn’t just exist in terms of how much equity you have, it’s about how you balance the needs of the business alongside that of yourself. Once that scale tips too far one way then you could end up like the 38 per cent who regret starting their business. So, don’t let it – set yourself targets, as you would the business and play the long game – not only for your sanity, but for the good of your business too.