Five ways to make running a small business more fulfilling

By Jo Copestake, below, Sales Director, Xero

Whether it’s to follow a lifelong passion or have greater flexibility and find some work-life balance, there are many reasons why small business owners choose the path they do. However, while running a small business offers these advantages, it also comes with a lot of challenges; late night paperwork, managing cash flow, and dealing with the ever-escalating cost of doing business all come to mind. This is all alongside wider macroeconomic factors such as inflation, tapering economic growth and finding and retaining staff.

Our latest report, which explores how small business ownership affects different aspects of one’s wellbeing, suggests that these challenges are taking the spotlight in small business owners’ lives. The research revealed UK small business owners had the lowest levels of wellbeing and life satisfaction than any of the seven countries surveyed, showing they were far less likely to feel cheerful (38%), active and vigorous (36%), or fresh and rested (32%) most or all of the time.

Mental wellbeing is crucial, not just for the individual, but for the success of their business and livelihoods. Finding ways to improve it should therefore be a priority for small business owners.

Making work more enjoyable

The report specifically explored the role that a sense of fulfilment plays in small business owners’ wellbeing and found that despite having lower levels of wellbeing, 58% of UK small business owners report feeling fulfilled by the activities they do at work more than half the time. It is hugely positive to know that small business owners find meaning and purpose in what they do and is perhaps why many persist with their businesses despite facing challenges. However, this leaves a stark 42% of owners that do not often feel fulfilled by their work.

For a country that relies on our small business economy, this is a sad reality, and we must find ways to help small business owners thrive. Creating conditions that help them to feel a sense of fulfilment and enjoyment, through both adopting new habits and more supportive policies, is a great place to start to help improve their wellbeing.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

With this in mind, here are five considerations for small business owners to help them find more purpose in their work.

1 Automate the small stuff 

By automating admin-heavy, manual tasks, small business owners can free up time to spend on the more interesting and creative side of their business, which is likely what led many to start the business in the first place. However, that’s often easier said than done. Our previous research found that only one in five small business owners consider themselves to be technology adopters.

Small businesses often struggle to adopt technology because they’re daunted by the perceived uncertainty and difficulties that come with investing in something new; but it’s not just up to them to overcome those fears. It’s also the responsibility of technology companies, the industry as a whole and government to adapt their language in a way that positions technology adoption as a series of small, incremental steps rather than large-scale, all-in bets.

2 Keep learning 

A growth mindset that focuses on lifelong learning and development, rather than outcomes alone, can make our daily work much more enjoyable. That might include doing online courses, undertaking hands-on business training in areas such as digital marketing or social media, or making time to enjoy new hobbies that spark creativity, for example art or meditation.

Understandably, the main issue that prevents many business owners from doing so is their lack of available time. Small business owners find it difficult to set aside time for this kind of learning when they have so many other things to manage. That’s why automating time-consuming tasks through technology is a brilliant first step. But there are also ways the government could help  small businesses find the time to upskill.

For example, the government could provide tax relief to train business owners in critical digital, financial and business management skills; improving awareness and access to digital training; and making it more tax efficient to enable small businesses to invest in digital tools, training and equipment.

3 Redesign the role 

Many small business owners find themselves wearing multiple hats in their business, as not only is it difficult to hire talent, but it’s expensive too. However, one freedom owners do have is the unique ability to craft their own job descriptions. In fact, flexibility and freedom are what draws many people to starting their own business in the first place.

While it may seem an added expense, it is possible to outsource certain roles and responsibilities either through suppliers or through apps that meet business owners’ specific needs. Often the expense pays off, enabling important tasks to be done quicker and to a higher quality, while helping the business to grow and thrive.

Owners should therefore consider setting aside a regular “career review” for themselves to evaluate what they can add or outsource to make their job more fulfilling.

4 Connect with your community 

It’s important that small business owners look for opportunities to spend time and network with those in their community, whether it’s other small businesses in the neighbourhood, their accountant or business coach, or their customers.

Connecting with others, especially customers, can help owners to feel inspired and more connected with the heart of the business and acts as a great reminder of why they do what they do. Sharing experiences and listening to others is also a great way to learn about new ways of doing things, as well as gaining inspiration and new perspectives.

5 Avoid the “good enough” fallacy

Small business owners can easily slip into maintaining their status quo as a “good enough” way of doing things. That’s understandable; tried and tested processes or solutions feel safer and require less mental energy than unproven experimentation. But when small business owners challenge themselves to improve even the “good enough” standard, they’re more likely to find interest and fulfilment in whatever they do.

Looking into upgrading technology or upskilling the people in the business, can help to create the positive momentum needed to swap “good enough” for a better way.

Time for a reset

Small business owners are juggling all sorts of changes, challenges and opportunities, which can become overwhelming and take their mind away from the passion behind their business. By incorporating some of these tips, we hope small businesses can find their way back to feeling more enjoyment and fulfilment in their daily lives and as a result, improve their overall wellbeing.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024