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How entrepreneurs can manage the stress of running a small business

Project Alfred
November 11, 2021

At Project Alfred, we’re all about supporting small business owners, so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with entrepreneur Tim Hoopmann, a Beyond Blue keynote speaker, about how small business owners are faring since the pandemic and the support that’s available to help them manage their stress.

Liam McNamara is the co-founder of accounting firm Project Alfred and is passionate about supporting small businesses, streamlining accounting technology and making financial literacy accessible to everyone.

My co-founder Amy and I launched Project Alfred around 18 months after the effects of the pandemic really began to be felt in Australia. No one’s ever claimed that running a small business is easy, but the pandemic has had a huge impact on small business owners. Some have lost everything, or are on the brink of closure, and may or may not recover as Australia re-opens. Others have reached unprecedented heights of busyness and are overwhelmed with too much work – a whole different type of stress. What everyone has in common though, is a whole lot of uncertainty and pressure on top of the usual stressors of running a small business.

We wanted to acknowledge the pressures that our clients and fellow entrepreneurs experience, so we reached out to Tim Hoopmann, who regularly speaks to organisations of all sizes about mental health on behalf of Beyond Blue, to share his top tips for small business owners.

Tip #1: Taking care of you and your mental health is not a selfish act

In bigger corporations there’s often resources and people to throw at situations and problems, but with smaller businesses the buck generally stops with the owner. They’re often in a pivotal position where they can’t afford to take time off when they’re feeling under the pump, and they’re typically not used to asking for help when things get tough – financially and mentally. 

“Many small business owners have never applied for any type of government support before the pandemic,” explains Tim. “We all want to be seen as successful, but all of a sudden business owners have found themselves in situations which are incredibly difficult and they don’t know how to cope. Often the first thing they do is look after other people and not themselves.” 

A key message that Tim shares with small business owners is that taking care of you and your mental health is not a selfish act. “If you’re in the best possible frame of mind, taking care of your mental health and functioning relatively well then you’re in the best position to take care of your business, to look after your employees or to help and support other people that may need it,” says Tim.  

Tip #2: Create a Personal Wellbeing Plan and check in with yourself regularly

Remember the saying, “What gets measured gets managed”? It’s as true for mental health as it is for any other aspect of your business. It’s important for small business owners to check in with themselves regularly about how they’re coping. One way to do this is by tracking how you’re going against the mental health continuum, and by creating a Personal Wellbeing Plan

The mental health continuum (courtesy of Beyond Blue)
The mental health continuum (courtesy of Beyond Blue)

“Our mental health is not a static state – we live on a continuum,” explains Tim. “When we’re functioning incredibly well, we are going about our day and looking after ourselves. But we move along that continuum all the time.” 

Tim says he’s noticed that he moved along this continuum a lot more than usual throughout the pandemic, and that it isn’t about being mentally healthy or mentally unhealthy, but knowing when you’re getting to a point that you might need to check in with a doctor or do something about it. 

How do you know where you’re at on the continuum? 

First and foremost, Tim recommends that small business owners and entrepreneurs take the time to understand what the triggers in their life are (from both a work and personal perspective). 

Second, he suggests they think about what they can do to relieve these stressors, for example, hobbies, or other things they do that they enjoy. 

Tim recommends people check in with themselves on a daily basis, explaining, “Once business owners are in tune with those triggers, they should be able to start to notice when things are starting to get a little out of kilter.”

If you’re a small business owner and want to create your own Personal Wellbeing Plan, Beyond Blue have created a fantastic resource for you to identify your triggers, warning signs and personal habits and actions you can take to improve the situation. 

What’s a practical example of this? Tim says that he knows that if he isn’t exercising and getting down to the ocean to swim, his anxiety levels increase and he becomes frustrated and anxious, and will notice that he isn’t coping with meetings as well as usual. 

Tim Hoopmann presenting the Mental Health continuum.
Tip #3: Set boundaries (and remember, “No” is a complete sentence)

It’s really hard to set boundaries as a small business owner, but Tim suggests that setting (and enforcing) work boundaries can make a huge difference in being able to maintain enjoyable activities and hobbies that counter work stressors, as well as help keep your workload at a manageable level. 

If you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner, consider:

Do you have boundaries for when you start and end work? 

  • Do you email late at night?
  • Are you always available? 

Do you have boundaries for your workload?

  • Do you say yes to every new job or client request? 
  • Do you always feel under pressure to get things done on time? 
  • Do you take on tasks that could be delegated or outsourced even when you’re already “busy”? 

Tim mentioned to us that he was feeling quite anxious in the lead up to coming out of lockdown (which many Australians can likely relate to) and at first dismissed it as natural. Then he realised that he was also doing lots of talks and just too many things, and knew he needed to take a moment to take stock. “So what I did the other day, I bought myself lunch, took it down to the beach, and sat in a place that I love and just looked out at the ocean and relaxed for a while,” he says. 

He goes on to explain, “I had to take stock of what was happening to me and then go and do something to adjust to it. A lot of people don’t do that though. They just push through, but I think it’s our responsibility to start to take better care of ourselves. Sometimes, “No” is a complete sentence.” 

A woman sits at a computer and looks frustrated.
Tip #4: Seek help when you need it

One of the positive things to have come from the pandemic has been people seeking help. The more openly that the mental health of small business owners is spoken about, the earlier they’ll seek help or access support networks such as Beyond Blue. 

Beyond Blue recognised the gap in the accessibility of support available for small business owners. They’ve recently launched a program, NewAccess for Small Business Owners, a free and confidential mental health coaching program, which gives small business owners (including sole traders) the support they need – without needing a doctor’s referral or mental health treatment plan. Over the course of six video/telephone sessions, coaches with a background in small business help business owners talk through their challenges, develop an individual plan and learn practical skills to manage stress.

Importantly, Beyond Blue’s New Access for Small Business Owners specifically addresses the barriers that make seeking help difficult, including stigma, cost, lack of time, and limited availability of services during business hours. After all, many small businesses literally cannot operate without their owner present, and few are able to make the tough decision to close up shop for the afternoon and prioritise their mental health to go seek professional help. From practical tips for managing stress through to being completely overwhelmed about everyday life issues like work, relationships, health or loneliness, NewAccess is there when and how small business owners need it.   

There are also many other associations, groups and individuals that are talking openly about better mental health. Tim believes that the more widely and more authentically these stories are shared, the more small business owners will be encouraged to get help. 

Tip #5: Remember that mental health doesn’t discriminate

Whether you’re in a fun start-up or a more established business, it’s really important to take care of your mental health. As Tim says: “Mental health doesn’t discriminate. It’s not gender specific, age specific, industry or job specific. We spend a lot of time looking after our physical health, but often our mental health, we kind of leave it or dabble with it, but it should be a daily thing that we do.” 

It’s also important to check in with other small business owners and entrepreneurs that you know (and people in your life generally!) if you notice that things seem a bit off kilter for them. Tim says people should check in with someone that they’re concerned about because they might just do it at the exact right time that the person needs: “They don’t need to become their counsellor, they’re not there to solve their problem. It’s really about showing care and support.” 

Keen to cultivate a mentally healthy work environment for your team? Head here to read Part Two of our conversation with Tim Hoopmann for tips on what small business owners can do to authentically support their employees.  For more information on looking after your wellbeing or if you need support, visit the Beyond Blue website

Tim Hoopmann is an experienced business growth expert with a demonstrated flair for scalability who is a recognised speaker for Beyond Blue. Head here to visit his website to learn more about Tim and what he does.

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