Telling the truth about SME life today

Starting and growing a small business can be a lonely experience

Even for successful businesses, there are times of worry and stress. Times when the owner sits on their own late at night and wonders if it’s really all worth it. With this comes another problem. Despite the fact that most owners love their jobs and wouldn?t swap it for anything, the reality is that running a small business can often be a lonely experience.

Feeling the pressure

For some, it may literally be a lonely experience as they could be a one-man (or woman) band. Larger businesses may have a handful of employees, but due to resource requirements or the ways of modern working life, they may work part-time or from home. So a business owner may spend most of their time alone or with only a few employees around them.

Regardless of how many staff there are, and even if there is a great team spirit and sense of fun (which there very often is) the buck stops with the owner. The success of the business is their responsibility. Employees” wages are their responsibility. As are the bills and the invoices too.

This pressure can build up and take its toll. It’s something we have known for a while, through our daily dealings with SMEs. And now this has been backed up by research of small business owners around the UK.

A national issue

The results of our survey were concerning: 73 per cent admitted it was a lonely experience. Loneliness is not a standalone issue. A report by the University of York found that loneliness and poor social relationships were associated with a 29 per cent increase in risk of developing coronary heart disease and a 32 per cent increase in risk of stroke.

What’s more, our research found that, outside of family and friends, 69 per cent said they did not know who to turn to for professional help when they need it. This is being exacerbated by a lack of support, with six in ten respondents feeling there was not enough support for businesses looking to grow and expand.

Loneliness, stress and pressure can stop owners performing at their best. There can also be a knock-on effect on employees, so that in fact the performance and productivity of the whole company can be affected.

Steps towards improved wellbeing

My message to SME owners would be to put their own wellbeing on the agenda. Don?t just bottle it up or ignore it. Loneliness can cloud your thinking and depress your mood, holding back your business. One useful approach is to find a coach or mentor ideally from outside your family or the business.

Keep focused on the positives too. For example, at the end of each day write down two things that have gone well and that have brought you nearer to reaching your goals. A degree of loneliness may come with the territory. But it’s clear we need to do what we can as a community to give more support to those who need it.

Taking care of our small businesses

SMEs are a valuable part of UK society, not only boosting the economy but contributing an enormous amount to local communities as was highlighted recently on Small Business Saturday. We need to start taking better care of our business community and supporting leaders working around the clock to succeed.

This wide-spread loneliness is something we want to help change. Wellbeing issues have risen up the public agenda significantly in recent years, but it’s clear from our survey that there’s more that should be done.

As part of our campaign to raise awareness, we have launched a wellbeing hub, offering guidance from health experts, insights from experienced SME owners and links to useful resources to support those in need of help. We urge the rest of the business community to do the same.

Steve Noble is chief operating officer of Ultimate Finance




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