Small Business Ombudsman urges owners to take care of themselves.

Small Business Ombudsman urges owners to take care of themselves.

Bruce Billson

Small-business owners are being urged to take time out in the new year to take stock of their mental and financial wellbeing.

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson said it is important for small-business owners to spend time working on their business as it is to spend time working in their business.

“Too often the daily quest to keep the doors open and manage the many immediate demands prevents time being spent thinking about the health, future and goals of your business. And for that matter, your own health,” he said.

“That’s why it is vital those running or managing a small business look after their mental and financial wellbeing. Sometimes it can be as simple as making time to pause, reflect and reconnect.”

Research published by Treasury just before Christmas confirmed that many small-business owners struggle with mental health challenges.

One in five of those surveyed had been diagnosed with a mental health condition by a doctor or health professional. In some industries such as manufacturing, retail trade, accommodation, and food services, one-in-three small-business owners said a key cause of stress was finding a balance between the demands of work, family and personal life followed by lockdowns owing to COVID‑19.

Other top issues causing stress were: worry about the ongoing profitability and survival of the business; maintaining cash flow; difficulties accessing government information and small-business support; accessing or maintaining affordable finance; receiving payments on time; and developing knowledge and skills to cope with a changing business environment.

One of the insights of the study was that small-business owners feel acute pressure to “do it all” and to keep up the appearance of being fine even when they are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. They feel others — family, business partners, employees, and suppliers — depended on them. One of the respondents to the survey said: “It all rests with me.”

Mr Billson said talking to trusted advisers and networks was a great way to find solutions, and an independent but dependable view can be a vital ingredient to blend with the optimism that drives enterprising people.

“For small and family business owners, their identities are interwoven into their business, and the stakes are so much higher than just a job,” he said.

“Many people have invested a lifetime — and put their family home on the line — to build up their business, which amplifies the emotional challenges.

“Small businesspeople know it is often not just their livelihood but that of their team members who are invariably well-known to the owner.”

The ombudsman also said it was important that policymakers, program designers and regulators understand that a time-poor small business does not have the same bandwidth as a big business.

“A small business isn’t a shrink-wrapped version of a big one,” he said.

“They don’t have a slightly smaller HR department. There isn’t a smaller team of compliance people running around.

“No one got into business for the ‘back end’ of running the business. It’s unrelenting obligations and duties, and typically it is one person doing everything after-hours.”

Mr Billson said that while many small-business owners had ended 2022 feeling exhausted and apprehensive about the economic outlook, he was inspired by their entrepreneurship and capacity to lift the nation.

“We should not forget just how vital small and family businesses are. After the global financial crisis, the bulk of new job growth was driven by small businesses. The same can be true now,” he said.

“Small business leaders are innovators, producing new ways of delighting customers and new ways of creating wealth and opportunity.

“They should have the wind in their sails, not the wind in their face.”

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