Small Business Owners: How To Stress Less During Lockdown

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'House in woods heart balloon' (detail) art card by A Howse
'House in woods heart balloon' (detail) art card by Create Display

Acknowledge Anxious Feelings

This month Roo Davies, founder of The Mojo Coach gave a fantastic presentation at Spring Fair which is the largest trade show for the home and gift industry in the United Kingdom. Roo talked about how easy it is for any professional to “feel overwhelmed” when there is so much happening which is “out of control.” (1)(2)

The last year has been an emotional roller coaster for millions of folk whatever their living situation happens to be. People who run companies of all sizes have had to adjust to enormous changes. Government ordered store closures, social distancing, working from home, cancelled events and travel disruption are amongst many other unexpected adjustments that have all come into force, in quick succession.

Acknowledging that feeling upset and overpowered at times is entirely understandable is the first part of the process. Most of us have experienced a serious impact during the pandemic, in almost every aspect of our lives. Having responsibility for our own families and other employees financially, can contribute to stress too.

Time for a Cunning Plan

Roo recommends remembering this SPARK acronym which stands for “Structure, Progress, Accountability, Realistic, Kindness. This memorable phrase can help anyone organising a business to regain fresh confidence in their way forward:

Structure – Take time to plan ahead

Progress – Review the achievements so far

Accountability – What support can you expect and who has responsibility for what areas?

Realistic – Set achievable goals to avoid demotivation

Kindness – Avoid self sabotage, re-energise, recharge, reset

This idea is similar to a SWOT analysis which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats which also be used to gain clarity of almost any sized project or current plan quickly.

Choose Where To Focus

Ms Davies advises asking yourself “how many hats do you wear?” and this is a useful exercise. Identifying all the different roles that we play in our lives both at work and at home and as part of the community is enlightening. It can reveal how valuable time can be directed into the activities and commitments that we feel are most important to us in our lives.

“Keep calm and carry on” has been the mantra for many in the commercial world during the last 12 months. Life has been about focusing on working hard and taking care of the core needs of the business in order to keep the cash flowing in as best as possible.

Survival for other organisations has been about reinventing the fundamental vision and model of their companies as changes in the market and customer behaviors have dictated. For example market traders and family business T&T Fruits have set up a new website and now offer a full fruit and vegetable box delivery service. They even have a new range of extra general store groceries that can be ordered to arrive at the doorstep, within a certain radius of their new warehouse’s location. (3)

Positive Thinking Transforms Our Perspective

Keeping a positive mindset is crucial to defining the future strategy of an enterprise in 2021. This can be a conscious process and Roo suggests its key to “flip your vocabulary” into a more positive version of any negative feelings that a leader might be experiencing. Reframing any anxious thoughts into phrases that give us an option to influence outcomes or take practical action gives us a new perspective on our difficult emotions. So being worried becomes about being curious how things will turn out. Any nervousness can be altered in the mind to represent feelings of excitement instead. (2)

Brett Steenbarger writes in Forbes magazine about turning negative emotions into positive motivation by explaining how he was “socially reticent” in his teenage years. Steenbarger managed to transform this weakness into a strength when he used his competitive drive to succeed at unexpectedly becoming Social Chairperson at university. He was able to transform his reticence into “becoming a different person” who was “socially engaged” by using his urge to compete to complete his mission and overcome his unsuitable appointment. (4)

To live life to the full it is key to continue to “dream big” and brainstorming can be part of this creative process. Channeling any fears constructively can help us to identify the steps we need to take in order to accomplish our objectives and get closer to our aspirations. Focusing on what we ‘can do’ as opposed to what is currently impossible is crucial at this extraordinary time.

Accept Limitations and Keep Going

Understanding our own entities ‘money, time and resources’ position will define what options we have in terms of delivering products and services and investing in the right premises or new team members over the next year or two. Hopefully in a year or so the vaccine program will have rolled out almost everywhere and most countries will be back to a near normal way of life.

It is likely that this most unusual time is temporary but will have to see when the economy slowly gains momentum again (or if it bounces back) and how the virus containment program progresses. Whatever happens it is best not to dwell on any elements outside of our authority that we cannot alter. It is smarter to be determined to make the most of what we know is actually possible in our own areas of supervision, during the coming months.

In order to embrace the opportunities that are available in our industries right now it can be a good idea to be aware of the possible limitations, setbacks, pitfalls and regulations that could hold us back due to Covid-19 and Brexit. Then creating a step by step strategy that can propel us forward, in a way that works well for this month and also the next few seasons, will mean we can still achieve our ambitions.

Be Your Best You and Celebrate Small Wins

As a person juggling many tasks and responsibilities it can be hard to allocate energy for meal planning and making sure you have enough healthy drinks on hand to see you through the working day. When the pressure is on it is even more important to look after your gut health and clean eating and getting enough sleep is vital for maintaining a strong immune system. The old adage about looking after yourself first, so you can look after everyone else properly, is not just an old wives tale.

If your schedule is unavoidably packed, find out where you can make ‘me time’ by declining non-essential meetings and ordering online deliveries rather than shopping. Getting more external help, hiring a cleaner and recruiting an assistant for simple tasks such as administration can be life changing. Roo Davies suggests delegating social media communication can be another awesome timesaver. If daily cooking is not a joy then signing up with a company that provides individual lunches and dinners through the post, can simplify your day and keep you on track.

As small business owners it is easy to forget everything that you and your assistants have achieved over the previous quarters. Celebrating small wins with lots of personalised treats can be a real game changer when it comes to your overall mental health. Big gains, jobs completed or tricky problems solved all call for proper presents from the wish list. Alternatively rewarding yourself with some extra time to spend on your favourite activities is the way to go.

Taking at least half an hour every day to do whatever makes you feel revived, happy and grounded will help you mentally weather any storms. Something lovely to look forward to every day gives managers mental space for the right sort of thinking to have fabulous creative ideas which help reach those tricky targets. Scientists have proved that the microbiome in natural environments are very powerful for improving healthy gut bacteria so go to the garden, countryside and beach as often as you can to get an immunity and mindfulness boost from being outdoors.

Remember you are not alone! The British Chambers of Commerce operate in almost every county in England and have a global network of international contacts and events too. A quick google can reveal local networking clubs where you can attend virtual seminars and meet up events once the restrictions have lifted again in a few weeks time. Industry specific facebook groups and forums are really good sources of support from others in the same boat. There are lots of small organisations dealing with the same sort of challenges right now, like efficiently shipping into Europe post Brexit and so on. (5)

The current phrase ‘be kind to yourself’ is used a lot at the moment for an excellent reason and keeping a reasonable balance between your work and family lifestyle is always important. Nurturing yourself and resting as much as your career allows will give you the strength to relax, enjoy the journey and continue to grow a thriving business in the long term, however frustrating all the current constraints may be this year. The physicist Albert Einstein died in 1955 but his quote “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” is definitely a wise mantra to remember today. (6)

(1) ‘Spring Fair at the NEC’ National Exhibition Centre Birmingham, 16 February 2021 Spring Fair at the NEC

(2) ‘Helping you rediscover your mojo and create change’ Roo Davies, The Mojo Coach, 16 February 2021 Roo Davies The Mojo Coach

(3) Welcome to T&T Fruits community fruit and vegetable provider since the 1930’s, Tony Fruits, 17 February 2021 T&T Fruits Community fruit, veg and groceries, Sussex

(4) ‘Turning Negative Emotions into Positive Motivation’ Brett Steenbarger, Forbes, 31 Jan 2019 (4) ‘Turning Negative Emotions into Positive Motivation’ Brett Steenbarger, Forbes

(5) ‘Coronavirus, Brexit Trading and Beyond’ British Chambers of Commerce, 17 February 2021 ‘Coronavirus, Brexit Trading and Beyond’ British Chambers of Commerce

(6) ‘Albert Einstein German-American physicist’ Britannica, 17 February 2021 ‘Albert Einstein German-American physicist’ Britannica