Why managing mental health is a key entrepreneurial skill

woman being comforted by colleague, mental ill health

It’s a well quoted statistic that one in four people suffer from mental health problems.

I would hazard a guess that this may be even higher in fast-growing and owner-managed businesses. Which makes it a critical topic for entrepreneurs to think about, for themselves and the people they bring into their business.

Why is this a critical issue for entrepreneurial businesses?

Over the last decade of working with the founders and leaders of businesses in the step-up phase, I’ve seen mental health stand out as a key issue for three key reasons:

The founder’s sense of personal identity is entangled with the business

I often joke that I have two babies, one is called Watertight Marketing and one is called Eleni. I say it in jest, but it’s true. The sense of responsibility and identity in parenthood and entrepreneurship is really very alike. What’s the first question we get asked when we meet people… what do you do? And, what often follows… do you have any children? These things so often define us. There are two things in my life that I will sacrifice for… my business, and my daughter. Both have given me sleepless nights. Both have left me floundering to acquire new skills quickly. Both have prompted feelings of guilt when I invariably make mistakes. When you feel a sense of dependency – from a child or a business – it matters to your core.

High growth means lots of rapid change and fluidity of role

We’re told that things like moving into a new house, a new job or school can be mental health triggers. This is because they represent big changes in surroundings, routine, and the people around you. In a fast-growing business, you’ll be constantly changing all of these things. From moving offices as you grow, to bringing new people into a team, to picking up tasks that simply need doing… it can feel like the moment you get into a rhythm someone always changes the beat. And, the satisfaction of completing a to-do list… if you run your own business, there is literally always more you could do. One of our clients, who doubled their turnover in 12-months, shared with me that when she found herself in tears standing over an actual pint of spilt milk, she realised just how on edge she was.

The pressure on finances is palpable

In a high-growth business, a founder will often invest their own money, and gain investment from friends and family. You’ll often also find that owner-managers are paying themselves little or nothing in the early years. Money worries have to be right up there in pressures that cause mental health collapses.

What can an entrepreneur do to address these issues?

Whilst not exhaustive, here are three things I firmly believe an entrepreneur can do to make these issues easier to talk about, and as such easier to deal with:

Learn about signs of mental health issues

Take some time to learn about the topic, the signs to look for, and how to handle it. This will help you see it in yourself, and also know how to respond when someone in your team has an issue – it will happen!

Be honest about it

Take time to understand yourself and the pressures you’re under and be open with your team about how this can feel. There’s a balance here in not burdening or unsettling them. But, being truthful is a starting point. I’d recommend watching Brene Brown’s TED talk on Shame & Vulnerability as a starting point on this.
Make personal wellbeing a core value

Put looking after the health of yourself and your team at the top of your list. There’s no business without you, and no growth without your team. Build in good habits in terms of taking holiday, not staying late, etc.

Mental wellbeing is at the heart and centre of what I do. My mother, and other close family members lost their lives in their struggles with mental health, and I have been very open about my own experiences with depression over the years.

In fact, this is exactly why our business exists. We help business owners to make marketing decisions that support sustainable sales growth. Why? Because, when I hear someone who owns their own business tell me that their marketing isn’t working, it’s not the m-word I hear. I hear that they’ve put their mortgage, their marriage, and their mental health on the line and it’s not working.

Growing a business is hard work. It will put pressures on you, your team and the people who love you. You’ll need skills… and understanding and managing mental health is one of them. Perhaps the most important.

About the author

Bryony Thomas, one of the UK’s foremost marketing thinkers and speakers, is the multi award-winning author and founder of Watertight Marketing. For more information about Bryony, her Masterplan programme and best-selling book please visit https://watertightmarketing.com.

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