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Why Business Owners Should Never Walk Alone

Entrepreneurs must find ways to delegate and build teams, not do it all themselves.

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Entrepreneurs must find ways to delegate and build teams, not do it all themselves.

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Why Business Owners Should Never Walk Alone

Entrepreneurs must find ways to delegate and build teams, not do it all themselves.

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The old adage that “it’s lonely at the top” is the harsh reality for many UK business owners. Having built a business from scratch or taken over the reigns of a family-owned company, it can be difficult to let go, resulting in stress and isolation when it comes to tackling the more strategic aspects of running a business.

The danger is assuming the same role and responsibilities in year ten as in year one – whether that’s due to an unwillingness to delegate, or struggling to build a strong tier of directors and managers underneath you who understand your objectives, are capable of helping you achieve it and can help keep the business running day-to-day.

By becoming too self-reliant, our latest research reveals that company owners are leaving their business open to significant risks. More than two fifths (42%) of UK business owners feel their company could not survive for more than a week without them, and more than one in ten believe it could only manage for up to three days.

When all of the pressure is focused at the top, burnout is inevitable and something that we see all too often, with potentially serious consequences for the business owner, staff morale and the company itself.

According to our latest psychological research (which assesses non-conscious responses to questions), business owners strongly agree with the view that their position is “emotionally exhausting” (score: 73 out of 100) and detrimental to both their mental and physical health (score: 70 and 60 out of 100 respectively).

In addition, a lack of shared responsibility within the company precludes some of the support that would normally be available to business owners from trusted internal advisers and peers – people who know you and your business well, and share your vision for the company. With less people to bounce ideas off and help answer new challenges, the cycle of overreliance and stress can quickly spiral out of control.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a lot that business owners can do to address the danger of loneliness at the top:

Build the right network

According to our research, business owners agree it can get very lonely at the top (score: 55 out of 100), with those aged under 50 particularly struggling for support. The majority of business owners also admit they don’t know where to turn for help (62 out of 100).

Of course, it can be difficult to admit that you need help, and you might even fear what you’re going to be told or feel that nobody could possibly understand what you’re going through. Clients often tell me “no business is like mine”, but that is rarely the case.

It just takes one business owner in a room to open up about the issues they’re facing, and then the floodgates open for everyone else, with parallels appearing between all different kinds of businesses.

Key to building an effective network is finding like-minded owners who you can trust with your concerns and fears. Finding peers, mentors and advisers who can be sympathetic and supportive is key, and you’ll often find that you can give something back in return.

Make the most of these conversations and be sure to take a positive action away every time, and incorporate it into your own development plan.

There’s also no need to restrict the network to similar companies. Owners from a wide range of sectors and demographics can provide an invaluable perspective on your own business. Expanding your horizons should ensure that you learn something new every time you network, and avoid the dangers of “groupthink”.

Nurture personal relationships 

While professional networking can help, our research reveals that the greatest support available to business owners can be closer to home.

Family trumps all when it comes to rekindling a business owner’s love for running their company. More than half (52%) say their family re-motivates them when they’ve lost all motivation; ahead of other factors like remembering why they started the company in the first place.

Paradoxically, personal relationships are also the first thing to suffer when owners work long hours, suffer with stress and miss too many bedtime stories and dinners. Around a third of business owners reveal their relationship with their partner (38%) and children (30%) have suffered as a result of running their company.

Business owners can avoid this situation by harnessing the power of family and friends as a positive motivating influence. In the first instance, business owners need to open up to their partner and friends about the pressures they are facing.

Their support can provide the positive outlook needed to stay motivated, while at the same time offering the detached perspective that helps to encourage a healthy reliance on senior colleagues. From a legacy point of view, family can also motivate owners to create something that will be a source of income and support for years to come.

Striking a balance

While running a business can take its toll on the mental and physical health of all business owners, the younger generation are particularly at risk.

Implicit testing shows that stress and emotional exhaustion all score highly among business owners aged between 27 and 50 (score: 84 out of 100) compared to a score of 59 out of 100 in the over-50 age bracket. This could highlight the level of stress felt when trying to get a business off the ground.

Recognising these issues and understanding that you need to do something about them is of course the first big step. Taking a regular holiday and not answering emails after 8pm, for example, are simple rules to follow – if you have a strong team to rely on and confidence in the future direction of your business.

It’s up to business owners to find the right rules that work for their unique situation – and stick to them. Loneliness at the top doesn’t have to be inevitable, and business owners should never have to walk alone.

Karen McLellan, director at Haines Watts.

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Why Business Owners Should Never Walk Alone

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