I’ve been fortunate to be a part of the development of some fantastic resources that support the mental health of small business owners. We’ve come a long way recognising the importance of mentally healthy workplaces during the past ten years. I am grateful to have been a part of this understanding but nowadays I realise that we need more. I’m a soloist and although I have to take responsibility for my mental health by choosing to work well (for tips see this excellent site) I’m not the only one responsible for my mental health.
Every business I work with, or supply, is also responsible for my mental health.
I don’t work in a bubble. I have to connect with other people and other businesses to complete projects. Therefore, you have a duty to help me to work well, just as you would for an employee. Here’s some easy ways you can help to ensure our connection is a positive one.
1. Offer to pay me a 50% deposit for work you have commissioned from me. In small business, cash is king. We know from the research that financial pressure is a key trigger for poor mental health. Don’t contribute to this risky work environment. Offer to pay a deposit and then ask me what my payment terms are. If it’s seven days, or 14 days or 30 days please honour that.
2. Find mutually agreeable deadlines. We work hard for business. Often, we say yes to crazy deadlines because we don’t want to risk losing a client or disappointing them. Sometimes that means we miss family time. We miss date night. We miss a game of soccer on the weekend. Would you want your employee to be missing these things? Ask me if the deadline is reasonable, but most importantly, make it okay for me to say no without fear of losing the job. Let’s collaborate to find a mutually workable deadline.
3. Call me just to say hello. Yes, you might be my customer but that doesn’t mean we can’t connect as friends. Sometimes it’s a lonely gig working as a soloist. You might be the person I speak to the most during a working day because we’re doing business together. Maybe it’s between jobs, maybe it’s a long project that I’m contributing to for you – don’t wait for a work reason to say hi, build that bridge regardless of the reason. If you have a good radar for noticing employees who are a bit isolated at work tune it in to notice the soloists you work with too.
4. Make all your employees who talk to small business clients do this training. Do your employees talk to small business owners regularly? Do they call them for orders? Do they talk to them to resolve customer problems? Do they call through to your call centre? Do you have a specific small business department with Business Development Managers? If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions then make time for your staff to complete this new Beyond Blue Small Business Course for Advisors. Basically, anyone who connects with small business owners in their work can complete this FREE course to identify when an owner might be in distress and can then confidently direct them to professional help. This staff training just might be a lifesaver one day.
5. Think about your company policies and procedures. Every time you develop a new policy or procedure for the business audit it to see if it will have a negative impact on your small business clients and suppliers. Put yourself in their shoes and ask ‘will this policy help our small business community to work well?’ if the answer is no, or unsure, change it. For example, if you have a policy to open a service location (for example) in a local shopping centre, will users of the centre nab all available car spots meaning no one can park to visit the small business located beside you? Here’s another: if you have an EAP program that is available to staff and their families, can it be made available to your small business clients too? How can your wellbeing policies extend to the small business owners you work with too?
It’s such a juggling act to work well as a soloist. Yes, I can try to construct a positive work/life balance (for example) but if a client approaches me at the last minute with an urgent order and short deadline I may feel I cannot refuse. Right now many of us are concerned about an uncertain future but together we can support each other and be a better collective business community because of it even when the road ahead feels rocky.