The pressures of running a small business precipitated a mental health crisis for Billie Goat Soap founder Leanne Faulkner. Since then she's fought to make more resources are available to support the wellbeing of small business owners. We spoke with Leanne about the issue during the 2019 Travellers Choice Conference in Adelaide.
Broader community discussions on mental health have been taking place for many years, yet it’s not an issue we hear discussed very often in the context of small business owners. Why is that?
It’s only in the last couple of years that we have really started to talk about caring for small business owners and research this group. It’s way overdue.
It’s quite easy to talk about what we should be doing for employees, and quite easy to be directive around employees, but it’s quite a different conversation when we are talking about ourselves as business owners.
Our reality and our needs are a bit different to the general public because when you own a small business or are part of a small business there is nowhere to hide. I think the pressure as an owner or entrepreneur, that kind of profile that says ‘I’m resilient, I’m creative, I can overcome everything all the time’, has probably made it more of a taboo topic. You don’t want to stand contrary to the image, but the reality is that we are not all Richard Bransons. We don’t hear the real stories enough in the media and that’s one reason why it’s harder to talk about.
You have worked hard as an advocate on this issue, how successful have you been in marshalling support?
There is more support now than we’ve ever had in the past. Of course, more is needed, but in particular there are more government agencies beginning to realise that they have to be mindful of the impact of their actions on small business.
We are seeing much more happening at federal level. There’s actually a small business wellbeing team within the Department of Jobs, and the Australian Tax Office has done some work. We’ve got Beyond Blue dedicating specialist support resources for the small business community. And we’ve got a new program that’s been given $3.1 million to broaden its reach out of Newcastle, called Ahead for Business. And increasingly we are seeing additional support services.
What we need to do more of is better understand all of the nuances that are part of small business ownership, and think about how the resources and support that we offer meet the realities of owning a small business.
Many retail travel stores are microbusiness with one or two part-time employees and our industry has embraced the home-based model. Does this raise the risk of encountering problems?
Definitely small businesses run the risk of an increasing sense of isolation, and when you think about mental health, one of the red flags is separating yourself from typically-engaging activities you might want to do. And in fact that’s the very time that you need to do the opposite, you need to re-engage, go to the networking functions and breakfast functions. It’s a big risk.
How do small business owners differentiate between feeling a little flat and recognising that they need help?
It’s really about being self-aware when a bad day turns into a bad week, a bad week turns into a bad month and then suddenly you’ve had a bad quarter.
So often when I speak to government bodies about how can they better support small business people, the first thing they’ll say is ‘I wish they‘d talk to us sooner’. Often, we think that if we just ignore that nagging feeling, that tightness in our stomach, that it will somehow go away, but in fact it snowballs.
It’s better to try and deal with things quickly, and feel reassured that this is a big topic of conversation in businesses nowadays. People want to help – from big business to government to your small business neighbour in the shop next to you. It’s about keeping our small business sector thriving.
What should small business owners do if they feel they need help?
If you are at that stage where you really need to reach out to someone, or maybe you have a friend in small business and you recognise they need help, put your phone on speaker and call Lifeline 13 11 14. They will talk to you 24/7. Reach out to someone who will listen without judgement.