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Owner-operators: Tips to beat isolation

Being a solo operator can be isolating, and it can sometimes feel like your work is your life. It doesn’t need to be like that. Read on for tips to help you feel more connected.

Support when you want it

There’s a lot to be said for being your own boss. Going it alone means you control your business – and all the profits – along with how, where and when you work.

It’s so appealing that around 70 percent of the 400,000 small businesses in New Zealand are owned and operated by just one person.

But running your own business is also a lot of hard work. As a solo operator, you wear most or all the hats in your business, and that can mean long hours and high stress levels. The financial burden can also be extremely stressful.

Research from Business Mentors New Zealand found 80 percent of business owners surveyed had felt a sense of isolation.

“Isolation is a reality faced by most business people, especially in a startup. Not having access to support can have a detrimental impact on those who need to make decisions," says Craig Garner, CEO of Business Mentors New Zealand.

“Poor or ineffective decision-making will impact not only finances, relationships, and motivation, but physical and mental wellbeing as well."

Isolation can mean solo operators:

  • don’t get to share their burdens
  • have no one to bounce their ideas off
  • don’t see themselves as a ‘real’ business, so don’t necessarily look for business advice or support
  • lack confidence
  • feel social isolation too.

“It makes sense to protect your most important business asset – your mental wellbeing. For your business to be at its best you need to take care of the person driving that success,” says Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson.

“Connection is key. Building connections with the people around you enriches you every day, and also builds a support network for when times get tough.”

Simple ways to connect

Just like physical health, there are lots of things you can do to boost your mental health and wellbeing. These tips may help you feel more connected, happier and more resilient.

Get out of the house

We’ve all heard the stories of how Harry Potter author J K Rowling spent hours writing at her local café. She says the walk to the café put her baby to sleep, giving her precious time to write. Chances are the change of scenery did wonders for her too.

If you’ve spent days cooped up in the house working in your trackpants, getting changed and getting out might help revitalise you. By using your mobile phone as a hotspot, you can do your computer work anywhere – your local park, coffee shop, library, botanic gardens – and there are a number of places that have free wifi too.

And if you have meetings, offer to go to their place of work, or to meet them at a café.

Working well (external link) — Mental Health

Five ways to wellbeing (external link) — Mental Health

Attend events regularly

There are a large number of events small business owners can attend and groups you can join. Even if you don’t like networking, and even if you only attend now and then, these events can give you support, information and helpful advice for the smooth running of your business. Having a support network is really important

Local small business meetups happen all around the country – some more social, and some that focus solely on business.

“Connect with local community groups," says Shaun Robinson from the Mental Health Foundation. Your business and expertise may be useful to them. Giving your time to support groups supports your wellbeing and creates a new network of people and businesses who know about your work.” 

Find ongoing support

A business mentor can help guide you and provide support. Business Mentors New Zealand provides support to start-ups, established small and medium business owners, and community organisations. There’s a small annual subscription and mentors volunteer their time and knowledge to support emerging business leaders.

"A business mentor isn’t a consultant or a coach. They’re there to provide support and experience by being a sounding board for ideas and help turn them into action,” says Craig Garner from Business Mentors New Zealand. ”A mentor will challenge the business owner to achieve more than they could in isolation, but the mentee must be prepared to accept new ideas and listen to the advice they’re offered.”

Business Mentors New Zealand (external link)

Your local Regional Business Partner Network can connect you with you with the right people and information, at the right time, to help your business grow successfully.

Regional Business Partner Network (external link)

If you’re just starting out, the PopUp Business School could be a great point of connection. They complement traditional business support by offering interactive, engaging courses to help get people started in business.

PopUp Business School (external link)

There are 30 local Chambers of Commerce around New Zealand that provide training, information, advice, information and support to members.

New Zealand Chamber of Commerce (external link)

Consider joining a co-working space

Co-working can beat the distractions and isolation often caused by working from home, and can help you surround yourself with like-minded people who may encourage or help you grow and improve your business. Shared working spaces are opening all over the country, and many offer flexible and low-commitment options at an affordable price.

Even if you only use a co-working space every now and then, it may help you feel supported and part of a community.

Other helpful routines

  • Have a dedicated work space in your home. It’s helpful if you can physically leave your work behind at the end of the work day.
  • Set work hours, and set daily goals – no matter how small – and tick them off as you go.
  • Get ready for work in the morning. Before heading into your home work space, have a shower, put on work clothes and make yourself tidy for your working day. It may help get you into a headspace for working.
  • Take breaks. Making yourself a hot drink and heading outside for some fresh air can refresh and motivate you.
  • Exercise can really help. Take a lunchtime walk, hit the gym, and allow yourself to switch off from the business and dedicate time to yourself.
  • Make sure you get away from where you work and take time out to socialise with friends and whānau.
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