New research uncovers stresses of Australia's small business owners

Amanda Thorson. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Amanda Thorson. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Small business owners are emotionally drained and the last year has been no exception.

Amanda and Caleb Thorson have become used to the emotional rollercoaster that comes with being small business owners.

Twelve years running a photography studio has given them plenty of sleepless nights. And they're not alone.

A new study has revealed the plight of small business owners and the emotional toll they suffer trying to navigate their way through uncertainty.

"We used to have our half-yearly freak-outs where my husband and I would look at our workload and think, 'We don't have enough bookings, we don't have enough money'," Mrs Thorson said.

"[We thought], 'We're going to lose our business', and we would get really stressed about it. You learn to live with the stress, it becomes normal, it's just a different way of life that a lot of people don't understand."

Seventy per cent of 500 business owners surveyed in Xero and Lonergan's research said the last 12 months had taken more of an emotional toll on them than ever before

Originally a wedding photographer, Mrs Thorson said due to the pandemic they had to switch their business model to take more general photos like headshots if they wanted to stay open.

"We've been doing this a long time but this was the first I felt like vomiting regularly because I didn't know if we were going to be able to stay open," Mrs Thorson said.

"I just thought, 'I've run this business for 12 years, am I going to lose everything I've worked for'? That was scary."

More than 80 per cent of the business owners surveyed said their work was taking them away from their personal lives. Respondents also claimed they had lost 15 hours a week that could be spent with family and friends - a total of 32.5 days per year.

They also said this was a problem before the coronavirus pandemic started last year.

The Thorsons said the fear of not being able to earn enough money was the driving force behind giving up time with their families.

"It takes a lot of discipline to not get sucked into the hole of having to earn more and more money all the time because, essentially, it's not like you get a promotion and you're working the same hours and making more money," Mrs Thorson said.

"For us it takes up more of our time and life. There was definitely a stage where we saw ourselves going that way and we have recently been pulling back and making sure we spend time with our kids."

Business owners also put relationships, romance and holidays on hold, with 25 per cent adding they couldn't remember the last time they went on a date. Almost half said they sacrificed an anniversary or date night for their business and 53 per cent said they gave up family trips for their work.

"It's an interesting relationship working with your spouse because you spend so much time together, but a lot of the time we don't take the time to spend together that's not about work," Mrs Thorson said.

Xero has recently launched a competition to help business owners cope, offering the chance to win a $50,000 "Emotional Tax Return".

The competition is open to small businesses across Australia with an annual turnover of less than $10 million with fewer than 20 employees. Small businesses can enter by going to xero.com/emotionaltaxreturn.

This story 'We're going to lose our business': Emotional toll on small business owners laid bare first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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