As a small business owner, networking can be beneficial to form business connections, learn from the experiences of others, share your own knowledge, and build social connections with those who have similar business experiences to you.
In this Q&A, Daniel Doherty, founder of Blue Mountains based business networking group, Business Made Social, gives his take on the mental health of small businesses in his local area.
Q: Tell us a bit about Business Made Social and why it was created.
Business Made Social is a local group in Blackheath that provides frequent informal business events for business owners in the area. It started back in early 2018 with one monthly event and we were able to grow and run fortnightly breakfast and evening events. There is no membership and our events are free to attend. You buy your own food and beverages as required.
Since COVID-19, our evening event numbers have been smaller and our breakfasts have had much better uptake. Enabling us to expand our reach from Blackheath to Leura and Katoomba with several options for breakfast meetings each month.
Q: How have small business owners been coping with the recent adversities in the Blue Mountains and the impact they have had on their business?
Service-based businesses have thrived as far as I can tell, and hospitality not so much. However, I've noticed that many hospitality businesses are trying new services like home deliveries. Some businesses are getting clever and offering "Survival Packs," like the local butcher here. Some restaurants have had to change their business hours as they cannot get kitchen staff. Staffing has always been a struggle in the Blue Mountains, though it has been more difficult during COVID-19.
Q: What have been some of the main business stressors affecting mental health that you have seen in small business owners during COVID-19?
The discussions I have heard have mainly been around paying of rent. Even though restrictions are easing I still find community confidence is lacking. I am not sure whether people are choosing to not attend events because of the fear of COVID-19 or because of the restrictions. Isolation is a major factor and even though we have Zoom, in the conversations I am having people say they are over meetups on Zoom - they need close connection with people.
Q: Many small business owners do not prioritise their mental health, and are more concerned with running a business, why do you think that is?
I think for a long time, mental illness has been stigmatised and hidden for fear of what others might think of us. Since it's not spoken about much there is little understanding of what it is. Running a business is hard. Wearing many hats and doing hundreds of tasks. To check in and ask for help, whether it's asking for help from a friend or peers or your GP, I think society may see it as a weakness. Personally, I see it as being courageous. The last part to this is people are so distracted with devices, always looking down, getting a dopamine hit each time someone responds to a post in social media. These things are artificial and mean nothing. Having 1000 friends is unrealistic. How many people does one actually have a real conversation with? One's so called ‘online social worthiness’ means absolutely zero. The friends and likes you get on social media have no real value – people need to get back to being real.
Q: What strategies would you recommend to small business owners to help look after their mental health based on your own experience, or the experiences of others?
- Meditate every day. There are some great free guided meditations on YouTube. Since I started meditation, morning walks before work and following my passions other than work, I find I get fewer headaches and stress less.
- Stop engaging so much in frivolous discussions on social media.
- Remove social media apps from your phone.
- Reduce your exposure to news on the television, radio, or in newspapers. There are plenty of other ways to find out what's happening. If it's breaking and major you'll be sure someone will tell you about.
- Find some passions other than work and pursue those.
Look up more. Get curious. Breathe in this beautiful mountain air. Go for a walk.