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3 ways to avoid neglecting family life and personal relationships as an SME owner

Five out of seven South African businesses fail within the first year – that’s just over 70%. In fact, South Africa is one of the most challenging environments in which to start a business. The average age of South African entrepreneurs is 45, which is conventionally the age at which people have an established family life with children or other significant personal relationships. However, maintaining these relationships while driving a business forward in uncertain times, can be a major challenge.

Having a thriving personal life with fulfilling and meaningful relationships, and building a successful business, do not have to be mutually exclusive realities. In fact, at Business Partners Limited, our data on why businesses fail shows that there is a direct correlation between the deterioration of personal relationships (such as divorce), and the failure of businesses.

In other words, developing a good attitude towards nurturing a healthy family life could have a positive impact on the success of a business. Of course, it’s easier said than done. So significant is the impact of relationships on a business that a reasonable argument could be made for business support to include a marriage counsellor, a child therapist and a personal psychologist. In the absence of those professionals, entrepreneurs can try the following practical ways in which to find balance:

  • Communicate during your busy periods

COVID-19 brought many businesses to an abrupt halt, but that in no way infers that the work for SME owners came to a standstill. In fact, it accelerated at breakneck pace. Suddenly, business owners were burning the midnight oil, trying to find ways to ensure their businesses survived the onset of the pandemic. Particularly busy periods are inevitable, but unfortunately this often means communication with friends and family takes a backseat. The best thing to do when times get tough, is to talk about it to your significant other – explain the situation and how it might affect your (and their) lives directly and indirectly, and negotiate ways to compromise so that no one in the scenario ends up feeling neglected. Children especially, are often more understanding and intuitive than we realise – they feel stress and pressure in a very tangible way, so helping them to understand that less quality time with parents doesn’t mean that they are less loved, is extremely important.

  • Understand the Changing Work Environment

With the shift to work-from-home, business owners might have experienced their children interrupting video call meetings, such as Zoom or Teams – even during the most serious exchanges. It might be tempting to simply reprimand them and try to explain that what you’re doing is important, “adult” stuff – but consider a perspective change. Even as the pandemic has forced a work-from-home business set-up, in some ways it’s encroached on the family’s space; not the other way around. If your office is also your children’s home, consider welcoming their brief intrusion on meetings, instead of completely denying them access to you. The trick is to communicate boundaries of what is and isn’t appropriate and acceptable while you are working.

  • Set Healthy Boundaries

Many SME owners eat, sleep and breathe their business – particularly during its first few years. In an environment where there are immediate business concerns that cannot be delegated to anyone else, the idea of a 9-to-5 day can become an anomaly, but it’s crucial to set healthy boundaries. It’s important to prioritise self-care and quality time with the people in your life who need time and attention. It’s likely your family or partner will understand that burning the midnight oil is part and parcel of running a business – however, carving out a few hours a week, or putting aside one day on a weekend for doing something non work-related with loved ones, will go a long way in preserving your most treasured relationships. Downtime is also a key component of mental and physical health.

COVID-19 has shaken and tested the resolve of business owners to achieve success in a turbulent global environment, and it can be easy to forget how others have been impacted. Workplace stressors have a ripple effect on the families and friends of business owners – managing the impact of these is not always easy, but it is possible.

This article is the first in a series of three articles that will unpack why SMEs fail and how to circumvent some of the most common issues.


About the Author: Ben Bierman

Ben Bierman has been our Managing Director since 2015. He joined our company in 1990 and has risen through the ranks occupying various positions ranging from being a management accountant, Head of Information Technology and Chief Financial Officer. Ben is an avid reader, enjoys classical music and being in the outdoors including for hunting trips. He is our go-to-spokesperson for our SME Confidence Index, SME sector policy and trend matters, and business leadership articles.

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