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Glamour VS Guilt: the reality of being a small business owner.

"No, it isn’t because us business owners are cookie cutter cliches. It’s because we’re really friggin’ bad at putting our own needs first"

Words: Amber Badger 

Illustration: Tarn Ellis


Iced lattes strolling along the coast with nothing but a Moleskin and a personalised pen in your bag. PAH. I wish.


Let me start off with a big ol’ disclaimer: I love being a small business owner.  Hands down, it’s been the best decision of my life. 


It’s opened countless doors. Introduced me to pals for life. Given me a sense of ownership and fulfilment that I never really knew was possible.


But… it’s also landed me with a fresh load of guilt.


You know the type; when it gets right under your skin, like a mammoth itch that you just can’t scratch. 


It’s the guilt that materialises in endless ways, so you never really know what to expect (thanks for that, hun). Guilt that really shouldn’t be guilt in the first place.


Take this moment, right here right now. As I write this blog post, I’m sitting with a pillow propped on the side of my back to try and *push out* (… definitely not a thing) the pain of a pulled muscle. There’s a bea-u-tiful line of mascara still sitting on my cheeks from a 8am frustrated wobble and all I can think of is my growing ‘to do’ list that doesn’t seem to get any smaller.


I know. Cue the world’s smallest violin. 

The problem isn’t that I’m not quite thirty and straining muscles simply from picking up a NutriBullet from the floor (although that does suck); it’s that I feel too guilty to take a day off and get myself back together.

You’re sold a dream of self employment: one where you work part-time hours and enjoy the rest of your life swanning off around the world.

You’re sold a dream of self employment: one where you work part-time hours and enjoy the rest of your life swanning off around the world.


And that dream? I’m sure it’s possible. I’ve seen it happen. To those people, I say ‘You go Glen Coco’.


However, I’ll hazard a guess that – for most of us – that isn’t quite how it goes down.


Especially throughout the rollercoaster of 2020, it can feel harder and harder to give yourself space to breathe… even though the need for self care has never been so important. We convince ourselves that we need to work every hour under the sun, just in case the rug gets snatched from underneath our feet again. Because sure, this month you’re busy. But what about next month? What about when winter hits and you-know-what serves up a fresh dose of 💩?


So the business takes center stage. You stop making time for those yoga classes. You can’t remember the last time you visited your grandparents. You become stressed and irritable with your partner, your little ones.


And then guess what? Guilt comes back a’knockin’. Now you feel pants for putting your business first… but you’re too frightened to change it.


Guilt as a business owner is a vicious cycle. It needs to be tackled headfirst.


By headfirst, I mean through your mindset.


Disclaimer #2: this is something I’m still working on. It’s a journey, let’s put it that way.


But I am starting to realise something. Whenever my guilt gremlin starts to rear its little head, my response is never to think about my needs or feelings. It’s always about how my actions could impact someone else.


When I need to give a longer deadline to a client, I’m worried that they’ll lose interest and go elsewhere.


When I decide to take a shorter day, I’m convinced people will think I’m a bad business owner.


When I acknowledge that, actually, COVID hasn’t financially impacted my business too badly (…so far!), I’m scared that I’m just rubbing people’s noses in it. 


When I can’t drop work and help a loved one out with a chore because I’m in the middle of a deadline, I feel bad that I’m not helping them.


Jeez. I’m exhausted just writing it. But I’ll bet you’ve found yourself thinking at least one of those things in the past few months.


No, it isn’t because us business owners are cookie cutter cliches. It’s because we’re really friggin’ bad at putting our own needs first.


What would happen if we reframed those statements with our needs at the forefront?


So you need to give a longer deadline – it’s because you’re a BOSS and would rather take the time to do the job right then burn yourself out and be no good to anyone, least of all yourself.


You want to take a shorter day? Chances are you worked some crazy hours to make up for it. And if not? That’s why you went self-employed.


If COVID hasn’t totally burnt your business to the ground, celebrate it! This has been one hell of a year, and we need all the pats on the back we can get.


And if you aren’t prepared to drop work to answer the beck and call of… well, anyone, that is COMPLETELY OKAY. No one would expect that when you were employed, so why would they expect it now?


There’s a common theme: being kind and compassionate to yourself. Learning how to put boundaries into place that protect your wellbeing.


I know it’s easier said than done. I also know that it’s a message you’ll have heard a thousand times. But maybe, during this crazy, unexpected, up and down, what-on-earth-is-coming-next time, we can all start to make it more of a priority.

A few ways to give guilt the middle finger

As much as I’d love to click my fingers and say ‘adios’ to my small business owner guilt, I can’t seem to muster the magical skills of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.


Instead, I need to do the thing and say ‘NO’ to guilt.


Want to do this too? Here are a handful of things you could try:


  • The next time you feel guilt beckoning you over with its wiry finger, ask yourself: what would you say to a friend if they were feeling guilty about *this* situation?
  • Be firm with your boundaries. In fact, write them down. Manifest the bones out of them. And when a decision you make as a business owner (to protect those boundaries!!) leaves you with the G-word, remind yourself why you made that decision in the first place.
  • Be open about your feelings. If you’re feeling guilty for not being enough time with your partner, talk to them about it. Ask for their help; you’re a team after all. Running a business is hard and it’s okay to acknowledge that.
  • Stop justifying yourself. Often our fear of what other people think is the core trigger of entrepreneurial guilt. The less you justify yourself to people for the choices you’ve made, the more comfortable you will get with them.
  • Remember: you are not your business! The time carved out for YOU should be sacred. Not only because you need that time to stay sane, but because those moments are an important reminder that you are so much more than a business owner. You are a human being with needs, and your business should support that.


Above all? Don’t ever forget that you are not alone. While being a business boss can feel like the loneliest job in the world, there are actually countless people out there feeling the exact same way as you. 


In the words of High School Musical, we’re all in this together.