Whether it’s to follow a lifelong passion or have greater flexibility and find some work-life balance, there are many reasons why small business owners choose the path they do.

By Colin Timmis, Xero South Africa country manager

However, while running a small business offers these advantages, it also comes with a lot of challenges; late-night paperwork, managing cash flow, and dealing with the ever-escalating cost of doing business. This is all alongside wider macroeconomic factors such as inflation, load shedding, and finding and retaining staff.

Our latest Global State Of Small Business Owner Wellbeing report shows that while South African small business owners have a high level of well-being compared to other countries, these challenges still play on their minds.


Making work more enjoyable

The report specifically explored the role that a sense of fulfillment plays in small business owners’ well-being and found that 68% of South African small business owners report feeling fulfilled by the activities they do at work most or all the time.

It is heartening to see that small business owners find meaning and purpose in what they do – perhaps the reason why so many persist with optimism and determination, despite facing challenges.

However, this leaves nearly a third (32%) not often feeling fulfilled by their work. Creating conditions that help small business owners feel a sense of fulfilment and enjoyment, is important to help those who are struggling to stay on top of their well-being.

With that in mind, here’s how small businesses can inject interest and purpose into their work.


Automate the small stuff

By automating admin-heavy, manual tasks, small business owners can free up time to spend on the more interesting and creative side of their business, which is likely what led many to start the business in the first place. However, that’s often easier said than done. Our previous One Step – Small business digitalisation research found that only one in five small business owners consider themselves to be technology adopters.

Small businesses often struggle to adopt technology because they’re daunted by the perceived uncertainty and difficulties that come with investing in something new but it’s not just up to them to overcome those fears. It’s also the responsibility of technology companies, the industry, and the government to adapt their language in a way that positions technology adoption as a series of small, incremental steps rather than large-scale, all-in bets.


Keep learning

A growth mindset that focuses on lifelong learning and development, rather than outcomes alone, can make our daily work much more enjoyable. That might include doing online courses or undertaking hands-on business training in areas such as digital marketing or social media or making time to enjoy new hobbies that spark creativity, for example, art or meditation.

Understandably, the main issue that prevents many business owners from doing so is their lack of available time. Small business owners find it difficult to set aside time for this kind of learning when they have so many other things to manage. That’s why automating time-consuming tasks through technology is a brilliant first step. But there are also ways the government could help small businesses find the time to upskill.

Our recent State of South African Small Business 2023 research shows 64% of South African small businesses want to see the government investing in digital skills and innovation and 26% would like government-backed skills development. The onus isn’t on the government alone to provide the support SMEs need. Other players in the small business ecosystem need to play their part. Banks, for example, perform a vital role for small businesses, but most do not turn to their banks for support. Only 15% use their banks as a source of business advice and guidance.


Redesign the role

Many small business owners find themselves wearing multiple hats in their business, as not only is it difficult to hire talent, but it’s expensive too. However, one freedom owners do have is the unique ability to craft their own job descriptions. In fact, flexibility and freedom are what draws many people to starting their own business in the first place.

While it may seem an added expense, it is possible to outsource certain roles and responsibilities either through suppliers or through apps that meet business owners’ specific needs. Often the expense pays off, enabling important tasks to be done quicker and to a higher quality, while helping the business to grow and thrive.

Owners should therefore consider setting aside a regular “career review” for themselves to evaluate what they can add or outsource to make their job more fulfilling.


Connect with your community

It’s important that small business owners look for opportunities to spend time and network with those in their community, whether it’s other small businesses in the neighbourhood, their accountant or business coach, or their customers.

Connecting with others, especially customers, can help owners to feel inspired and more connected with the heart of the business and acts as a great reminder of why they do what they do. Sharing experiences and listening to others is also a great way to learn about new ways of doing things, as well as gaining inspiration and new perspectives.


Avoid the “good enough” fallacy

Small business owners can easily slip into maintaining their status quo as a “good enough” way of doing things. That’s understandable; tried and tested processes or solutions feel safer and require less mental energy than unproven experimentation. But when small business owners challenge themselves to improve even the “good enough” standard, they’re more likely to find interest and fulfilment in whatever they do.

Looking into upgrading technology or upskilling the people in the business, can help to create the positive momentum needed to swap “good enough” for a better way.


Time for a reset

Small business owners are juggling all sorts of changes, challenges, and opportunities which can become overwhelming and take their minds away from the passion behind their business. By incorporating some of these tips, we hope small businesses can find their way back to feeling more enjoyment and fulfilment in their daily lives and as a result, improve their overall well-being.