– Sezer Sherif, MCSI, CEO & Founder
Business winter blues
As the Christmas period fast approaches, many hardworking entrepreneurs and SMEs are preparing to celebrate the end of a turbulent 2019. For some the festivities will provide some respite from the commercial world, and for others, usually those involved in retail, it will be the most stressful but lucrative time of the year. Despite the rampant commercialisation of Christmas, it is still considered a time of peace and reflection. While this is fine in principle, for many entrepreneurs that cannot switch off from work, inactivity can be stressful.
Financial freedom and to be your own boss are two of the main reasons people start their own business. In the race to realise these goals, there is a danger that too much hard work, with no outlet to let off steam, can be detrimental to your social life and in turn, personal wellbeing. A recent Small Business Barometer undertaken by Enterprise Nation and supported by Experian and ICAEW, found 50% of entrepreneurs admitted to feeling lonely some of the time and another third (29%) said they felt lonely often. Just under half (49%) of those running a business full-time felt stressed often.
Good others, good for you.
Fortunately there is a solution that can boost your sense of wellbeing and give your creative entrepreneurial mind some stimulus. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a voluntary action businesses take to benefit the world around them, whether that be social, economic or environmental. When it first became popular in the 1990s, CSR was typically seen as a tick box exercise for large corporates to justify their bottom lines and be perceived as trendy and “in-touch”. Nowadays CSR is widely accepted, managed and assessed like any other business function, and has been proven to have many bottom-line business benefits such as staff recruitment and retention and driving innovation and productivity.
CSR benefits all businesses, but I would argue that that SME business owners have the most to gain from the practice in terms of their personal wellbeing. I have worked in financial markets from the age of 19 as a young derivatives broker before starting my first business in 2007. I have been exposed to all manner of stresses, disappointments and financial pains. As a driven, slightly egotistical young man I dealt with these situations by burying my head even further into my work, and counting on my resolve to see me through to the other side. Unfortunately, I found that cutting myself off from others to achieve success was detrimental to my long-term business performance and sense of self. Fortunately, a strong family support network helped me understand that the creative energies I used to be a successful entrepreneur could also be channelled to help others, and in the process, myself. My story is anecdotal but the advice I received based in fact. The NHS recommends that helping others through volunteering or mentoring has a positive impact on the giver as well as the receiver, and this has been supported by numerous charities and medical studies.
How can I help?
Time is a luxury that many entrepreneurs do not have but there are a number of ways you can harness your entrepreneurial drive and knowledge to help others. Whether mentoring young people into work, supporting a charity, or doing your best to make life better for your employees, a little thought and effort can be good for your mental health, your network and business.
In my case homelessness has been an issue close to my heart, having experienced it twice in my life as a young man growing up on a less than affluent London borough. Consequently, I have worked with charities such as Glass Door and Crisis to raise awareness of the issues around rough sleeping. Whether that be teaching boxing throughout the year to homeless men and women, or using my entrepreneurial skills to run a number of soup kitchens in London every Christmas.
On a personal level my life has been enriched having made a number of new friends from all walks of life. I have also learnt to be more emphatic, understanding of people’s problems and willing to challenge simplified explanations offered by mass media and friends for the causes of homelessness. In a business sense this translates as having expanded my network, gained a better ability to problem solve, developed a greater eye for details and have more confidence and assertiveness.
CSR isn’t just for Christmas…
The business world has woken up to the fact that being a good corporate citizen and paying attention to public perceptions and social consequences of their products or services makes sense. In December last year, multinational professional services company Accenture found that more than half of customers in the UK wanted companies to take a stand on issues they care about such as sustainability, transparency and fair employment practices. If they didn’t, 37 percent would walk away from the brand in frustration and a quarter would not return. Therefore, as an entrepreneur looking to grow your business it is important to build it upon strong ethical foundations. In doing so you profit financially but also reap the personal benefits that are necessary for your wellbeing, as do your employees. Christmas and New Year are perfect catalysts for change but in truth you can start being a social responsible entrepreneur immediately. Afterall the world needs a more sustainable form of capitalism if we’re going to build a more inclusive, prosperous society.