Alcoholism and running a business: RUTH MCKAY asks is there a connection, is there a problem?

At the FSB conference last month I had the pleasure of hearing Rachel Elnaugh, founder of Red Letter Days and a past Dragon in Dragons Den. Rachel spoke honestly and openly about the highs and lows – and there were many – of setting up and running Red Letter Days.

She told us how she very nearly gave up, before any of us had ever heard of the business, how she achieved £1 million profit…each week and the experience of filing for bankruptcy.

It is rare in my experience that a business owner would speak so personally and openly about their personal experiences and it was clear it was greatly appreciated by the audience of mainly male business owners.

However there was one statement she made that sent shockwaves around the audience.

Rachel spoke about the need of business owners to drown their sorrows at the end of a bad day, and celebrate a great day by opening that lovely cold bottle of Chardonnay. The feeling in the audience was palpable.

She had hit a raw nerve.

You don’t have to look far in the media to find stories telling us about the shocking numbers of us enjoying a glass, or two… or a bottle at the end of the day, yet this was the first time I had heard anyone speak about the relationship between business ownership and alcohol.

So as a business owner are you more likely to develop a dependency on alcohol?

It’s a difficult question to answer or prove either way, as despite extensive research, I couldn’t find any evidence of studies into the specific link.

However, in my experience, I think there is every chance that running a business could lead to an increase in drinking. The stress, the continuous pressure, the volatile nature of many small businesses, trying to juggle all aspects of your business, managing staff, managing finance…

I could go on.

Yet the real problem is, that as business owners, we are programmed to put a brave face on it – to say it’s going well, and more  critically… not to ask for help because you might look weak.

Potentially, this might not just lead to an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. But it could causes ill health and mental health problems.

As a small business you can’t take time off or pay yourself sick pay (because you’d have to be there to earn it) so it becomes a vicious circle.

The solution?

More experienced minds than mine would need to answer that. We all have those days when we have seriously thought about chucking it all in and finding a job, but instead have grabbed a chilled glass of chardonnay.

However, we might start by talking about it and admitting that running a business is tough. We are far from alone in these moments, and sharing these feelings can be a big help in overcoming these downswings.

And my other advice would be:

TAKE PART in some form of physical exercise, preferably outdoors, at least three times a week

ALWAYS LOOK for new ways to improve your systems and processes that make your job easier

HAVE SOMEONE outwith your business and possibly family to talk through issues, worries and challenges you face

BLOCK OUT time every day to relax and force yourself to stick to it.

Above all,

TAKING CARE of yourself is just as important as taking care of your business.  Simply working, longer and harder won’t fix the problem – so look for new ways to work smarter.



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