What No One Admits? Women Entrepreneurs Suffer Silently.
All we see are the images that are posted. And often enough, when it comes to the social media pages of small brands, the content delivered will never indicate that anything is wrong. Much like the posts coming from personal Instagram or Facebook accounts, small businesses will hardly ever share anything but the splendour of what is happening from the storefront- new product releases, massive sales, awesome customer reviews, glamorous event imagery, wine glass toasts, new opening hours and last month's successes.
Sadly though- this is only half of the defining story, and because entrepreneurs do not share the realities of small business chaos openly (and rightly so), many micro and small business CEOs who face mental struggles find themselves believing the lies they hear in their heads- that they are the only ones suffering from discouragement and burn out. To make this deception even more unhealthy, when we operate as business women (and men) in the absence of peers who are willing to admit that certain challenges are shared, we wrongly point all fingers to ourselves. Such is the disservice that our silence creates.
As we commemorate mental health awareness this month, I believe it is part of my job as a fellow entrepreneur and as the CEO of www.galeandcotrinidad.com, to shed some light on the bleak aspects of entrepreneurship that are not often admitted- just so that other women starting off in business or even those who may find themselves lacking empathy towards such boss-babes, may be aware of the challenges that our brands' social media storefronts try to hide. I have compiled a list of collective truths that entrepreneurs face, so that all of us know that in fact, we are not alone in the battles that happen behind it all. The blowout sales, the creative Tiktok videos, the aesthetically pleasing IG stories, and all the simply flawless content that serves to represent the entrepreneur's brand online, do not express the entire journey.
1. Burnout Is Common and Real, and you are not the only CEO in a micro or small business who feels devastated at the fact that new content, products, strategy and execution are required for your business daily/ weekly/ monthly, and you simply do not have the energy, resources, encouragement and will to face that vicious cycle yet again. You are NOT isolated in this situation and with the feelings that come along with it, and the belief that everyone else is handling it better than you is not true.
You are not ill-equipped, a failure or even lazy and taking a day or some time off to recharge is a mental health right and necessity. I was once someone who, maybe a year or so ago even, had to present a case to myself, arguing why I was entitled to a rest. Not anymore. I have since learnt to be a better boss to myself.
2. You Do Not Work, You Do Not Eat, and this may counteract the essence of my first point. But because this is a blog about the realities that we do not discuss often in the business ownership space, this one cannot be omitted. When we as girl bosses do not work, we do not have the means to eat. If we do not create, communicate or deliver our brand's value offering on a regular basis, keeping on the pulse of what our customers need and functioning in all aspects of our business, our revenue will shake and we will not be able to pay our bills. Whereas in the corporate world we may operate as employees whose monthly salary is not affected by output, this is not the case when we choose to become self-employed. Every day off due to illness, exhaustion, neglect or distractions affect our pockets and our ability to eat ramen or order prime cut steaks. So as much as we may burn out, we suffer when we burn out for too long.
It is then solely up to us to develop a culture of strong but balanced work ethics, organisation and productivity, while being fully aware of the reality that the safety of a stable monthly salary is no longer our luxury.
3. No One Is Transparent about what they are facing behind the scenes, so do not look to other entrepreneurs social media pages for signs of any business issues affecting the lives of the people behind it. No one leaves clues (well no professional brands do), and often we do not know that brands are in distress until the day we suddenly see that their website is closed for business and their social media has been abandoned indefinitely. I remember a couple years ago I would closely follow the IG page and website of an extremely established and viral planner company so as to get market insight into how I can make my brand better. It was business as usual with their posts- new products and collections being released every month, content to gawk at etc, until one day without warning, the brand was completely gone. For planner fans like myself, I am sure you all know the brand I am speaking about, and many of us still do not know what could have possibly happened behind the scenes with it. In the blink of an eye, one of the foxiest stationery brands on the market was now inaccessible.
How do we process this, you may ask? We do not fall for the trap of comparison or thinking that we are alone in our struggle simply because other social media accounts and websites seem to be thriving. In business, just like in personal lives, most of the content that make it online are those that display the best aspects of our existence, and not the worst aspects of what we face.
4. We Doubt Our Worth a lot. There are times when customers, online trolls, critics, unbelievers, opinion lobbyists, pessimists and our own minds may cause us to truly doubt if we are worthy enough, talented enough or built enough to bring anything of value to the table anymore or even at all. I have had experiences where many customers would applaud my brand and where a few will pull it apart; where fellow entreps will flaunt their successes and right after enquire about my sufferings. It is never truly a stable journey when building a brand from the ground up, and self-doubt loves to creep in when it is least needed.
In times like this, I advise that we all find our tribe. The ones who are empathetic enough to understand our emotions and wise enough to help us separate the meat from the bones in every low moment of doubt and criticism. In this journey, we are meant to eat the meat only, and spit out the bones. And a well-meaning, unbiased tribe will go a long way in helping all of us discern between the what is constructive and what is debasing and mean.
5. Global Waves Hit Us Harder- be it algorithm changes, pandemics, rise in shipping prices, new trends, wars or even the days that long weekends decide to fall on. What barely affected us before becoming our own bosses, affect us with intent now. From hair dressers to attorneys, stationery brands to clothing labels, once we are self-employed, local and international changes will affect us more than our peers, in some form or the other. Markets are now interconnected and resources are shared, so any change in equilibrium can affect us positively or negatively, adding to the list of things that we should be concerned about. While others can move on with their lives, we take a bit longer to bounce back.
The antidote here lies in being agile and spiritually secure to face changes, without being overcome by fears and setbacks. For me, without a relationship with God, I am sure I would have been consumed before even getting a chance to type this blog. But having a knowledge of and dependency on the Great I Am to shield me and bolster me, makes the unstable world that we operate in less intimidating.
6. All Friends and Family Cannot Relate to what you may be facing as a business owner operating in 2022. For some who may be seasoned in the field of entrepreneurship, they may be from an era where social media and web presence was not a necessity, or they may have been married and so had the shoulder of a spouse to lean on. This is the case with my own parents, who have been successful business owners for over 40 years, without so much as knowing what TikTok or Twitter is, and how a change in operating policies on these platforms can affect sales. They, like others, may not be fully aware of the struggle that we may feel to stay relevant, sane and thriving in an online economy as single moms, young adults, married women with no business support from spouses, or as a family woman with no time or resources needed to fully scale in business. Either way the scenario may be, the reality is that everyone may not truly understand your particular struggle or limitations, and may ill-advise, may not relate or may even offend you without being aware of it.
Our families mean well though, and we have to remember this in our interactions with those whom we seek empathy from or who we expect to be more understanding about why we cannot help them out in their weekend fundraiser, why we can't stay past 5pm at the birthday lime and why we fell asleep during the service.
I have described a mere six points, but I trust that by now everyone reading this post has gotten a deeper sense into areas of mental health issues that affect brand owners behind the scenes. We all struggle as we hide our pains surrounding community support, self-doubt, transparency and burnout, and we all look to each other for slivers of hope that we are not alone. But, because our brand image is gold and success looks better online when assisted with fog machines, many women behind brands suffer the weight of keeping it all together in silence.
This month is Mental Health Awareness month. Comment on this blog some truths or words of encouragement, to let other women know that it is okay to not be as perfectly poised as our brands appear.