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  • Writer's pictureSiân Smith

How to protect your mental health as a business owner

Running your own business is empowering, creative, and is meant to afford you the all-time flexibility many of us crave for family life or other aspirations (such as travelling). It’s also incredibly stressful, time-consuming, and nerve-racking.

Although I have periods of feeling overwhelmed and stressed out by the admin and marketing side of my proofreading and book editing business, overall I’ve been able to protect my mental health since setting up my own business nearly a year ago.

I’ve had anxiety since I was a teenager. If my parents were late picking me up, I’d assume they had been in a traffic accident (rather than assume they were stuck in traffic). It’s undoubtedly got worse since having children, as most of my anxiety now revolves around their health and wellbeing.

A woman with blonde, wavy hair and brown, round glasses looks despondent at her open laptop. She is wearing a denim shirt and has her chin in her hands, holding a pen in one hand. Behind her is a bookshelf with leather-bound books.
Photo credit: EBM Brand Photography

I’ve spent the past three or four years working on my mental health: recognising my triggers and the steps I need to take to keep those anxious thoughts from seeping into everything I do. I’m thankful to be able to say I’m now incredibly self-aware of my tolerances and tipping points and even trained as a mental health first aider in May 2021.

I’m determined not to reach burnout, and from day one of deciding to launch my own proofreading and editing business, I put things in place to (hopefully!) avoid that from happening. These points mainly apply to other service-based industries, but (as with many mental health tips) they are bound to apply to other businesses and personal lives too.

1. Don’t overbook

Proofreading and editing take time. I learnt this during the very first module of my proofreading course with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading. Proofreading is not the same as reading. You need to incorporate plenty of time into your quotes and turnaround time. Since day one of launching my business, I’ve taken this on board. I allow sufficient time to do a top editing job for each and every project I take on AND I slot in ‘recovery time’ between each proofreading project.

This time between projects means I have time to clear my head from one project to the next, or provides a buffer for the unexpected (such as one of the kids being poorly or any home emergencies). This served me well from my very first client, when I caught covid two weeks before I was due to start copyediting their book! However, I still managed to meet the original deadline because I’d already factored in extra time.

2. Surround yourself with a truly supportive, authentic network

This includes those within AND outside of your sector. Colleagues within your industry will understand the idiosyncrasies of running your business, such as managing individual projects. Conversely, chatting to people who have never used a proofreading service can provide a potential client’s POV on your business. For example, making sure you explain the different aspects of publishing and proofreading, or sharing their expectations of what a proofreading service would include.

Include those new to self-employment and seasonal entrepreneurs. Self-employment newbies are likely to be up to date on things such as grant funding or networking opportunities, whereas adding experienced entrepreneurs to your circle allows you to gain from their advice and insight, especially when it comes to learning what went wrong for them!

I also have people I’ve dubbed ‘honesty pals’. These are just a couple of people with whom you feel comfortable talking about *gulp* money or project planning. I’ve previously asked my editing honesty pal exactly what’s included in their copyediting service (the number of times they typically read through a manuscript, if they charge extra for revisions rounds, etc). Again, I also make sure I talk about such things with those who aren’t in the publishing business, so I can ask them what they think of my pricing point or packages.

I also think it’s important to be able to chat to someone who runs their own business about how difficult it can sometimes be. You’ll be surprised by the number of times you’ll hear ‘Oh, I feel like that too!’ Or – even better – they may have have a solution to whatever it is you're struggling with.

Three women, all wearing black tops smile at the camera. The woman on the left has short, blonde hair, the woman in the middle has wavy, blonde hair and wears gold, round glasses, the woman on the right has blonde, wavy hair. They are all smiling at the camera.
Having fun with Emma (left) and Claire (right) at the Women Who, Worcestershire Christmas and Awards Evening, 2022. Two women from my support network. Photo credit: Emma B Murrills

Networking isn't just about finding potential clients. It also helps you find allies. Emma (EBM Brand Photography), Claire (Claire Cross Fitness and Well-being) and I have many chats about how to balance work and family life.

3. Have a cut-off time for working

I rarely work after 8pm. You might end up chatting to me on social media after that time, and I offer 7pm discovery calls, but I don’t do any editing or content creation after 8pm.

My peak productive time is in the afternoon. If I work after 8pm I’m more likely to make mistakes and cause more work for myself in the long run.

I’ve worked this way all my life. Even in my final year at university I was never the one who was working until midnight, frantically typing up my essays. I was the one who worked in the library all day, every day and then handed in their dissertation two days early.

4. Put days off and time out in the diary

I’ve been working part time since I had my first child over eleven years ago, so I’m used to not working every day of the week. Since my youngest started school five years ago those days off became child-free days off!

By the time I’d decided to run my own business, I’d become accustomed to having a few hours a week where I can exercise, sort general life admin, and even get my nails done. While I no longer have two full days off a week, I still ensure I schedule time for exercise in a way that fits around the business and family life.

I go to a weekly Pilates class, either on a Tuesday or Friday morning, depending on work schedule and networking events, etc. I also plan my nail appointments up to six months in advance so I can plan work around them (I love getting my nails done!). When I was in part-time employment, I’d run twice a week during the day, for up to an hour each time, and then once a week with a running club. Currently, I run on a Thursday evening with my eldest child (for about 20 minutes), on Friday mornings for about 45 minutes, and then Mondays are either in the morning (for 30 minutes) or in the evening with running club (again, depending on what other plans are happening that day). So while I’m not running for as long or as far as I did when I was employed, I still aim to run three times a week.

A copy of Natalie Haynes 'Pandora's Jar: Women in the Greek Myths' is held in front of someone wearing a black top. The blue and gold of the front book cover are complemented by the woman's nails, which are navy, turquoise and sparkly gold.
My nails don't always match my books, but it's cool when they do! Photo credit: Siân Smith

5. Work in a business that promotes mental health

OK, so this might not be possible for everyone. But working as a mental health editor ensures I’m surrounded by constant reminders that it’s OK to prioritise my mental health. Plus, editing memoirs on mental health recovery means I get to read reminders and tips on how to protect your mental health, which I happily take on board!

Working with others who put their wellbeing first means I know they would understand if I needed to extend a deadline (though this rarely happens because I follow my own advice about not overbooking).

If your business doesn’t specifically work on or with the topic of mental health, can you seek out clients who do? Or make sure your social media feed includes pages which promote ways to look after your mental health so you have frequent reminders to make sure you’re putting your mental health first.

Although I do all I can to prioritise my mental health and reduce stress, I still experience anxiety. However, these days I find I bounce back a lot quicker because I have more than one tool in my mental health toolbox. I know when I need a run versus when I need more sleep. I practise self-compassion. When I spot my personal signs of overwhelm I reach out to the support network I mentioned in my second point.

Let me know which tip in my mental health for business owners post resonated most with you. And if you’re writing a book on any of my specialist subject areas, I’d love to hear from you. You can use my contact form or email me,

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Jun 09, 2023

Yes, I see this subtraction as of paramount importance to the vocabulary of the world to which you belong...

But on the other side of those worlds do not necessarily agree in their cultural, scientific and temperamental structure....

I read your wonderful lines and it speaks so smoothly about mental health and the advice that follows that is really good...

But as I said earlier, on the other hand, there is another point of view, for their mental health is closely related to the extent to which those threads of the spider tighten their control over the writer or editor...

These cobwebs are represented in the frustration resulting from failure and fear... Failure to obtain the simplest jobs, which leads…

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