Why going from seven staff to sole trader was the best decision Studio Marché founder Alisha Dunsford ever made

studio marche

After scaling back her business and investing in her physical and mental health, Alisha Dunsford, founder of Studio Marché, flourished personally and professionally. 

Dunsford had been running Studio Marché for 16 years, supporting brands in the health and wellness space. After starting out on her own, the business kept growing until she had seven employees.

But huge upheavals in her personal life led Dunsford to consider how her business was affecting her wellbeing.

“Sadly, my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer. 

“He is doing very well under the circumstances”, says Dunsford. 

Soon after, Alisha and her husband decided to have a baby. 

“But when she was born, she had a stroke. 

“Thankfully, she thrived after that experience. If you were to see her right now, you wouldn’t know anything had ever happened to her.”

Throughout these events, Dunsford continued to work at Studio Marché and manage a team of employees. She felt pressure to grow her business and “wear all the hats”, as many small business owners do. 

Try the free Small Business Program in the Smiling Mind App today.

What changed?

On a Saturday afternoon when her daughter was about one, Dunsford had an epiphany. She was sitting at a conference that she’d hoped would supply renewed motivation for her business.

“I could feel myself getting more and more anxious,” she says. 

“I just had this moment, like this epiphany where I thought ‘I actually can’t keep doing this. It’s just not possible’. I realised that my [health was] going down a pathway that I just didn’t want to see the end of. It didn’t look good for me.”

According to studies conducted by Smiling Mind, 56% of small business owners say that running their own business is impacting their mental health in a negative way.

“The number one key stressor is managing finances”, says Smiling Mind co-founder Jane Martino.

Scaling back

“I am literally back where I first started out, working on my own, on completely my own terms,” says Dunsford. 

“There’s no sense of over-commitment”, she adds. “I prioritise time for looking after myself.”

Although gradually scaling back her business was tough, Dunsford says it was the best decision she ever made. 

Ditch the guilt

Dunsford favours the classic aeroplane analogy: you must put on your own mask before you can help others. 

As a mother, she struggled to put her own wellbeing first. 

“You think you have to be on call for your child all the time,” she says. “But I realised that I was doing that to a really excessive degree.”

Now she practices self-care, Dunsford says the benefits are clear. 

“I just know that I’m a better person when I look after myself. I’m just a better mother, a better wife, a better designer when I’m looking after myself.” 

Self care and good business: You can do both

When Dunsford scaled back Studio Marché she thought she‘d make less money. But that turned out to be untrue. 

Fortunately, Dunsford realised the quality of her work was more important than the quantity, leading to deeper relationships with her clients and a more thoughtful way of working.

“When you do good work, that reflects financially,” says Dunsford. 

Take care of your body and mind

“It’s about finding pockets of time that you can allocate to put yourself first,” says Dunsford. 

“And that, in my experience, has had an amazing effect on the typical pillars of success in business.”

She stresses that the motivation must be internal. 

“I feel like the basics are out there,” she says. “But there’s something that has to happen in your own mind to get it to click into place.”

Martino acknowledges the struggle to find time for mindfulness practice. 

“Research shows that only ten minutes, ten days consecutively and you’ll really start to see a difference,” she says.

Apps like Smiling Mind offer short, customised meditations, perfect for busy small business owners.

Dunsford tries to meditate at least daily — even though she says she’s not very good at it. 

“If I can get 10 minutes that’s actually a big win for me,” she laughs.

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