Mental health & wellbeing

“Married to the business, not my wife”: Why SMEs are struggling as Christmas closes in

Matthew Elmas /

Burger Love Christmas

Steve Agi (pictured right) says he'd have more time to spend with family if there was less red tape. Source: Supplied.

As Australia winds down and prepares to spend time with family over Christmas, business owners like Steve Agi are preparing for the busiest month of the year.

As the owner of Victorian-based burger business Burger Love, Agi is preparing for a high-stakes December in the hopes of entering 2019 on a strong note, but everything comes with a cost.

“I’ve got a wife and three kids and I’m practically married to the business, not my wife,” Agi tells SmartCompany.

“As a business owner generally in Australia, with the amount of expectation and regulation, no business owner looks after themselves anytime, but Christmas is just a little bit worse.”

“I don’t think you find a balance, you never do, it’s just one of those things,” he says.

A staggering 63% of business owners told Westpac in a survey released today they won’t get a chance to wind down or relax over the coming holiday period, raising new concern about the wellbeing of Australian entrepreneurs.

More than half (58%) of the 500 small business owners surveyed said they will miss out on spending time with family and friends over Christmas, while the same amount also admitted they’ll forgo sleep to work.

Yellow Octopus founder Derek Sheen says it’s “almost impossible” to juggle work-life balance during the silly season — every day is a work day in the lead up to the big day.

“As a business owner, you’ve got to make hay while the sun shines, so family and friends will, unfortunately, have to take a back seat,” he tells SmartCompany.

Online retailer Yellow Octopus, which has grown 73.3% in the last three years and is now a $3 million business, does 65% of its annual sales during the six to seven weeks before Christmas.

This year though, Sheen himself will enjoy a break, taking some holiday time until the New Year.

Red tape reality

Agi estimates he’s worked about 100 hours a week on his business, which operates across five stores in Melbourne, saying the burden of red tape is the more regrettable time sink in his day.

“I don’t think the government, financial institutions and regulators understand,” he says. “There should be more support.”

According to Westpac’s survey, conducted in partnership with Deloitte Access Economics, small businesses say they spend about 12 labour hours each week complying with regulation, costing an estimated $100 billion each year.

Agi says if he spent less time dealing with compliance, he’d have more time to spend with his family.

Digital dealings

Cashflow is king for small business, as they say, and Burger Love is no different. Christmas will be an important opportunity to capitalise on increased demand for convenience and speed in dining.

Agi explains he’s developed a new ‘drive-by dining’ concept where customers order from a mobile application and have their orders delivered to their cars.

“It’s the future of drive-thru,” Agi says.

Burger Love has seen a 60% increase in people using their mobiles to order recently, leaving Agi optimistic digital integration will be an important growth channel for his business.

He’s not alone either. According to Westpac’s survey, almost every business is using some form of digital tool, while 50% of sales for businesses less than three years old are coming from digital sources.

NOW READ: “It has been three years of hell”: Research shows business owners struggle to define work-life balance

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany.

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