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Aussie founder’s warning about common business trap

·4-min read
Irene Georgakopoulos smiles and claps in front of Physio Inq wall.
Georgakopoulos has had enough of this mentality towards business. (Image: Supplied).

Find out the warning signs that preceded Irene’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis, and her advice to other Australians.

If you’re a struggling business owner who is pondering throwing in the towel, founder of national physiotherapy company Physio Inq Irene Georgakopoulos has one piece of advice: don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions.

The reality is that running a business is hard work, and Georgakopoulos fundamentally disagrees with what she considers a romanticised idea of being your own boss.

“I don't believe that running your own business is the be all and end all. It's not everyone's journey,” she told Yahoo Finance.

“If it's not serving you, let it go. If it's making you miserable, f**k it off.”

More than one in three small business owners have been medically diagnosed with stress, anxiety or depression in the year to January 2021, a Department of Industry, Innovation and Science study found.

The cumulative impact of back to back crises including COVID-19, bushfires, floods, multiple lockdowns and an atrophying tourism industry haven’t helped.

The same study found that stress increases with staff numbers, but 48 per cent of small business owners think they will face stigma if they are open about their mental illnesses.

Your intuition may hold the answer: Georgakopoulos

Georgakopoulos believes that people have better intuition than they believe: it’s tapping into it that’s the issue.

I think the term ‘entrepreneur’, and running your own business seems to be this glossy thing that's so prevalent now on social media, and it's painted to be this utopian goal – ‘You know you've made it if you run your own business.’ I completely disagree with that.

“Your internal guidance is going to tell you what to do. [You need to ask], are you continuing the business because you feel like that's what everyone is doing?” she said.

“I think the term ‘entrepreneur’, and running your own business seems to be this glossy thing that's so prevalent now on social media, and it's painted to be this utopian goal – ‘You know you've made it if you run your own business.’ I completely disagree with that.”

It’s an unusual stance from a woman whose operations span 15 clinics across Australia and includes 200 workers.

But for Georgakopoulos, the rigours associated with running a business came into sharp focus when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 37 in 2019.

She describes it as a message from her body that she was doing too much, and it was time to slow down.

You need to be prepared to dig deep

Irene Georgakopoulos poses in front of Physio Inq car while holding yoga mat.
Business owners need to take care they don't lose sight of their purpose. (Image: Supplied).

Georgakopoulos remains deeply passionate about her business; it’s her creative outlet and she derives a deep sense of purpose from helping people.

Her diagnosis didn’t change that, but it did make her look twice at the way she was running her business and how it could be improved.

“Ironically, we work with disability… so empathy went up a fair few notches for the clients that we see, and a real gratitude for their journeys and what they bring forward, and the trust they put in us,” she said.

“I know how much assistance I needed to have from my doctor and neurologist to help me through.”

It quickly became clear that the best way to build the strongest service was to invest more heavily in her staff.

And that meant tapping into her intuition again.

She’d seen the company go through a few challenges with culture and had learnt that a good culture needs to stem from the top.

“If you’ve lost your culture, as a business owner, [you need to have] that bit of emotional intelligence around what is your driver, and thinking again about your ‘why’,” she said.

“Why are you doing it? Are you running the business for money? Are you running the business for ego? Or are you running the business to help people? What is the actual fundamental reason why?”

It’s human to get caught up in the operational side of the business and lose sight of the bigger picture, but that’s when you lose culture, Georgakopoulos warns.

This is an especially important thing to remember during COVID-19 as morale across the country drops, she added.

“Culture is relationships, right? Relationships with the individuals in your organisation, and then with your clients… Just like any other relationship, you’ve got to put the work in.”

Find out the warning signs that preceded Irene’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis, and her advice to other Australians.

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