JULIE Muir was on track for her biggest year in business as a marriage celebrant when COVID-19 arrived.
"I had been growing the business and I am a full-time celebrant which is quite difficult to achieve, because it's a very competitive industry and many are doing it as a side hustle because they can't manage to make it full-time," the Irish-born, Newcastle resident says.
With the wedding industry imploding as couples opted to postpone their nuptials, her income was and continues to be decimated.
"As most 2020 couples postpone to 2021 and take key dates, it's effectively halving my capacity to earn an income in 2021 as well. The effects will be long-reaching," she says.
Expecting her first child next month, Mrs Muir has pivoted and partnered with a group of other creatives to assist couples who are opting to have smaller elopements, and she's also initiated a celebrant mentoring service.
"I also did my first funeral [service] a few months ago - the father of a groom I'd married - which I thoroughly enjoyed so I've decided to lean into that and do more of them," she says. "Nobody knows if and when the appetite for big weddings will ever return, so I'm trying to ensure that no matter what, my business stays relevant as trends change."
Mrs Muir is thankful for JobKeeper and the support of her husband in keeping her business afloat.
She is also grateful for Ahead For Business, a digital hub that offers small business owners practical tips and tools to help them achieve a healthy mind and healthy business.
In August, the Morrison government invested an extra $3.1 million to expand mental health and wellbeing services available through Ahead for Business, hosted by Everymind.
Yohana Franklin, the Newcastle-based project manager for the national digital hub, said the website was designed for small business owners and piloted in 2017 in Singleton, Lake Macquarie and Parramatta. It has relaunched following intensive consultation with business owners including Mrs Muir, and now offers more resources, including a mental health and business stressor checkup.
The hub offers broad mental health support, however an "adverse events" section is designed to assisted those affected by floods, drought and the pandemic.
"There's a registration section so people can save their results and track themselves and we've seen a spike in usage of the new hub compared to when it was piloted," Mrs Franklin said.
Mrs Muir has faced mental health obstacles in the past: infertility issues over five years, four miscarriages and three failed rounds of IVF had affected her outlook and ability to run her business.
With COVID-19 now her major business stressor, she has increasingly turned to the Ahead For Business website, saying it can be personalised easily to suit individual businesses.
"I can track my mental health over time by taking online questionnaires that measure my stress and anxiety and help me identify my stressors at that time. Depending on how I am feeling, the website suggests specific resources that help me: it's very practical," she said.
Confused by the regularly changing government restrictions and "feeling isolated and stressed in my business", she tuned into an Ahead For Business podcast featuring Peter Strong, CEO of the Council of Small Business, on the topic of enhancing industry connections.
"It reminded me of the importance of staying connected with my industry colleagues even if I couldn't meet them physically as often as I used to," she said. "This nudged me to join the Zoom events hosted by The Wedding Social Co (a Mayfield co-working space for wedding industry creatives) where there was lots of information sharing and support."
The website recently guided her to create a well-being plan that she has discussed with her husband and stuck to their fridge. "It's the obvious stuff, like eating well, meditating, exercising, getting enough sleep, but completing it forced me to focus on action," she said.
Mrs Muir hopes to "change the narrative" by talking openly about mental health in business.
"People accept that running a business is stressful but it's still seen as a failure if you talk about your mental health because it can be damaging to your reputation but I find the opposite is true: the more I open up to my colleagues in the wedding industry about the struggles I am facing, the more vulnerable I am, the more support I receive," she says.
More details at aheadforbusiness.org.au.