How to cope with running a small business
The most common challenges faced by SMEs and how to face them
Small businesses are the lifeblood of the UK economy.
They make up more than 99 per cent of private sector firms and contribute £200 billion a year.
But life as a small business owner is far from easy.
There’s no time, no staff and no money, and your secretary’s been telling the bank manager you’re in a meeting for six months now.
Let’s take a look at some of the problems faced by small businesses – and some of the things you can do to tackle them.
It almost goes without saying that finance is one of the biggest concerns for small business owners.
In October finance provider Liberis which provides loans to small businesses, surveyed business owners to find out why they needed extra cash. Their reasons included needing funding to stay afloat (26 %), to pay tax and bills (23 %) and for marketing (34 %).
Obviously, owing money on which you will then have to pay interest is not a particularly good idea, so how can businesses manage their finances better?
It sounds obvious but forecasting is so important: it’s wise to produce a financial forecast every six to 12 months, so you can plan for all your incomings and outgoings and also take into account possible seasonal variations and unnecessary expenditure.
Don’t just expect the unexpected; make sure there’s money in the bank to cover it.
Another thing that sounds obvious is getting organised but while for organised people that’s the easiest thing in the world, if being organised is just not in your nature, it’s a battle that you can never really win.
You need to do the obvious stuff, like keeping your bills and documents properly filed and provided you set aside five minutes a day to do this and stick to it; you will stay on top of it.
But you may also need to admit that as good organisation is not your strength (which is fine, you have many others) you really should get other people or buy things to do it for you.
For example, you could investigate ways to automate your payments with accounting software.
And get an accountant.
They love numbers and order and can sort out in a jiffy the kind of business challenges that make you lose the will to live.
Keeping up to date
As a small business owner, you always need to be aware of developments in technology, consumer trends and regulations.
But where do you find the time?
Industry publications, and articles and social media posts by industry leaders are a good place to start, even if you just set aside a few minutes a day.
Industry and market reports from publishers like Mintel, Frost and Sullivan and Euromonitor, plus sector and company data for businesses around the world, are all available online from the British Library’s Business and IP Centre.
And if you’re in London, you can access it for free with a British Library reader pass.
Analytics tools like Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner can show you what people are searching for online – the latter can tell you the most popular keywords used by your target demographic and you can then consider bidding on them for a digital advertising campaign.
Talking to your customers
Staying ahead of the curve when it comes to customer needs is an essential part of staying afloat when you’re running a small business but many find this a real challenge. Often you don’t have the time or budget to be surveying large numbers of potential customers but you can talk to your existing ones to find out more.
Something as simple as asking a question or creating a poll on social media takes mere minutes to do but can provide an insight into what your target demographic needs, what problems they face, and how you can help to meet those needs and solve those problems.
Think carefully about how you phrase a question in order to get the most useful answers from people. Any information you garner can also be used to explore potential markets.
Another thing that time-poor small business owners are rarely able to do is create good quality content both to help their customers and to market their company and its products.
Interesting and individual content, however – whether written or visual – can be crucial in turning your business into a trusted resource, strengthening your relationships with your customers and attracting new ones.
So how can you ensure that your website stays up to date and that your brand voice gets heard among the hubbub of social channels?
If you don’t have the budget to employ a full-time marketer, copywriting and content services can be outsourced to a dedicated agency. It’s often more cost-effective than employing a marketing agency and ensures your business establishes itself as an authority in its field.
A blog is a great way to create regular content but remember to ensure it’s useful to your customers. Posts can be shared and discussed on social media, which can bring you into the orbit of people who might otherwise have never come across you.
But using content in this way is very much a long game.
You set out with the aim of being a source of good, helpful advice, familiarising people with your brand. When the time comes that the readers need your product or service, they’ll have developed some trust in you and (theoretically) turn to you to fulfil that need. Provide content for a wide variety of issues related to your offering and don’t always try to pitch your product at the end.
At THP, we work closely with a wide variety of small businesses across London and the South East. So not only are we able to help with everything from tax and VAT returns to payroll and pensions– we understand what life is like for small business owners.
Give us a call at our head office on 020 8989 5147 or drop us an email to see how we can help.