The 10 Hardest Things About Running a Business

Lee Polevoi by Lee Polevoi on January 15, 2013
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Ask any small business owner what the hardest aspects of running a company are, and you’ll likely get a wide range of answers. Some people aren’t good at money matters, for example, while others don’t know how to delegate. But just about every business owner has, at one time or another, experienced all of the challenges listed here.

What are the toughest things about running a business? Here are ten biggies.

  1. Managing the transition from entrepreneur to business owner — There’s a world of difference between starting a business from scratch and growing an existing operation. Small-business owners must switch gears as they take on marketing, branding, financial management, and other duties. A big challenge is realizing that your responsibilities now apply around the clock vs. 40 hours a week (back when you had a “normal” job).
  2. Being your own boss — In previous positions, you most likely answered to someone else. Now you’re the boss, with responsibility for handling everything related to the business. This means making a total commitment, sometimes at the expense of your personal life (family and friends).
  3. Focusing on the big picture — With so much to do when running a business, it’s easy to get “lost in the swamp” of small details and lose sight of the real goals of your company. The ability to develop a vision for the future is essential for long-term success, even when pressing daily tasks take your eye off the ball.
  4. Learning how to delegate — Not having time for strategic thinking is directly related to many business owners’ inability to delegate tasks they really don’t have time to do themselves. In the startup phase, most entrepreneurs handle everything on their own. Transitioning out of the “if you want something done right, do it yourself” mind-set can be difficult.
  5. Hiring and leading employees — Feeling comfortable enough to delegate requires hiring the right staff for your business. Smart, dedicated workers are what every business needs, but the time and expense involved in the hiring process can be daunting. Even when you recruit the right people, there’s still the challenge of effective leadership. As an employer, you must be able to motivate others, resolve conflicts, delegate efficiently, and stay on top of the messy details involved in working with others.
  6. Staying motivated. You work long hours, including evenings, weekends, and vacations. All of your time, energy, resources, and even your health seem to go into keeping the business alive and kicking. Chances are, there’s no one around to thank you for all this effort. It’s up to you to remain motivated for the challenges — and rewards — ahead.
  7. Making tough decisions. From the time you start the enterprise to the moment you sell it or move on, the decisions you make can involve thousands of dollars and affect the lives of other people. Some decisions will turn out badly; others will move your business to the next level. The experience will likely make you a better person and stronger leader.
  8. Facing risk. Every business venture involves risk. Not everyone has the stomach for this kind of thing — but you wouldn’t have built the business you have today without believing in yourself and your ability to confront and overcome risk.
  9. Balancing work and family. There’s an elusive work-life balance out there, though many small-business owners can’t seem to find it. You build a business in order to enjoy life, but the demands of the enterprise often keep you from doing so. Having the right people in place and knowing how to delegate is often the best answer. (See above.)
  10. Knowing how to handle money. Many business owners don’t have a steady income; with ups and downs in revenue come fluctuations in your personal financial picture. You need to be skilled in sustaining cash flow. Without a strong business plan, you won’t necessarily know where the next dollar is coming from. Bad debts and slow collection are constant issues. Knowing when to spend money for expansion or equipment upgrades also requires skill.

What’s the hardest thing about running your business? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments field below.

Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.

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