Launching your own business and being your own boss can be deeply challenging. From cash-flow problems and staff issues to juggling accounting and tax obligations, running a business can often feel like a game of snakes and ladders.
While the road to entrepreneurial success is long and winding, there can be huge payoffs for those who are willing to take that brave leap. As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said: “In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that’s guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
Here are eight business hurdles for small business owners to overcome.
1. Know When to Take Risks
“Be curious. Experiment. Take risks,” Steve Jobs told the graduating class of Stanford University in 2005. The Apple co-founder was well qualified to say it because had he not pushed his limits, the iPad or iPhone would never have been invented.
For small business owners, the lesson is to assess and evaluate whether it is a risk worth taking. Ask yourself: if the risk ends up failing, how much of a setback would it be? If the risk pays off, what are the potential gains and rewards?
2. Learn to Delegate
Many small business owners (SBO) believe they can manage every task themselves, and they don’t need help or advice. While it may save you money at the start, it can come at a cost, especially as the business grows. The quality of work could falter, standards slip and customer complaints rise. Consider hiring one or two staff members or freelancers to help. Learn to release control, build trust and assign more responsibilities to them. Remember, it is better to pay a small amount to your workers than lose double the amount in the future.
3. Maintain a Work-life Balance
Even with the most talented staff behind you, chances are you will work longer hours than your employees. According to Statistics Canada, 30.3% of self-employed people work over 50 hours per week (compared to just 4.1% of employees). The risk is that you may burn out early, which will harm both your business and personal life.
Before you head out at full speed, be sure to set a pace that will allow you to build your business without crashing and burning. Top entrepreneurs, from Richard Branson to Sheryl Sandberg, recommend taking advantage of all your waking hours and creating a flexible schedule to prioritize family and fun – work doesn’t have to happen strictly between nine and five. When possible, outsourcing and delegating tasks, as discussed above, will also help you achieve a healthier work-life balance.
4. Overcome Technology Fears
As technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, many SBOs feel overwhelmed and challenged as to how and why they should be embracing it. By migrating to the cloud and using business apps and software solutions, you can save time and boost productivity. With regular software updates and everything stored on a remote server, you’ll reduce unnecessary IT expenses. Meanwhile, using accounting software such as QuickBooks Online will prevent you from spending hours doing tedious data entry.
5. Learn to Scale Up
After making headway on the road to success, you’ll likely hit a juncture: how to transition out of startup mode. Determining how and when to expand your business can be challenging. Too much and you’ll be overwhelmed; too little and you may miss opportunities for growth.
Scaling up will likely mean hiring additional staff. As processes change and expand, defining your company’s culture clearly will be essential to rallying everyone to head in the same direction.
6. Find a Niche
If you’re a Canadian business that sells its products and services online, chances are you’re not just in competition with the SBO around the corner – you’re competing in the global marketplace. Even if you have a unique product or service, someone may come along who is able to do it faster or cheaper.
Establishing your niche, defining how to differentiate yourself and what sets you apart from your competitors is essential for gaining market share, and also raising capital.
7. Money Management
It’s human nature to want to make an instant profit, but that’s rarely the reality. Patience is a virtue. It’s expected that you won’t make a decent profit for at least one to two years. Before starting your business, do a cash-flow management forecast.
Consider using financial management tools to prepare for tax time and stay on top of all your accounting. QuickBooks Online can help you manage cash flow, issue invoices and keep track of business expenses.
8. Time Challenges
The old “time is money” adage is particularly relevant for today’s SBOs who are time-challenged on a daily basis.
To avoid becoming overwhelmed, use an app such as EasilyDo, which is a virtual online assistant. It integrates with your email, calendar and social networks to allow you to manage business and personal commitments on the go. It even checks traffic so you know when to leave for a meeting or the airport to catch that flight.
For small business owners who have to manage a mobile team, TSheets is an intuitive GPS app that allows you to keep track of exactly where your staff are and what jobs they are working on.
There will always be problems and bottlenecks in running a business, but it is how you choose to handle and overcome these challenges that sets you apart from your competitors. Patience is also important on the road to profit and success. As Bill Gates said: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.”