If owning a business was easy, everyone would do it; it’s not coming up with the ‘next best thing’ that’s the hard part, it’s putting that into practice and then making a good go of it.
Apparently, one company is formed every minute in the UK and yet less than 50% of UK start-ups make it beyond five years, 60% of new businesses go under within three years and a sizeable 20% will close their doors within 12 months. The statistics are all pretty doom and gloom until you look at the other side of the coin, though: there were 5.8 million small businesses at the start of 2019, up from 5.7 million in 2018 (despite the potential pitfalls of Brexit scaring the bejeezus out of every Remainer) and up from 5.5 million in 2017.
In fact, the number of small businesses in the UK has increased every year since 2000 and is expected to continue on this reassuring upward trajectory. Evidently, starting your business isn’t the issue, but keeping it afloat and, crucially, not biting off more than you can personally chew might be.
Never mind the inevitable stresses that a lot of us face at home – trying to be a parent, partner, cleaner and washer of random socks (seriously, where do all the socks go?) while ensuring that everyone eats well and drinks enough water – every part of your business also has the potential to stress you out and keep you up at night. Are we selling enough? How can we increase cashflow? Is the company culture still in line with our core values? Are we in too much debt? Why has Lenny from the IT department been ignoring me since the Christmas party?
Combined into a massive brain whirlwind, these worry-wielding problems (which always seem insurmountable at 3am, but rarely are) are often all about one thing: finding ways to increase your bottom line, because effectively that’s the essence of a successful business; but the other inescapable fact about owning a business is that it is stressful. There’s no two ways about it, but it doesn’t need to be cripplingly so.
Beating small business-owner stress is a combination of skills that can be learned (and relearned when things get cloudy) and put to practical, effective use to both help you balance your books and make sure that you’re not spread too thin, and one of the very best things you can do is outsource wherever possible.
Whether you choose to go down the traditional route and hire an actual person to cut down your own to-do list, or you opt to take advantage of the insane amount of user-friendly cloud computing software that’s available online, there is no shame in outsourcing; burnout is as real a thing as doing your own head in trying to fulfil every role in your company, and both should be avoided.
“Outsourcing is essential to a small business like mine because it fills in skills gaps, allowing the business to be flexible, agile and enabling it to react quickly to what’s happening at the time, which has been especially important in light of recent events,” says Cleo Farman, founder and managing director at Diablesse Rum.
“It’s essential that I get the correct expertise on board to grow my small business, calling on these people as and when required, ramping up the workload at particularly busy times or on a project-by-project basis, such as when I’m launching a new product in the range, and I outsource a number of functions including social media, advertising, accountancy, design and print,” she adds. “There is no way I could afford these people full time at this early stage in my business, so outsourcing is a perfect way for me to get the skills I need to help grow the business.”
Collectively, ‘all things financial’ is often cited as the most agonising pain point for any company and is a spectre that can loom over your day like a grey cloud just waiting to rain on your parade. This is where outsourcing comes into play; there is no shame whatsoever in clearly identifying the main pain points lurking within your business and finding an expert who can iron out those creases, so you can concentrate on actually enjoying your day at work again.
“Running Help! VA, a virtual assistant service, my business is based around outsourcing. We assist small businesses with their admin, bookkeeping, events and marketing,” explains Siobhan Hobson, director of Help! VA Ltd. “Our clients don’t have the need for a full-time staff member but are often overwhelmed and unable to manage the juggling act which running a business requires.”
“Outsourcing is a vital part of my own business too; client tasks and admin are delegated to my own team wherever necessary, and I am so lucky to have a network of amazing local services around me that when I need something that isn’t in my skillset, for example web design or accountancy, I can hand it over and know it will be handled perfectly, saving me the stress of trying to achieve something I simply do not have the skills or the time to do.”
As is evident, outsourcing is used predominantly to soothe key pain points that crop up in the day-to-day aspects of running all sorts of businesses. Here are a few we think frequently pop up and eat into time that could be better spent, along with some ideas on how you can outsource yourself free of the stress they can cause.
Finding the right people
The synergy of your team – which should be comprised of people with complementary capabilities and an identical focus to your own – is so vital. Choosing the right people to work alongside will cement and enhance your team culture from the get-go, and although there’ll likely be a big pool of motivated individuals that share your passion, selecting the most suitable can be challenging, especially for fledgling or smaller businesses that may not be able to offer competitive pay rates from the outset.
To tempt the right people to join you, it’s handy to remember the adage: birds of a feather flock together; certain skills will be crucial for your business to survive, let alone grow, but the right attitude, vision going forward and commitment to adapt as the business takes off are all essential qualities too. As time passes, you might realise that you aren’t the best person to oversee the hiring process. No probs, just find an expert recruiter, lay out your hiring strategy to them clearly so that each key hire works in harmony with the goals you’re trying to achieve and let them get on with what they do best.
There are two types of major marketing channel: active (or outbound) and passive (also known as inbound). Inbound marketing, such as blog posts, provides customers with important information about your field of business, but can take a bit of time to attract traffic and convert that traffic into results. Outbound marketing includes paid marketing channels, such as Facebook advertising, and is particularly useful when it comes to reaching your potential customer base, and therefore growing your business quicker, when you’re absolutely sure of their needs.
Whichever channel you opt for, balancing a marketing campaign that packs an effective punch with a budget that’s dwarfed by massive businesses who can throw silly amounts of cash at specialist advertising teams is a classic small business pain point. The discomfort can be alleviated by working smart and making sure you’re marketing directly to your ideal demographic instead of spending loads of cash and aimlessly trying to appeal to the general public, but it’s a better idea to outsource to someone with the right skills.
Customer service is no longer the stuff of queuing up to battle with someone behind a counter about the validity of your receipt; customer service is everywhere, and it is everything. As with most aspects of today’s online-oriented business world, customer service interactions are increasingly web-based and therefore increasingly transparent, and virtual word-of-mouth has the power to make or break your reputation.
Recent research has concluded that customer service has truly become king and is now ranked as more significant than price or even product when it comes to customers deciding on who gets their business. If it hasn’t been a priority for your business until now, we suggest you make it one; 61% of customers will take their business straight to a competitor in light of one bad experience, so the stakes are higher than ever. Stop fretting about organising outdated and frankly uninspiring training seminars for your staff and instead checkout Freshdesk, the crème de la crème of customer service management software.
If you don’t know what I mean by a social media ‘story’ you need to learn it quickly because story sharing is currently growing 15 times faster than newsfeed sharing across all social media channels. Which is huge. Started way back in 2013 by Snapchat, stories are short bursts of video content that you can share instantly on your social media ‘story’ and that then disappear after 24 hours; it’s the ‘live and direct’ nature of the content that makes stories so appealing and authentic to viewers.
Sharing posts via a newsfeed is what used to bring attention to a brand, but this year, stories are set to be the most effective way for a company to convey their message and connect with their audience. With Instagram stories topping out at over 300 million users daily, never has the visual communication era made itself better known. Anyone born after 1990 is innately programmed with the ability to caption and hashtag social media posts in the flick of an overgrown fringe so hire one of them, pronto.
Tax and VAT
The British tax system is known for being really complicated – did you know there are six main types of tax in the UK. Six?! Anyhoo, they are: income tax, national insurance contributions, VAT (value added tax), excise duties, corporation tax and stamp duty. Whether they choose to admit it to themselves or not, a lot of people fall into the ‘rushing to meet tax deadlines’ camp; according to HMRC, 576,500 self-assessment returns for the tax year 2017-18 were received after the January 2019 deadline but before January 2020, which means 4.94% of tax returns due by 31st January 2019 were late. The overall reason this is so baffling is because rushing like mad to get your financial ducks in a row at the eleventh hour is, you guessed it, incredibly stressful. And then, if you end up missing the deadline anyway, you can face some pretty stiff penalties.
The fix? Get an accountant. Although your brain will likely whip out a red flag shouting ‘counterintuitive’ at the very thought of shelling out more cash when you’re constantly trying to save it, you cannot put a price on peace of mind, and accountants are the ultimate guardians of peace where money is concerned. There is a reason why everyone dreads doing their tax return and that’s because not all of us are blessed with the gift of the numerical gab and an ability to crunch numbers like a boss. Accountants are though; not only will they take all of that deadline dread away, they’re also highly skilled in finding tax deductions that it’s very likely you’ve overlooked. We know a great one if you’d like their details…
Hopefully this smorgasbord of helpfulness should free up more time for you not only get your creativity flowing enough to reignite your corporate spark, but to realise that there is nothing to be nervous about if you’re thinking about outsourcing for the first time. Not only does it save you costs that you would ordinarily spend on an employee such as holiday and paid leave, sickness, downtime and unproductivity, but it also saves you precious time and gives you time to think freely: it’s a win-win.
“I often come across business owners who are nervous about outsourcing for the first time,” adds Siobhan. “This is for several reasons, namely budget which is always a huge barrier. It can also be frightening to relinquish control of tasks that you have been doing yourself for a long time. Finally, there is often concern around the amount of time busy business owners will have to spend training and handing over projects to freelancers.
“It’s important to realise that actually, outsourcing will save business owners money in the long run. As the business becomes more efficient, suddenly you can focus on income-generating tasks while back-office stuff is taken care of.
“Another huge benefit is the fact that the extra headspace you gain from outsourcing reduces that awful, overwhelmed feeling so many of us suffer from. As long as you outsource to a professional you will often find they are able to hit the ground running as they have so much knowledge in their particular area and tasks that you may have struggled with will be done in record time.”