If owning a business was easy, everyone would do it; it’s not coming up with the ‘next best thing’ that’s the tough 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 startups 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, having fun while you do so may well be.
Any bets for who’s the Commissioner of the Fun Police? My money’s on Stress. Never mind the inevitable stresses that we all 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 goddamn 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 revenue and stay in the black on our cashflow? Is the company culture still in line with our core values? Are we in too much debt? Why has Jane from accounts 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 start having fun again. Keeping an eye on these key areas is a good starting point.
Communicate your company culture
Open communication is a great inter-team aspect to work on to keep everyone happy – and the difference here is as much about firming up your understanding of the company’s culture as it is promoting transparency and contribution from all employees. How you outline your company culture can be as concise as a list of words and values or as detailed as a lengthy document; either way, what it must do is clearly demonstrate the personality of the company with regard to working environment, mission, values, ethics, expectations and future goals.
In our opinion, the clearer and more detailed the document, the less room for misunderstanding – some companies have a team-based culture with participation expected and welcomed from employees at all levels, others have a more traditional ‘top-down’ management style, and some, like Google who are known for their casual culture, have very few rules and regulations. If an employee knows they fit in with their company’s culture and is happy and productive working in that style, they’re more likely to get more out of their time at work – a hugely important factor for remote workers especially, who can’t just lean back on their chair to double-check something is OK with their closest colleague.
Focus on what’s going well
Humans are a funny old lot; most of us really struggle to focus on things we’re doing well, but creating a seemingly endless list of all of the areas in our lives where we’re going wrong is a doddle. Where business is concerned specifically, concentrating on what’s not been ticked off your to-do list, is underfunded, underperforming or needs fixing is only going to lead to greater stress. Of course, burying your head in the sand about areas that need attention isn’t what we’d recommend either, but before you set about righting any wrongs remind yourself of all the things that are going swimmingly.
Make a list of any small business milestones you’ve reached – securing repeat custom, scoring a new client, creating a workable marketing strategy (and sticking to it!), staying true to your business model; there’s probably way more than you’ve realised. Don’t leave out any accomplishments and stick your list somewhere visible; you’ll soon spend more time celebrating those things that you’ve made happen than overstressing about things that need a little improvement.
Give yourself a break
An actual break. Overworking is really dangerous and can lead to depression, insomnia, heavy drinking and even death (which suddenly makes stress seems weirdly palatable) and yet a mere 15 minutes spent focusing on something other than work can reset your mind and motivation. When you take the break, do something fun – waste time on the internet looking at funny videos of cats; go and buy some cake; ring that close friend that you’ve been meaning to catch up with; or, just go for a walk and look up at the nature and sky that surrounds you. Not only will you return to the task with renewed vigour and a clearer mindset, you’ll probably find a completely fresh way to tackle it. Burnout is a very real thing and the complete opposite of fun, so avoid it at all costs.
Money: a cruel mistress
Undoubtedly, the main player in this mind-muddling game of life though? Money; a cruel mistress. Ask any small business owner what keeps them awake at night and financial worry will rank top of the table every time – when surveyed last year (I’m not prepared to take into account the shitshow that is 2020 because just reflecting on it stresses me out), 53% of small business owners identified financial worries as their main source of stress and a drain on their motivation, and yet the prospect of more money is also the main drive for a lot of people to make the jump and go it alone in the first place. Here’s a couple of the main cash-related culprits when it comes to making going to work anything but fun.
- The problem: Cashflow
You can be the most popular business on the block and outwardly look incredibly successful, but if you’re not in control of your cashflow (a standard/minimum time period for cashflow projection is 12 months, FYI) you are at risk of losing everything at any given moment. It’s make or break stuff, which is why it’s so stressful.
- The fix: Stay on top of your figures
The notion of checking your spending sounds patently obvious, but ‘overheads’ is a broad term for every expense other than direct labour, direct materials and direct expenses, so everything from rent, utilities, advertising and office supplies to legal fees, insurance and travel is included under the umbrella. If you’re in control of your outgoings and incomings you’ll know exactly where you stand financially and can troubleshoot any potential problems before they become a nightmare. Have a good look at your profit and loss to highlight any more glaring, comparative year-on-year operating costs that you could cut (your marketing budget is one that often comes a cropper here), but also step back and work out some less obvious cuts that could be made and save you cash down the line. It’s 2020, do you really need business cards in this age of multiple social media channels where we’re all followable at the swipe of a screen? Does every employee really need three fluorescent highlighters, a multipack of Post-its and four notebooks? (I’ll give you that one: no, the answer is no, which is heartbreaking because stationery is life, but is also true. Suck it up and buy your own superfluous holepunch.)
- The problem: 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 are also highly skilled in finding tax deductions that you’ve very likely overlooked and they are born with financial deadline dates tattooed on the inside of their eyelids. We know a great one if you’d like their details…
Our favourite solution: get help!
Collectively, ‘all things financial’ is definitely 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 piss all over your chips. As we’ve discovered though, 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. Here’s a few we think pop up and cause unnecessary discomfort in most businesses.
- 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 channels: active or outbound, and passive, which is 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. A professional writer and editor will save you time and money where blogs, copywriting, interviewing and identifying influencers are concerned.
- Customer Service
Customer service is no longer the stuff of queuing up to battle with Karen behind the 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 this year – 2020 – is the year that customer service truly becomes king and is 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.
- Social media
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.
Hopefully this smorgasbord of niggly-business-things-made-far-less-annoying should free up more time for you not only get your creativity flowing enough to reignite your corporate spark, but to simply sit back and have a bit more old-fashioned fun. Find ways to have a laugh at work – start meetings by sharing jokes, hold a monthly team quiz, organise activity-based away days, hold cake making or project idea competitions and, crucially, organise more social events and staff nights out; a free G&T is a guaranteed way to loosen lips and get everyone to contribute ideas on how you can make your business happier, better and more gratifying overall.