It’s never been easier to start a small business than it is right now. Interest rates are low. Consumer confidence is up. A new wave of technology is making sophisticated software easy to use and readily available. Almost anyone can start up a side project or full-fledged corporation more easily than ever before.
But this new, fast-moving, small business landscape isn’t without its worries. Let’s look at some of the most common concerns small business owners have and shed a bit of light on to how to deal with them.
1. It’s a bubbly economy.
In a survey from stateofstartups.com, 57% of the 700 founders interviewed said that they believed we were in a bubble. These thoughts are reflected by Federal Reserve Chairman, Janet Yellen, who has stated that stocks “have increased to a level well above their median of the past three decades” due to the Reserve keeping interest rates so low.
Certain industries thrive during economic downturns. For example, candy companies such as Cadbury and Nestlé saw huge growth in the recession of 2008 and Snickers and Mars bars were invented during the Great Depression. It makes sense. Who doesn’t want to stuff their face with chocolate when things turn bad? Nevertheless, if your background is in tech, or printmaking or massage therapy, then you’re probably not going to start a candy company just to survive a recession.
Instead, look for ways to recession proof your current business. The following list is a great way to start:
A. Keep cash on hand. Staying liquid is important during a recession because your assets will not be worth as much and creditors will be stingy. With enough cash on hand, you can continue to finance your business and possibly acquire a competitor’s business, assets or key employees.
B. Reduce inventory. Lightening up your inventory at the first sign of economic trouble can help you stay lean and agile while the economy is in flux. Your product delivery times may take a bit longer, but so will everyone else’s during a recession.
C. Nurture existing customers. Your current clients and customers are going to be the ones that help you get through a recession. Adding a personal touch at a low cost (think hand written holiday cards, gift baskets and the occasional freebie) will help you keep them when their money is tight as well.
2. Hiring the right person is tough.
The State of Startups survey found that the top concern among business founders is finding and hiring the right people. Customer acquisition was second and revenue growth was third. There’s a good reason why hiring the right person is the top concern: It’s because hiring the wrong person can be devastating for business.
The US Department of Labor estimates that the wrong hire can cost an employer 30% of that employee’s first year earnings. So, if a business owner hires the wrong person and offers an annual salary of $100,000, the business owner can expect to see $30,000 go down the drain as a result.
But it’s not just a financial drain that business owners have to be concerned about when hiring the wrong person. A study conducted by recruiting agency Robert Half International found that supervisors spent 17% of their time dealing with underperforming employees. That’s almost one day a week of the manager’s time dedicated to working with a bad hire.
One of the best ways to hire top talent is to get the talent to come looking for you. You can do this is by managing your reputation as an employer. Glassdoor.com, a website dedicated to amassing employee reviews of employers, found that almost half of its members read company reviews before speaking to recruiters or hiring managers. Additionally, 69% of people looking for a job said they would not take a job with a company that had a bad reputation, even if they were out of work.
You can increase your reputation as an employer by managing reviews on websites such as glassdoor.com. Respond to feedback, both good and bad, in a professional way. Show that you are working to address any shortcomings you have as an employer. If your business is so small that you are not on glassdoor.com, you’ll need to manage your local reputation. Conduct an exit survey with a departing employee to understand their reasons for leaving and to mend any harsh feelings.
3. ‘9 to 5’ is a fantasy.
43% of people working at startups are leaving the office between the hours of 6 and 7 PM. The owners of startups are working even more. A survey conducted by thealternativeboard.com found that 39% of business owners work 50 to 60+ hours a week. 97% of small business owners are working on the weekends, too. It’s no surprise that 79% of small business owners say they work too much.
One of the biggest problems for overworked business owners is that they have trouble delegating tasks. They feel no one else can do crucial tasks as well as they can. If that’s the case, maybe business owners shouldn’t be delegating those tasks. Instead, they should delegate or outsource tasks that don’t directly increase business.
Nanette Miner, founder of the Training Doctor LLC, works 10 hours a day and manages to take 12 weeks of vacation a year. She is the only employee of her business and outsources all non-revenue generating work (about 40 hours per week worth). This includes administrative work, web maintenance and testing of the company’s monthly newsletter.
Start taking control of your work life balance by asking yourself which business tasks you’re doing that are not directly tied to generating revenue. For example, do you spend four hours a week managing the books for your coffee shop? Then this is something you should absolutely consider farming out to a professional.
The second step to reclaiming work-life balance is defining what life is and which activities are most important to you. 31% of business owners said they would like to spend more time with family and friends and 23% said they would like to travel for fun more. Whatever it is you want to do, be sure to define it, schedule it and assess it.
For example, if spending more time with your children is your priority, define the activities that you would like to be doing with them (homework, driving them to school, movie night, etc.). Then define how much you can reasonably be spending with them each week. Assess each week, see how close you were to hitting your goal, and then refine your strategy as you would with your business.
The third step to reclaiming work-life balance is to look at the tasks that are neither work nor life related and find ways to farm these out. For example, if you’re spending your Sundays washing and folding laundry instead of enjoying time with your spouse, it may be a good idea to look for a wash and fold company to do the laundry for you.
4. It might fail.
If you’re thinking of starting a business, or you have already started one, then you probably know that roughly 50% of all new businesses fail within 5 years. Nobody starts a business thinking it’s going to fail. In fact, one-fifth of all Americans think that the best way to become rich is by starting a business. They aren’t wrong. The majority of millionaires are in fact business owners or self-employed. But, that doesn’t mean they made their fortune on their first business.
A 21 year-long study on the success and failures of repeat entrepreneurs and business starters found that even if a person fails with their first business, they’re far more likely to succeed with their second. With each business a person starts, the likelihood of success increases, even if the previous business failed. Second time business owners don’t even have to stick to the same industry to see an increased chance of success with their next venture. Someone who starts a beauty salon that ultimately fails is far more likely to be more successful on their second attempt, even if that second attempt is at owning and running a pizza shop.
So where is it that most business owners truly fail? (Cue the inspirational music).
The same study found that 71% of first-time business owners who failed never tried again and it was the 29% of failed, first-timers who went on to try again that saw success. These statistics don’t apply to only mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar startups either. Amazon.com CEO and founder Jeff Bezos failed twice before getting Amazon off the ground. Even Abraham Lincoln was a failed business owner.
So, what’s the secret of these born-again business owners? It could be that they don’t go all in. As Bezos says, “I don’t believe in bet-the-company bets. That’s when you’re desperate.”
If this is your first business, especially if it’s just starting out, make sure that none of the decisions you make set you back financially by more than six months to a year. If you still have a day job, keep it. Ask if you can work reduced hours for a few months. Do what you can to build up your business on nights and weekends. Start small and definitely make sure that your business is protected with the right insurance.
After a disaster, 25% of businesses never reopen their doors according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This could be due to the fact that 75% of businesses in the United States are severely underinsured. One of the most important steps you can take as business owner is to get the right business insurance coverage. This will help protect your business, and more importantly, it can help protect you financially. This way you can try again and join the ranks of the 29% of first-time business owners who find success with their second venture.
It may help to remember that not only is there a solution to every problem, but often there is an advantage to every problem. For example, by preparing for a recession, you might be in position to purchase a competitor’s assets during tough economic times. Or by applying what you learned from a business venture that didn’t work out, you may find real success your second time around. The better prepared you are, the less you worry and the more easily you can adapt and take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
Starting and running a business can be exciting, but it also comes with plenty of worries. Fear not. Now you have ways to approach some of the biggest and most common concerns that business owners have.
Join writer and small business owner Gene Marks each Wednesday on the Small Biz Ahead podcast. You can also submit a question for Gene to answer on the podcast.