Regulatory hurdles, financing woes, staffing challenges, runaway rents – running a small business in today’s environment is no walk in the park. Still, not many entrepreneurs would trade what they are doing for a steady and predictable job with less volatility. Studies indicate that entrepreneurs, on average, have higher degrees of job satisfaction than non-entrepreneurs. This is true especially when they are self-employed by choice and not by necessity.
It is also true that the pressure rarely lets up for this group: pressure to pay the rent, to grow the business, to do more than just stay afloat. ‘What keeps you up at night?’ is a classic business probe into the anxiety that fuels the actions and decisions of business leaders. If one were to ask a group of small business owners that question, at least some part of their response will match what executives in larger corporations may come up with. Maintaining a positive cash flow and keeping the sales pipeline active, for example, figure in the goals of any business. However, for a small business, these goals take on greater urgency because survival depends on meeting them.
In matters related to cash flow, small businesses have to be particularly vigilant since they don’t have the luxury of cash reserves that larger organizations do. And so, in that respect, timely invoicing, having a clear receivables policy and pushing for advances or early payments wherever possible are all sensible and essential practices. Enforcing these payment policies with clients is not always easy but it helps to cite the number crunchers in your team when pushing for payment (I’m sorry but my Finance team cannot give you more than 30 days to pay this invoice).
On the sales end, there is a need for ongoing lead generation. Here again the stakes are higher for a small business that can’t afford to see its pipeline dry up. Active marketing geared towards generating the next big deal or sale will help keep this pipeline stoked and alive.
However, making the sale is just the beginning of an ongoing quest to hold on to that portion of revenue. For many small business owners, customer retention can be a journey marked with ups and downs. In the process of adding scale, they may lose a grip on the attributes that won them customers in the first place. And so, this again is another balancing challenge that small businesses grapple with.
There are plenty of other issues that may cause small business owners sleepless nights. Staffing is one big area. Finding the right person or people to handle critical tasks, from accounting to sales is a challenge for many businesses. Another cause for worry is getting the teams to work together in a cohesive and results-oriented fashion. It calls for a consistent focus on training and skills upgrades while keeping an eye on individual aspirations. Succession planning to ensure stability when a core team member departs is also critical for a small business that can’t depend on organizational layers to soften the impact of such a departure.
The elephant in the room is, of course, staying relevant as things change rapidly around you. Will the new hypermarket in the area wipe out the results of my little stationery shop? Will online shopping and lower prices diminish the margins of my small lending library? In small business as in business in general, paranoia with regard to what tomorrow will bring is a key survival trait.
There are several valid reasons, it seems, why you, as a small business owner, should lie awake at night. On the flip side, there are also plenty of reasons for you to go to bed satisfied: for having built a business from the ground up, for believing in the value of what you offer and for carrying an entire team along on the strength of your conviction. This conviction is what is likely to get you out of bed in the morning, ready to take on a new day with fresh challenges.
Sleep well and sweet dreams!