Owning a business is a dream for many; what could be better than being your own boss, calling the shots and reaping all the benefits of your hard work and dedication? As a small business owner myself, I think there are numerous brilliant advantages of running the show – but am also very aware of the challenges that entrepreneurs face when making the transition from contractor to small business owner.
These are some of the issues you might encounter on your new business journey, with a few (hopefully) helpful tips for dealing with them.
Sense of purpose. Did you really mean to have your own company and is it really what you want? Sometimes people fall into starting a business. You may have taken on a personal project with a company and before you know it they are asking you for more work requiring more people. What are you going to say - no? No! The chances are that you agree to do the project, get on with what you have to do and before you know it, you have a team and a fledgling business up and running. From my experience, the time and effort required to get your own business off the ground means you need a genuine passion for your idea or product, and an endless supply of determination. Before you commit time and money to a venture – make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
Moving away from ‘doing’ what you love to ‘managing’ what you love. You are great at your job and know the industry like the back of your hand – that’s why you can see a business opportunity that no-one else has spotted. But taking advantage of that opportunity necessarily means you will be doing much less of the hands-on work you know (in my case project management), and much more business management. You will need new and wide-ranging skills – in finance, sales, marketing and management of human resources. It is a steep learning curve – so don’t be afraid to embrace training opportunities and to take on guidance and mentoring in the areas where you have less expertise. Business groups such as local Chambers of Commerce, MDHub and Enterprise Nation are great at offering workshops, advice and business mentor suggestions.
Uncertainty. However well you know your industry, you can’t know for sure how your business will fare. Will it be profitable? Will it expand? Will you make enough to live on in the first year? How will you cope if there is a recession? Dealing with this stressful instability and lack of control is normal when running a business, but you can make it easier on yourself by planning well, forecasting and factoring in contingency where possible.
Responsibility. You may have had a lot of responsibility in your previous roles (I had to manage big budget projects and teams for example), but the responsibilities you shoulder as a business owner are different – and intense. As a business founder, it is up to you to have the vision and the ideas – to respond to new challenges and adapt your business for the future. You need to think creatively all the time. Similarly – you are the decision-maker. As a member of contract or permanent staff in a larger company there is usually someone else to bounce ideas off, check in with or defer to. Now you will have to make all the decisions yourself – from huge budget ones, to tiny inconsequential ones – the decision making never stops. You may have to take responsibility for hiring help when the work expands, and then for managing your employees, and setting rules and regulations. Financial responsibility and managing cash flow is also a constant. All this can be quite arduous – but has to be done. Again, do take advice and guidance from business mentoring organisations. Also, find ways of coping with this extra amount of stress. Practise relaxation techniques where possible and make sure you take time out when you need to.
People. As a member of a team you may have been autonomous – and when you start a business, the chances are you are working solo, at least to begin with. However, if you want your business to succeed and expand, this will usually require building and managing a team. Even if you have previous people management experience, building your own business team is much more of a challenge. You will need to consider the cost to the business, the time allocation required for each job, find qualified candidates you get on with who match your business culture, as well as competing with larger, more established businesses for suitable candidates. Do you need permanent staff or would it be better to employ contract workers on a project by project basis? The right person for a small business can be quite different from the right person for a large company. They will need to be able to face new tasks daily and accept a degree of uncertainty. Remember, once hired, your team needs to be managed professionally, even if things feel much more ‘personal’ at a small business level. It’s great to be friends with your employees, but make sure you fulfil all your legal and professional requirements as an employer first.
Work/Life Balance. It’s the biggy. If you’re running your own business, you want it to be a success and you’re passionate about it. The temptation is to throw everything into it to make it work. Perhaps you will avoid taking holidays because you think you can’t afford to be absent – or you might put in 12 hours a day, every day to get the job done. I am sometimes guilty of this myself – as I’m sure is every small business owner. However, I do believe it’s important for your own health, and that of the business, that you take time out for rest and reflection. If you are overstressed and overtired, you are much less productive and time away from the business can give a valuable sense of perspective and clarity. Don’t struggle on trying to do everything yourself if you need to hire some help. Another pair of hands could make all the difference. After all, when it comes down to it, you are running your own business for a better life for you and your family. Make sure you don’t forget to live it at the same time!
What challenges have you faced when running your own business? Join the discussion in our Linkedin group.
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