Running a small business is like a journey, and in every journey, you are going to hit bumps in the road along the way.
That's fine - a few minor errors and mistakes should be viewed as a learning experience, something that you can move forward from. However, there are some errors that you just don’t need to deal with at all, and here, we look at those.
Trying to do it all
When we first start up a business, many of us make the mistake of trying to do everything ourselves. This might be because of confidence in our own abilities to handle everything, which is commendable, and concern over finances. After all, if you are paying someone else to do it for you, you are going to be eating into your profits, right?
Well, not really. If you are spending your precious time on basic tasks, such as admin or data input, or booking appointments, you won’t have as much time on doing the essential duties which will help you to grow your business further. By spending a little money and outsourcing these tasks, you can use your time more wisely.
It is also important to remember that different people have different skills, and some things really are best left to others. You may be able to build and maintain a very basic website, but it does it look professional?
It may be worth investing in a website designer who can create it to your exact specifications. The same goes for search engine optimisation (SEO) - it is such a vital part of marketing that it is essential that you get it right, and sometimes, that means outsourcing the task.
Casting your net too wide
It is natural to want to reach the widest audience possible, but it is also important to acknowledge that unfortunately, not every demographic is going to be interested in the product or the service that you are offering.
Instead of trying to reach people that are not going to be customers, focus your time on finding your niche and your place in the market.
Targeted advertising, such as through PPC (pay per click) ads on Google can bring in potential customers quickly while making an effort with your search engine optimisation will bring you dividends in the future.
Not considering the importance of branding
Branding is absolutely vital when it comes to business. Just think how immediately identifiable some of the big brands are - Coca-Cola, Google, Apple, etc - just from their branding. It is not just about the logos and colour schemes that you use, although they are important as well, but the whole look and feel of your business.
Essentially, your brand is your promise to your customers. It tells them what they can expect from your product or your service, and why you are different from your competitors. Before you launch your marketing campaign, you need to define your brand and think about the following:
What is your company’s mission?
What are the benefits and features that you are offering?
What qualities do you want people to associate with your company?
When you have come up with your brand, you need to integrate it in everything that you do, from what your salespeople wear, to how you answer the phone, your email signature and your marketing tools.
Not doing your research
You may think that you know what your customers want, but don’t rely on thinking that you know what they think. You need to know what they think.
This means doing your research beforehand and learning the needs, habits, and desires of both your current and prospective customers. Setting up a small focus group can be useful, as well as sending out questionnaires and using research from trade associations and small business centres.
Security and safety
Every aspect of your business needs to be protected, from the physical environment to paperwork and online document. It is imperative that you have IT support specific to your industry. In this case, financial services. Or perhaps you will be running a business that handles a lot of sensitive data. The right support will keep everything safe and backed up.
Regarding the workplace environment - do a risk assessment to check that it is safe for both you, your employees, your customers and any other visitors to the site.
As well as making it a much safe, cleaner and nicer place to work, it also protects you from any potential lawsuits if someone is injured on your premises.
As we mentioned earlier on, outsourcing some tasks are vital, and security, both in the physical sense and online is one thing you should be paying a professional for, particularly if you are handling sensitive or financial data. In May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation came into force in the EU, which leaves companies liable for fines of up to £10,000 per breach of data.
While this law may not apply to you, it should make you understand the importance of keeping data safe and the potential consequences of misuse of data. If you aren’t sure of how to deal with this, employ someone who does know.
Generating strong sales figures is not the only way to achieving a good profit. Having minimal expenses can also be helpful.
Trimming them down is obviously one way of doing this, but making sure that you haven’t underestimated them in your business plan is also essential. You need to be honest with yourself right from the beginning about your expenses and overheads.
Downloading accountancy software, such as Sage or Wave can help you stay on top of things. Remember to account for every small thing - down to notebooks and stamps. Forgetting to add these things to your expenses can add up over a long period and affect your profit margin.
Not evolving and moving with the times
Resting on your laurels is one of the worst things you can do as a business owner. You need to be continually researching and improving and upgrading. Read up on what your competitors are doing and join trade associations to see new developments in your market.
Consumer expectations grow as the business becomes more established and experienced, and if you fail to give them a reason to remain enthusiastic, there’s every chance that they’ll take their business elsewhere.