The 3 Hardest Lessons I've Learned as a Small Business Owner
It's July and here at The Clever Catalyst that can mean only one thing - it's our birthday! This year we are celebrating our - and I almost can't even believe I'm saying this - THIRD year in business. And what a three years those three years have been! We're simultaneously old enough to remember business pre-pandemic and too young in business to have the number of ulcers we collectively boast. #thanksneverending2020
Running a small business while working with almost exclusively small businesses (during a pandemic and a war and a post-pandemic-economic-fallout, maybe?) can be unpredictable, exhausting, and stressful. It requires a lot of learning on the job and a lot of adjusting in real-time. And most terrifyingly it leaves very little margin for error.
While it's true that it's easier today to start a small business than ever before that makes it harder than ever before to keep one alive. If the old adage that 50% of new businesses fail in the first year still holds true in this economy we could all use just about all the help we can get.
To that sentiment, I thought it might be appropriate to share the three hardest lessons I've had to learn in those three years as a small business owner! So without further ado let's jump into my cerebral cortex.
Lesson #1: Have a Business Plan
A business plan, for those of you without a business school background, is basically a long, detailed proof of concept for your business. It typically includes things like brand identity (mission statement, goals, and directives), products/services, market analysis, marketing plans, target audience avatar, budgets, and things of that sort.
If you're a traditional business your business plan is upwards of 30 pages and is typically used to help acquire investors or loan servicers. As a sort of proof that you have a plan. Lean business plans are more common for start-ups and solopreneurs and are a much shorter version of the traditional business plan.
Honestly, you don't even need to draft up a business plan (lean or otherwise). In fact, at the time of writing this, my official one is in draft mode. But you do have to have a solid understanding of your business plan on day one. You have to understand what you're trying to do and how you're going to do it. You have to know who you're trying to reach and how you plan to reach them. And you have to know how you're going to pay for it all.
So why is this a hard lesson to learn? For two reasons really. First, it's a really easy thing to skip if you're a small business owner. A business plan is typically used to convince people to give you their money and many times we're not seeking capital. Second, business plans are not one-and-done things. They have to change. Do you think Nike's original business plan included Lebron James, Tiktok, and Pride Month? I doubt it.
Lesson #2: Small business is WORTHY business!
This is a hard one for a WHOLE HEAP of us in this #hustlebro culture we're living in; but your business - even small - is enough and it is worth your time. It is really easy to think that if you aren't landing new clients every week and earning enough money to get a downtown storefront and hire some interns you are failing. And that couldn't be farther from the truth.
For most of us, this job is far from the only thing we have going on. I for example am a homeschooling mom and a plain ole flawed human being. There are months I probably spend less time on sales than I should because I'm spending more time lesson planning or binge-watching Sailor Moon.
Does that mean when I sit down to work on Monday I should work any less hard? Of course, not.
The problem is there is a little bit of a paradigm shift we have to go through as we stop working from 9-5 and start working for ourselves. When we become our own boss the limit is only our imagination. There is no limit to the amount of money we can make and no limit to the number of meetings we can cram into a day.
Goals can quickly become a small business owner's favorite vice and this is so commonplace in our society it is literally glorified. Which often makes those of us who fall out of step with this unhealthy American display of economic validity feel they're failing.
I was one of those people. I had to learn that lesson. And I continue to learn that lesson every time I take a sick day or a Wednesday afternoon craft store run with my best friend.
Your work and your business are valuable because you (and your customers) deemed them so. If you're working hard and making progress and (forgive the Disney channel vibes but) giving it your all. That is enough.
I've seen a lot of small businesses with a lot of small and big problems and I can promise you never once has "not working hard" enough been the cause of any of them!
Lesson #3: Help is a Good Thing!
Running a small business means wearing a lot of hats. Especially in the beginning. Many of us are on-the-job learners and hiring help can seem frivolous when you can spend the afternoon on Youtube figuring it out for yourself. But here's the thing; that time spent on Youtube teaching yourself how to do that thing you need to know how to do is usually just the tip of the iceberg and almost always a waste of time.
Sure, you can teach yourself how to create a campaign in Mailchimp in a few hours but chances are those hours could have been better spent not marketing PLUS you have to ask yourself if you're devoting this much time to learning these ENTIRELY-new-to-you-concepts will there not just be more questions that come up and more videos and afternoons wasted to follow?
When you hire help, like in this example an email marketing expert, you can pay for a few hours of their time. That means you not only have your time back but you also have an expert implementing what they've already mastered rather than pausing tutorials to find the right menu sub-category over and over. Hence less time wasted overall and more moving your bottom line needle!
But wait there's more...
There's something else awesome about hiring the help you almost certainly need, and that's the people! We've only been in business for three short years and in that time we've met and worked with some of the most incredible souls and our fair share of insider-joke-generators. We've cried and laughed and learned and cried some more all the while growing as a company and as people.
You'll have to forgive my overt sentimentality. My emotional well runs deep and both my birthday and wedding anniversary are also this time of year so one might say I tend to runith over in early July.
As a small business owner, I know all too well how scary it can be to ask for help. It can feel like more work, stress, and money than it's worth but trust me when I say that's not true. And getting started couldn't be simpler.
All you have to do is start the conversation! You won't have to put a bunch of money down up-front, you won't have to sign up for any expensive subscriptions, and you won't be obligated to even remember our names. Although to be honest we would appreciate it if you would.
The consultation is free and everything else is on-demand, which means YOU call the shots!