Feeling like your small business needs help? You’re not alone.
Every day in a small business or startup brings about new challenges to overcome and new opportunities to succeed. The day to day processes can leave anyone drained or with little time to analyze anything beyond what just occurred. Time flies! In fact, it is entirely possible that your small business needs help and you may not even know it!
One of the things I’ve learned over a 20 year career of small business startups and being a serial entrepreneur is that there will be stress and times when you will feel like the captain of a ship without a rudder.
God knows that my latest startup has been a rollercoaster ride! I’ve also been fortunate to have been a mentor to many friends with small businesses and I very regularly develop professional relationships with entrepreneurs that find themselves stuck, at a plateau – or worse. What I’ve learned along the way is that there are essentially three very common problems all small business owners will face at some point but need to overcome quickly; they’re the fear of failure, uncertainty about their ideal market and beginning not to care about public perception.
Three signs that your small business needs help and what to do about them.
1. The fear of failure
The fear of failure is more powerful than you may realize. The extent to which it can take hold and seize control over your current progress and future plans has no limits. However, an important thing to note is the fleeting nature of the fear of failure. Some entrepreneurs and other type A personalities have a certain drive that propels them down a specific path fairly quickly. This type of ambition causes them to barrel own a path, working relentlessly until their vision is met. Roadblocks and rejections will naturally occur but the hyper-focused entrepreneur usually just busts through and failure, or fear, isn’t much of a consideration.
It’s the more deliberate and constrained small business owner or founder that have problems with the fear of failure and the “analysis paralysis” that inevitably results. I’ve noticed that these folks tend to be more naturally geared towards contextualizing everything in terms of the numbers game. Once the financial figures begin to show a trend towards something even slightly below average trends, or worse – expectations, the fear of failure begins to sink in. Depending upon the type of person, the fear could settle in as soon as they feel the first one or two bumps in the road of growing a business. Soon the sky is falling and everything is going to hell in a handbasket. Of course, that’s probably not true.
The important signs that tend to manifest in those urgently fearing failure seem to be:
- Lack of motivation
- Putting off work until the last minute
- Feeling the desire to do anything else but what really needs to be done
- Reckless attempts at promotion
- Refusal to put the money or time into proper branding, business care or finding professionals to help
Fear is a natural human response. It’s something that might be felt quite regularly depending on the situation or circumstance and just how badly a small business needs help. The amount of courage and drive it takes to start and run your own business is staggering… the uncertain path before the small business owner is dark and spooky. The footing is unsure. Change and uncertainty will produce some level of fear in just about anyone in these circumstances (unless they’re a psychopath). How you handle this fear determines the level of success you will be able to attain.
My advice for the “numbers folks” is pretty simple. First, realize that you will win some days and you will lose some days.
Simply win more than you lose (or change your definition of wins and losses)!
If When you feel that fear of failure creeping in… don’t worry and take deep breath! What I love most about entrepreneurship is the flexibility that supports the revitalization of ideas and dreams on a regular basis. When something isn’t working right, tweak it until you find that sweet spot or pivot!
If your small business needs help, the worst thing you can do is nothing. A business is not a tree, get it moving!
2. Not knowing who your target audience/market/client is
You have customers and clients. THAT is fantastic! But are they the right clients? While “knowing who your target market is” should be a no-brainer, you would be surprised at just how many small businesses and startups initially forget first identify the strike zone. They go for an all-out, “guns a blazin'” approach; targeting no one specifically other than what can loosely be defined as “a mass of people out there they hope are ready to buy.” In the military we used to call this approach “spray and pray” – if you shoot enough bullets, you’re bound to hit something. Right?
One of the very first things I do when talking with the small business owners I am helping is to go over their customer data. Analyzing any metrics that are available, whether it be a database of clients or Facebook page insights, always proves immensely valuable and insightful. What most often follows is finding out that what the owner’s idea of their typical customer is might not actually be their ideal client. Worse, is when that owner wants their typical customer to fit a specific profile so badly that they throw money away chasing them while completely ignoring their primary customer base!
It’s funny, but sometimes owners just assume they know who their client should be.
The sports bar I bought in Cozumel, Mexico was a prime example. The previous owner of 14 years started with a solid base of foreign expats and mostly Americans in on vacation who wanted to watch American sports on TV. The market began to change as a result of both competition and a shift in how sports programming is delivered across multiple delivery streams and the business began to tank. He desperately clung to the belief that his best customers were who they’ve always been and completely ignored the locals. As an outsider, I recognized the problem. The English-speaking expats and vacationers are important but they’re not the ideal client for numerous reasons. The Spanish-speaking locals are on the island year-around, are easily reached via marketing and they love sports, too! When I took over the bar, I made changes across the board I knew would appeal to the local market and targeted them in my advertising. I rolled out the welcome mat and made sure the locals knew it. It didn’t take very long at all and I doubled business and it is still growing every day.
When a small business needs help, it needs to take a hard look at the source of its revenue. That means clearly identifying the people who are paying the bills, finding more people just like them and then getting them in the door.
3. Beginning not to care
Are you treating public perception as anything less than it really is? Consider what your company and your personal brand means to you. What do you suppose your company means to others?
Similar to your own personal system of values and morals, you have to be able to answer clearly on which principles your business stands and why. If you find it a bit difficult to nail down, consider writing a value statement to gain clarity. This is your playbook and it is supremely important.
Strong businesses have strong cores.
There should be a consistent and unwavering system of values and a level of pride upheld in everything you do. This is the core of your business and will serve as the foundation upon which your clients will perceive your business as well as the opinions that are formed publicly. Everything you say and do on behalf of your business (and sometimes in your personal life) is a form of marketing. You cannot turn that off. What you do in your business is a manifestation of your personal character. Make that count. When I hear from a small business that needs help something to the effect that they “don’t care” about (almost) anything – it sends up red flags for me. Something is slipping and that owner is probably giving up. If an entrepreneur is starting to not care how their business is being viewed, then it’s urgently time to make a personal assessment to find out what’s really going on and make necessary changes. Fortunately, it’s usually just a temporary case of the “business blues” and we can suss that out pretty quickly. Situations and challenges will change with a little time and focus.
If your small business needs help, I urge you to evaluate what’s going on as objectively as possible. These three common issues
- The fear of failure
- Uncertainty about your ideal customer
- Beginning not to care
can be managed if you identify them quickly. Get help if necessary; oftentimes an outside point of view is all that is really needed and makes for a shot in the arm to breathe new life into your small business.