You’re living the dream, right? Owning your own business, being your own boss, setting your own schedule—is it everything you’d hoped it would be?
Chances are, while you enjoy plenty of perks about being a business owner, there are also plenty of things to keep you up at night. To get back some of your beauty sleep, let’s address the top 8 stressors that come along with running your own business.
BudgetsObviously, there’s no one-size-fits-all budgeting formula. But simply having a budget, sticking to it, and planning for tough times will take you far, no matter which wares you peddle.
One of the biggest reasons new businesses fail within the first 5 years is because of over-extension—basically a lack of operating funds. A realistic budget will take into account the upfront costs of starting a business while also considering that many debts will need to be paid off over time.
Some businesses also forget to plan for costs that aren’t obvious at the get-go, but are definitely needed over time. Insurance, taxes, advertising, legal fees, employee recruitment, retirement plans, changing technology—the list goes on. We’ll talk about some of these further down.
As far as your general operating budget is concerned, here are some tips:
- If you’ve been in business for a year or two already, analyze the past years’ profit and loss statements in detail. What came up that you had to spend extra on? What cost more than the previous year? Which spending items came out of left field entirely?
- If you’ve just started your business, make sure you have thoroughly documented the spending it took to launch and begin operating. Then think of every possible expense that could come up during the next couple years, including loan payments. It’s better to be over-prepared and have some left over at the end of the year!
- Regardless of the business’s income, pay yourself a reasonable, fixed salary. It can be tempting to dip into those profits, but it’s better to keep the cash in your business and leave the option of paying yourself a bonus at the end of the year if things come out ahead!
- Businesses need rainy day funds, too! Due.com recommends stashing 3-6 months operating expenses in case of emergency. It’s tempting to put extra sales income back into the business, but this is only recommended after establishing an emergency fund. Too many businesses go out of business because they run out of cash.
Taxes and Legal FeesThe biggest headaches in budgeting deserve their own focus here.
When it comes to taxes, it’s tough to feel like you’re giving away part of the money you earned—especially when it can be so complicated figuring out how much to pay where, and what you can write off. But paying dues to Uncle Sam is something every good business must prioritize or serious complications can come about.
Additionally, for document preparation, corporate compliance, and several other multifaceted legal processes, it can be enough to overwhelm even the most motivated business owners. You don’t want to be caught in the middle of an unexpected lawsuit, scrambling to produce the right paperwork to the right parties.
Fortunately, even if your company is small, it’s not your job to know everything—it’s knowing who to ask! The best advice anyone can give a small business is to entrust both your tax and legal preparations to a seasoned professional.
And it’s important to note that in many cases, you may not need to shell out the big bucks for a lawyer. An independent paralegal or legal document preparation specialist can provide you with much of what you need to stay compliant as a business. Though if anything needs to be taken to court, it is smart to have a relationship with a lawyer or law firm.
Growing and Maintaining Customer BaseCultivating a loyal customer base is more than just having a great product and being good at buying and selling. To grow and sustain your business, you need to build relationships.
To attract customers to build a relationship with you, it’s all about becoming part of their conversations, part of their routines, and making name familiar. Advertise where your industry hangs out. Talk to your potential audience on social media. Comment on industry-related blogs, social media, or forums. Participate in trade shows, local events, and charitable efforts.
But once they know your name, you’ve got to give them reasons to want to know more. Keep churning out useful, helpful content that relates to your industry, and to the problems your product or service solves. Not every move in a relationship is to close a sale.
And most importantly, remain approachable. Be diligent in responding to questions, letters, phone calls and online posts. This is one of the first areas customers complain about if it’s not happening.
EmployeesRight up there with your customers are your employee relationships. If you want to run a business that operates with high efficiency and high morale, your employees must be appropriately staffed, appreciated, and compensated.
Finding employees isn’t the hard part—it’s finding the right employees. Be up front and descriptive about your staff positions so applicants know what to expect and which skills they’ll need to rely on day after day. Keep in mind that some applicants may have a perfect match in skill set, but if their philosophy of work doesn’t jive with your business, it could bring down the efficiency and morale you’re attempting to build. Hire for talent and attitude, as skills and knowledge can be developed through training.
To make these superstar employees feel like they truly belong, you have to do more than just pay them what they’re worth. Try some of these ideas to sustain your team’s enthusiasm:
- Praise good work regularly, and showcase exceptional work to the whole team. Recognition is key to feeling appreciated.
- Involve employees in company decisions, when appropriate. Not only can you gain some good insights, but everyone knows their opinion is valued.
- Be generous (to a point!) with time off. Employees typically work better when they’re not worried about their personal life at work. Some businesses have “errand day” twice a month, when the office closes for the afternoon so employees can get an oil change or see their optometrist. Other offices allow flexible schedules, as long as employees put in their required worktime and/or finish their projects.
- Allow employees to be shareholders. If this works with your type of business, it’s a great way to make loyal employees.
RetirementWe can’t talk about employees without getting into this big budget item. Not only does offering a 401(k) help care for your employees, but it is key to recruitment and retention. No business is too small to be able to offer this, and according to CNBC Money, 401(k) costs are lower than you may think.
But remember, figuring out retirement options applies to you as owner, too. You’re not planning on working straight up until you’re gone, so you’ve got to plan your “exit strategy.”
Will you be selling your business to another? Will you be liquidating it? Will you be grooming a replacement? If nothing else, decide on this as soon as possible. You don’t want to be still figuring this out as you near your retirement, and you also want to plan for worst-case scenarios.
And ideally, you will have included yourself in your company’s 401(k) plan. Contrary to popular belief, the sale of your business is not a viable retirement option—it’s more like a retirement “cushion,” and that’s providing you get the price you’re hoping for. To truly be able to plan your budget in retirement, you have to be making regular contributions.
EconomyWhile we’re on the subject of buying, selling and saving for retirement, it’s crucial to think about how the economy can (and will) affect your business. Not even the best economists can predict the financial future, but you as a savvy business owner can make your company adaptable.
In addition to staying up to date on your industry’s trends, keep on top of national and international business news, primarily in the subjects of health care costs, dollar strength, consumer spending, and the US and global stock market. If you’re not already, subscribe to mainstream business periodicals such as Consumer Reports, Bloomberg Businessweek, Wall Street Journal, Wired, Fast Company, Small Business Trends, etc. You can also set up social media and Google alerts, keep track of census statistics, and join associations within your industry. If this seems overwhelming, you can also hire someone or task a trusted employee to specifically to monitor these things for you.
And if you follow the budgeting advice of having an emergency fund, you’ll be more able to weather any unexpected storms.
CompetitionYour “things to monitor” list should also include your competitors. Know their products or services as well as your own, so you truly know your edge. This is how you create a niche for yourself, which is easier and more effective than competing head-on. Smart business owners excel by seeking out gaps in customer experience and making that their point of product development and advertising.
Keep track of your competitors’ advertising, content marketing, and social media conversations. What topics are they raising? What claims are they making? How is their audience responding?
You can participate in those conversations as well, though be careful that your social media manager’s language is collaborative, customer-focused, and does not antagonize. By demonstrating that you are also an expert in these areas and gently introducing your niche, you can grow your following of customers that already want what you provide.
Also, remember this rule of thumb—a business typically needs to reinvent itself every 3-5 years if it wants to stay alive as technology, the economy, and customer behavior changes. As you monitor your competitors and industry trends, be taking note of how things might need to change within your company as society evolves.
MarketingThis brings us to where the rubber meets the road, which unfortunately can become an afterthought to business owners weary from the upkeep of the previous items on this list. But consistent, strategic marketing efforts will pay off.
Using what you learn from your competitor research and the development of your niche, this can become your marketing platform. Turn this niche into a story that your business (and your employees!) tell consistently.
How do you “storify” your business? The best stories start from answering basic questions. Why did you design your product to fill this niche? What keeps you going? What benefits do you hope to provide to your customers? Why do you care about them at all? This story can then be adapted for each marketing platform you choose to use.
Tell your story where it counts. Maybe your customers appreciate direct mail, or maybe most of them are spending their time on Instagram. Whatever the case, find out where your customers are and direct your efforts there. Don’t overextend yourself by trying to cover every single marketing avenue. Like many things, it’s quality over quantity.
And stay personal! Your business will grow, but you need to remain connected with Joe Everyguy and stay relevant. Remember why you went into business in the first place—you saw a need, and you knew you could fill it. Hold onto your company story now matter how big you get. Don’t overload yourself, but look to other professionals that are experts in the areas you need assistance.
And never forget that any business is only as good as its relationships—with its customers, with its employees, and with you as its caretaker.
Stave off overwhelm while you cover all the bases with your business—i7 Marketing can help. Our small business specialists are eager to help you succeed. Contact us for an quote today!