Telling it how it is – the realities of starting (well trying to) a small business

When I first started out blogging, long before starting this business, I had imagined it would be all bells and whistles, and I would easily get into a habit of writing regularly. Well that certainly didn’t happen. It’s really quite difficult to write something just once, never mind often that I am happy to send out into the ether. I know I am not on my own on this – lots of bloggers I follow fell away for one reason or another. Others who did stick with it as proper employment have since found other income streams that will allow them to write but without the pressure of maintaining an online presence.

One online persona that I follow is Yogagirl. She posts a lot to Facebook – long, very honest and intimate messages about her life. In her photo’s she looks the most perfect example of someone who has it all – she teaches yoga on Aruba amongst flamingoes, while balancing on surfboards with her long blonde hair and agile body staring into perfect sunsets. And yet her text is that of a normal person who deals with crap every day. It’s such a refreshing antidote to the perfection of so many online.

This pursuit of perfection is one reason I have written so rarely for this blog. Our business ideas are all full of ambition and positive change and great long term goals but the reality of reaching these goals is in all honesty one hard slog. We have been met by difficulty from the start – “but who would want to read about that?” I asked myself. “No-one” I convinced myself. And then I had a visit from GrowBiz Perthshire last week. Did you know that half a million people want to set up their own business but only 2-3% actually do it? And of them 66% fail? It’s taken me decades to move from an idea to an actual business so I understand the first one but the second one makes me wonder why did so many not make it?

Yes of course there will be the obvious assumptions of wider economic issues, local contexts, stupid ideas etc but that will only be a small number of those ideas. And then there are the others you expect to fail because of a lack of business acumen or commitment. Yet I am amazed by how many people I (try to) work with on a daily basis who don’t show up when they say they will, charge more than is fair, don’t finish a job etc and still manage to stay in business.

Could the reasons for closing (I’m not going to use the word failing) be more touchy feely then? Such as the pressure of feeling you have to be positive about how things are going even when they are really tough? Feeling so emotionally and physically drained that going back to a monthly paycheck even in a job you hate is better than the constant question over cashflow? Being consistently let down by people who claim to be professionals? And then having to deal with your own guilt for having to cancel your own customer’s bookings? It’s hard. And everytime it goes wrong it gets that bit harder to try again, to depend on someone else, to hope for the best.

So what’s the fix? If I knew I’d make a fortune selling business self-help books. What I am going to try is the following:

  • Remind myself that everyone and that means every business is struggling at some level – it’s part of being human. Even the lucky ones with their great sales and instagram posts will be struggling with their suppliers or their bank. Just look at Twitter – they had to lay people off because they weren’t growing enough. Makes me wonder if the concept of a successful business needs to be re-evaluted but that’s for another day.
  • Be honest with myself and others and less apologetic when things go wrong- it’s not all a reflection of us! And then talk and write about it – even on social media. There is the definite possiblity that readers/potential customers are interested in the nitty gritty not just the gloss. I just need to find the balance so I don’t sound like a complaining ninny all the time.
  • Stay true to our values and principles, even when it is the more challenging option – particularly when it doesn’t ‘suit’ a subcontractor. This is what our business success (in all meanings of the word) is based on.
  • Remember that everything is transitory. Time doesn’t stop.
  • Adapting plans and goals doesn’t equal failure. We will open with a product very different to our goal but it’s just part of the journey.
  • Don’t forget the detail. When I get stressed I start dismissing all the little things that just seem too much bother. Yet it’s those little things that come back to bite – like scorpions hiding in your shoes that you didn’t bang out before you got on the plane home. A more realistic (boring) example is making sure the decorator sands down the excess filler and pencil markings before applying three layers of translucent fire retardent paint thus embalmbing the mess forever.
  • People do read text – it doesn’t always have to have an amazing photo – Facebook isn’t always right.

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