I've had a small business now for over 15 years. I've been through the tough start-up years, flew high in the glory days pre-GFC and have worked my arse off for a business that is pretty darn respectable. But if I had to do it all again (oh God, no!) there are things that I would change. If only I was as wise then as I am now.
What would I do differently? I'd start with:
- Don't wear too many hats.
Wearing too many hats leads to burn-out. Are you really the best at every task you do? Could someone do it better? Should someone more junior than you do it? How much is your time worth? How much would it cost to outsource it to someone else, and will that free you up to do something more beneficial for your business? Wearing too many hats can be counter-productive so make sure you ask yourself these questions when you don yet another hat.
- Timesheet yourself.
I can hear you groaning from here! Everyone hates timesheets but timesheets are critical to understanding so much about your business. When you timesheet yourself you can better understand where you're spending your time. You need to understand your value when you are performing tasks. If you apply an hourly rate to your timesheets, then when you go to do a task you will be able to decide whether it's worth you doing it, or if you should delegate it to someone else.
- Getting a handle on stress management.
Ongoing stress can have an emotional and physical impact. Understanding the stresses you face, tackling them head on and putting in place systems/procedures to alleviate the stress are a must in small business. Don't get me wrong, a small amount of stress is a good thing, it creates all of those lovely endorphins for you to keep powering through the day, but too much of it can make you ill and ineffective. Handling stress can be done by changing things in your business, employing a salesperson to get customers to your store, or employing an accountant to do the monthly books – or it could be done by changing your habits. Exercise is the best form of stress reduction, along with a healthy diet. I'm more stressed when I'm too friendly with chocolate and cake. I'm less stressed when I ride my bike or go for a walk. Work out what works for you.
- Find business mentors.
I've always had mentors for my business. Some I've paid, some I've worked with, and some are my friends. Having mentors, coaches and people you can share ideas, stresses, problems and solutions with are a must in a small business, especially if you are the sole owner and operator. Try to establish a business network of people. Ask them if you can shout them lunch to talk through a problem with you. Most will be only too happy to help.
- You don't have to like everyone.
In fact, its better if you don't. Most things at work are better left as professional as possible. Combining work colleagues and friends is always difficult, and in some cases, can end in disaster. Don't try too hard. You can be a great boss and not be a friend.