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The six main challenges of being a business owner

As the owner of a business, you are a leader, a figurehead, a spokesperson, a catalyst for growth and the core that pulls everything together.

Unless they’ve been in this position, it’s very hard for others to understand the pressures your role brings. Often, this might mean that others may unfairly – or fairly, in some instances – judge you.

Whether it’s your partner who hates it when you work late, your employee who’s frustrated they don’t get enough of your attention, customers who demand too much of you and don’t respect your time, or even friends from school who think you’ve grown an inflated sense of self-importance.

These external pressures, alongside internal ones – such as imposter syndrome, anxiousness or even the continual need to keep pushing yourself forward – are constantly at play.

The obstacles that business owners face are varied and many.

From speaking to entrepreneurs every day, and experiencing a few of them myself, I discuss some of the main challenges…

1. Staff retention

In today’s jobs climate, where employees hold a lot of power, something that keeps many businesspeople awake at night is wondering if their staff are happy and if they’re cultivating a good enough culture to keep them.

It’s more important than ever to have a happy workforce and it’s not just about their pay packet. It’s making them feel valued, trusted, and important. I’ve seen many companies do this well, but those which do it the best are those which teach and then drive home the company’s higher sense of purpose.

Leaders need to first understand, and then communicate what their business purpose is and instil this within staff attitudes. They’ll then come to work everyday knowing they are making a difference.

However, you must have a very good hiring policy. If you hire poorly, you simply won’t trust your staff. And if you can’t trust them to do their job, you’ll create a culture of blame, and you’ll end up doing everything yourself, leaving you feeling burned out.

2. Customer retention

This varies from business to business. If yours is a product-based business, your customer lifecycle may be very short, but the likelihood is you’ll want them to make a repeat purchase at some point. If you have a service-based business, you might speak to your clients on a daily basis and one client could make up a large chunk of your turnover.

In both instances, your customer is incredibly important, so keeping them happy is vital.

I see many businesses that care more about winning new customers rather than looking after their current ones. My philosophy is if you look after your current clients, you’ll win better quality new ones – and you’ll be able to charge more, making you more profitable.

If you’re worried about whether you’re keeping your clients happy, it’s probably a good idea to slow down, take a step back and assess what you can do to add more value to your relationship with them. Sometimes, slow, and sustained growth is better.

3. Loneliness

It’s tough at the top, as they say. Business can become all-consuming, meaning you might have little time for socialising. Friends may become frustrated, your partner might not be as understanding as you’d like, and your employees see you as a boss – not a friend.

You may have even relocated for work, so you don’t know anyone in the local area, or you work from home, and you rarely see anyone face-to-face.

Isolation from WFH is a common reason that people join Empire House, so I see it all the time. Often it can lead to a feeling of sadness and disconnection, turning into a lack of motivation.

But don’t let work become your everything. To be a great businessperson, you need other things going on in your life.

The best thing to do in this situation, is find a group of people who understand you. A membership to a co-working space, or a peer-to-peer group might be just what you need to reconnect to the world. Use your hobbies to spark that joy back into your life, and you’ll feel refreshed and remotivated in no time.

4. Working in the business, not on it

When you’re at start up stage, you are often wearing numerous hats – from customer service, to marketing, to HR, to the accounts department. You might have 100s of emails per day, and you try to do everything yourself.

This means you have no time to focus on business growth and become caught up in the day-to-day.

You might also find yourself in a struggle between small budgets and wanting to achieve growth – it can be a chicken and egg scenario.

What can you do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Hire a VA – get someone good who understands business processes, who can help you structure your business in an effective manner. They can also help with responding to emails
  • Use Calendly to offer clients and/or employees timeslots when they can book time into your diary. You can block certain days out, such as Fridays, to work on the business, rather than in it
  • Get a bookkeeper and an accountant as soon as you can afford one – and get the best one you can afford
  • Automate things where possible. If you have lots of customer service enquiries about one subject, for example, then write up a FAQ and publish it on your website, and direct people there.
  • Get the Boomerang plug-in for Gmail and pause inbox notifications when you need to focus on one task, so you’re not disturbed by emails
  • Learn how to prioritise – this is particularly helpful if you have one client or employee who demands a lot of your time and energy. You can use Excel spreadsheets to manage your priorities.

5. Fear about what others will think

Showing up in business can feel scary, whether it’s delivering a talk or starting to promote your personal brand on social media. You are opening yourself up to criticism and you may feel vulnerable.

You wonder if people will think you’re arrogant. You must remember you are not here to please everybody.

Not everybody is going to like you (just like you don’t like everybody) and that’s OK, but you will resonate with some people, and those people will make it worthwhile, because they’ll become your customer, or they’ll recommend you to somebody.

6. Not knowing who you can trust

This is interconnected with point one, because you might not know which of your employees you can or can’t trust.

But it can extend beyond staff to external consultants, whose opinions you are paying for. Or it could be business acquaintances who give you unsolicited advice.

What a lot of entrepreneurs fear, is that humans are often driven by their own agendas. So, a consultant may recommend an expensive rebrand, but they are set to benefit from that rebrand, for example. A staff member might suggest you push a company deadline back, but is it because they aren’t working hard enough to meet it?

As your business grows, you will not have full visibility over every decision or department anymore. So, you must learn to let things go or give someone the autonomy to make and learn from their own decisions.

It’s incredibly important for you to have one or two people surrounding you who you can trust implicitly.

Once you have them, treat them well.

7. Your emotional needs will change

When you become a business owner, there is a shift in your emotional needs and how they are (or aren’t) met. I’ve written a whole other blog about this – here.

Remember, your ability to be successful depends on your ability to rise to challenges and manage your emotions.

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