As small businesses embrace the New Year, many a Resolution will be made. Some business owners will have plans for growth, others will up their networking activity. Many of course, will hope for more sales of their product or service. However, a leading small business coach advises that an often-neglected area should be top of the to-do list for 2017 – and that is to get support in order to survive and thrive.
Amanda Cullen, a coach and author who worked with some of London’s leading corporates before turning her attention to small businesses, carried out a survey among business owners - most of whom had less than five staff - and the results were revealing.
Backed-up by an in-depth focus group, the survey showed that working alone is common, with nearly 60% of respondents saying that they work from home. When asked about the biggest challenge faced by small business owners, getting clients came up top, as was cited by 46% of respondents. Amanda strongly believes that there is a direct correlation between small business owners going it alone and doing everything, and the biggest challenge, getting new business.
Commenting on the results, Amanda says: “One of the recurring themes coming out of the survey and focus group is that small business owners want to be lean, which is why many opt to work from home, and often do everything themselves. There also seems to be a view from business owners that they can only justify getting support if they achieve a certain level of growth.
“However, the danger of doing everything themselves is that the growth never comes, as small business owners are unable to focus on the important elements of their role, such as business development. The reality is, leaders of successful bigger businesses invest in their business, and in themselves. Small business owners must do the same.”
It is the lack of support which perhaps explains why so many small businesses struggle and ultimately fold, whereas larger companies with strong teams of support staff seem to stand the test of time. According to the Office for National Statistics, 10% of small businesses fail within the first year. This rises to nearly 60% in the first five years. However, only 5% fail because the business isn’t viable. Amanda says that from her experience, the other 95% of small businesses fail because the owners find running a business – and all the challenges that go with it – simply too much to manage.
To avoid this trap, Amanda urges small businesses to get the support they truly need, as going it alone can be a false economy.
Business growth is limited, because business owners are over-stretched, struggling to prioritise and frequently spending their time on the wrong activity, such as office administration. Instead Amanda says it makes more sense for owners to play to their strengths, and delegate the areas that aren’t within their expertise. This may involve taking a financial hit in the short term, but it will pay dividends in the long run.
The other reason business owners need support goes beyond practical factors. In most other areas of life, they have peers – school friends, university friends, colleagues, sports team mates, etc. As a business owner, they’re alone, and suddenly responsible for all the main decisions. Family and friends can be a great support, but they are often guilty of telling business owners what they want to hear, according to Amanda. This is why engaging in some form of external support is crucial. Amanda says the types of support fall into four categories - technical, professional, knowledge and advisory.
Technical support can be someone helping with your website, while professional support will help to make sure the business runs correctly. This could be in the form of an accountant or a lawyer. Knowledge is a way to understand what will make a business successful. So a business owner could talk to competitors and / or customers.
Finally, and perhaps the most overlooked area, is the need for advisory support from an impartial yet supportive presence. This could be a business adviser, a mentor or a coach.
Crucially, whether small business owners choose one or all of the above options, Amanda urges that getting support in some form should be a priority for 2017, as it could help ensure a very successful year.