Running a small business is a job for the bold and the brave… and those who don’t require a lot of sleep! The good news for those of you who lie awake counting sheep, is that you are not alone. A straw poll of local small business owners (from a one-man service business to a high tech business processing firm) revealed the following issues as being the main sleep deprivers:
- Compliance, paperwork and government regulations
- Attracting and retaining the right staff (competent and engaged)
- Cash flow
- Recession or shrinking markets
- Increased competition
“Compliance to regulations has added huge costs to the manufacturing process and they are impossible to recoup as a small business.”
“Compliance is a nightmare and it’s getting worse!... Reading contracts, complying with POPI and other Acts when you are not a lawyer, takes a significant amount of time.”
“The tax man. I once calculated that between my personal and business tax matters, I have 20 interactions with SARS every year.”
Clearly this is a significant stressor and while one cannot avoid the demands, taking the time to put well considered policies and procedures in place, will save time and pain later. Lawyers and accountants are expensive and may be necessary for specific businesses, but there are legal build-your-policy websites, which are cost-effective and usually adequate. What is important, is to adhere to your own policies.
The Right Staff
“Getting the right fit, at the right price.”
“A few years ago, I would wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, having taken on so much work that I did not have enough hours in the day to get through it all…”
“When kids are ill and business is busy and there is only one of you, and there is no toilet paper in the house and an order goes awry and you don't know which direction to turn to first! Put box of tissues in the Loo, sort the kids out first, keep your customers abreast of the delay and tell your staff to rise to the occasion and take action.” (I loved this one!)
The decision to hire and expand is fraught with worry that the person/s will not work out and it increases the stress levels because now you are responsible for another person’s income. South African labour laws are tough on the employer, it is hard to hire and fire. Before you make that offer of employment, ask yourself how much that person can realistically contribute to the bottom line. Is this someone you can work with and depend upon?
When it comes to retaining staff, money is only one factor. People want to feel that what they do matters. Increased involvement and responsibility build engagement, while a heartfelt thank you can build a sense of being appreciated. Sometimes letting go results in building up.
“Cash Flow is a problem, especially if you operate in the SME space where your client’s cash flow problems carry over to you.”
“If big corporates are slow to pay, we land up funding their project. Having good financial controls in place is essential… A good costing system and month end analysis is essential albeit time consuming. Then you really know if you are making any money or not.”
Rigorous and disciplined controls are the best defence to cash flow woes, along with developing good relationships with suppliers so that you can carry minimum stock but depend on delivery.
Increased Competition and Shrinking Markets
“I lost a big, long term client six months ago that could no longer afford my services. I had not taken the time to nurture my network or look for other opportunities, just in case… It was only when I was faced with the reality that I finally got myself going.”
“Constantly having to re-strategise not annually but almost daily to deal with these issues. It’s relentless.”
“Are we focusing on the right things, at the right time, with the right resources?”
Getting money in and actually making a profit are the main culprits for sleepless nights. The majority of the business owners I spoke to said they use that time to think and analyse rather than trying to sleep. “It’s quiet, no disruptions and I can actually think.” Even the act of simply jotting down what is on your mind allows your mind to relax. Your idea may be worth pursuing in the morning…or not!
It is important to know where the business is making money and where it is losing and to ensure that resources are allocated accordingly. It is equally vital to stop a project that is not making money and unlikely to do so quickly enough. When we allow stress to dominate our thoughts, we are literally incapable of logical problem-solving. By “doing thinking” (answering what-if questions and facing the problem) and then recording that thinking, we are accessing our ability to really think. A clear-eyed approach to the challenges will help find solutions.
Author: Janet Askew