What Do Small Businesses Struggle With?

Eric on the second pitchEvery small business has struggles – some early on, some during growth, others just pop up here and there. You should know that you’re not alone, whether you are an entrepreneur or run a small business, there are others out there facing the same things you are going through. I sent out a query asking what struggles were or are being faced and the response was astounding – hundreds of emails flooded in with voices wanting to be heard. As you’re reading these examples, please keep the Small Businesses Do It Better community in mind – each Tuesday evening during the live show, all sorts of entrepreneurs chat and network with one another, and many connections turn into business collaborations. We are all here to help each other learn and grow!

Attracting Customers

I think we share the same “largest struggle” with all businesses: to attract a constant new customers/clients that can and will pay for our services/products. Of course every small business has to address this challenge in different ways to carve out a niche that serves their purpose. We have this done through creating a message unique to our firm and targeting that message to our ideal clients using different media which ranges from direct mail to the internet. But, above all else we constantly remind ourselves not to confuse the services we deliver with the business we are in, marketing our legal services.
-Damon Pendleton, Esq., www.VirginiasInjuryLawyers.com

I guess the biggest struggle that we’ve encountered and are still dealing with is attracting customers. The online marketplace is highly competitive and it’s tough to stand out in the crowd. We dabbled in cost-per-click ads, but they’ve shown to be unreliable and not worth the cost for us. So we focused a lot of our time on SEO and climbing the SERPs. It’s been a slow process, but as we continue to work on it, we continue to see improvement on our rankings and number of customers on our site. This is not a unique problem to small business, everybody wants more customers. But when you are just starting out, it’s incredibly hard to get noticed and show that you’re credible.
-Chris Terrazas, www.DerbyBaseball.com


Wearing Multiple “Hats”

One of the greatest struggles of the small business owner is finding the way to ‘do it all’. As small business owners we wear many hats throughout the day from administration to production and most of us probably also spend time as the maintenance staff. With all these different areas pulling for our attention it gets really tricky to have enough time left in the day for the actual ‘work’ involved. For me, this was a huge time sink and still continues to be an issue even with a growing support staff. Finding the time to answer emails, handle paperwork and then still have enough energy left over at the end of the day to knock out my own list of design tasks for me personally was and still is from time to time a hurdle. To overcome we continue to add new staff as business increases and look for opportunities to grow and fulfill our clients needs more efficiently without wearing ourselves out.
-JP Jones, www.Collipsis.com

Marketing

My biggest struggle is keeping up with the rules, regulations and best practices of search engine optimization. This is made harder because Google rarely gives absolutes as to what it is changing in their algorithm. I read about an hour each day trying to stay abreast of the newest trick or tip. I try and see which products to buy from so-called gurus. And although I would say I know a decent amount about search engine marketing, I am not tech savvy whatsoever. So then, I have to find someone to implement my changes while not upsetting my current rankings. It is a balancing act that can be maddening. I love it though since I do not have to spend much money on marketing, just a lot of time.
-Todd Hutcheson, www.ibuyhomes.com

Even being in business for 10 years on the internet, there is always a continual struggle to keep our keywords ranking in the search engines. Currently we are struggling with Google to keep our page one rankings because Google now ranks “big box” retailers with larger advertising budgets above the smaller “mom & pop” stores. While we have a unique and tailored product selection, excellent customer service and a website dedicated to just a certain niche, the search engines just see larger branded names as more authority – even though we can offer something to customers that bigger stores can’t – personalized service and competitive pricing. These days it is more difficult for small businesses to compete on the web. We once were driven off of Main Street USA by “big box” companies and now we are being bullied off the internet “main street” too by these companies.
-Erica Tevis, www.littlethingsfavors.com

Visibility

The single largest struggle for us has been visibility. As a small online business, we don’t have enough resources to devote to social media, website content development, and search engine optimization. But without it, your business is literally invisible. Not only will you lose current customers who are engaging with your competitors online, but you lose potential customers who can’t find you. Small businesses that can’t afford to hire search engine optimization marketers or writers, literally have to learn how to code and write compelling content themselves.
-Natasa Lekic, www.nybookeditors.com

Finances

We have many financial challenges being a small business and living in one of the most expensive counties in the country. Our largest struggle by far is paying our payroll taxes and not being able to afford health insurance. We, the owners, often take less pay ourselves to be sure we have enough revenue to pay our payroll taxes. During the 20+ years we’ve been in business, we raised our 5 children without health insurance, it was scary to say the least.
-Bj Wallace, www.codybj.com


 

Saying No

As a small business, it’s important to know your process and what customers and clients are a great fit for your business. A challenge we’ve faced is saying no to certain leads coming in because they aren’t a fit for our business model. When you’re growing, leads and customers are the heartbeat of your business and you need them to keep your doors open. But you can cripple your business and your reputation if you take on customers you can’t get results for or are going to be so incredibly high maintenance that your other clients suffer. Walking away from revenue in order to respect our business model and limitations as a small company has been challenging.
-Guillermo Ortiz, www.geekpoweredstudios.com

Manufacturing

Currently our products are being made in China but we really want to bring manufacturing to the US as part of our business strategy. We have found that the biggest struggle is finding a manufacturer in the United States. We have reached out to several places and we are ignored. Several places have given us a runaround. We even left all of the components to make a sample with one manufacturer and 4 months later, we still don’t have a sample. I find it fascinating that we, as a culture, speak about bring jobs back to the US but a small entrepreneur has such a hard time finding a company with whom to work.
-Reina Smith, www.myflyingbuttress.com

Rejection

My greatest challenge as the self-funded founder was not letting a “no” get me down personally. We initially had huge success, re-orders were slower and some hospitals told me that they would not re-order without an explanation. I took this rejection home with me. I should have left it at the warehouse. I am a successful physician, devoted parent, wife and daughter, yet I let those “no’s” make me feel like a failure. In all cases, the hospitals came around and eventually did re-order, but I took it personally. My co-workers would try to convince me otherwise, but it’s very hard to have your idea, your baby, shot down when you start out. Every sale and relationship is vital to the success of the company, I just should not have let it make me feel like a personal failure early on.
-Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, MD, MPH, www.bfflco.com

Delegating

Without question, the single greatest struggle for me has been learning how to delegate effectively and trusting those around me to do the job right. The old cliche “if you want something done right, do it yourself” has haunted me and, in many ways, has held back the growth of my business. I’ve discovered that this type of perfectionism is more about ego and less about getting the job done than anything else. “Perfect is the enemy of good” is a proverb that I’ve tried to adopt in learning to delegate effectively and it has served me relatively well. “Trust but verify” is another motto that I’ve taken to heart that’s also fitting for learning how to delegate properly.
Bill Hazelton, CreditCardAssist.com

Networking

When it comes to struggle, I would say the biggest is the temptation and ease of staying behind a PC and doing things electronically, which sometimes keeps me from going out and meeting people. Face-to-face networking and speaking to groups create such valuable relationships quickly that they can really pay off. But the temptation of sending emails and newsletters, posting on facebook and twitter etc. can make it feel like we’re staying in touch, even if it’s more of a periphery level. The best things happen in my business when I’m right there with people.
-John Rasiej, www.speaklouderthanwords.com

Sales

I would say that the biggest struggle with running a small business is sales. It is an exceptionally crowded market place, and you are battling for someone’s time. You may have the most amazing product imaginable, but you will still have to fight for your customer’s attention and time. If you aren’t successful, then you will have the most beautiful hobby product of all time. People think the hardest thing is to make stuff, whereas the hardest thing is to sell it.
-Nathan Kaiser, www.2barspirits.com

Advertising

My #1 problem as a small business is the cost of advertising. I make specialty pet products, but when I go to advertise, even in lower circulation pet related magazines or websites, the prices are set for corporate giants. Lower cost advertising such as small banner ads or classifieds, yield virtually no results. Even with Google Adwords, the cost per click on certain keywords is out of range for someone with a limited budget but it, and to a lesser degree yahoo/bing, are the only affordable advertising solutions. The good news is that my customers are willing to help. Many have help spread the word and even placed my business cards at their vets or other dog related locations.
-Gary Castelle, www.SillShield.com


Finding The Right Employees

As a high tech startup with limited startup capital, it is not simple to find qualified talent willing to join with no guarantee of future success. Even when candidates are professionally capable, I don’t allow people with egos or chips on their shoulder to join, which severely limits the pool of candidates. Trust too, is a major factor, as it’s difficult to protect intellectual property even with binding NDAs and confidentiality agreements. I’m happy to say though, that will power is a significant tool that all entrepreneurs need. With enough time, dedication and will, it is possible to overcome this hurdle, as we continue to do.
-Joshua Weiss, www.teliapp.com

People capital is by far the most difficult issue we deal with on a daily basis. Finding, keeping, and developing people drives a large portion of my time. Most small businesses have limited resources which creates difficulty in finding the type of talented folks you need to grow your business. As an owner with a penchant for developing leaders and future owners of their own business I struggle with this daily. Finding driven, hardworking, self-starters that understand starting at the bottom and working to the top prepares you for success is difficult at best. We’ve utilized all the normal avenues to no avail. We are now focusing our attention on specialty niches; for example advertising in a parents magazine in our local market. “We are looking for future owners” is our sales pitch. Given that unemployment in our market is still very high you would think finding these driven associates (future owners) would be as easy as picking daisies…not if you are selective, not if you want talented folks that will work hard, and not if you don’t have a penchant for marketing to your audience.
-Lawrence D Rickman, www.dream2clean.com

The hardest challenge we face is finding talent that performs to our standards. Different generations have different work ethic. At 55 years old, I was raised much differently than most employees that I hire who are often a few decades younger. I have to recognize that the work ethics and standards I have coming from my generation are different than theirs. Our entitlement culture has made it harder to find people with incredible work ethic. Keeping this in mind, I hire for work ethic over skill. I can teach a skill, I can’t change your work ethic. Someone who is willing to work hard is more valuable than someone with great skill who isn’t ready to hustle.
-Richard Ramos, www.greenenergyofsa.com

Being Open to Change

The biggest challenge we are experiencing as being new business owners is being open to change – As a business owner, I tend to be stubborn and unlikely to change our business structure if things are going well. It’s important to remember that there is always room for improvement and grow your business. We spent countless hours over the last year designing new products and designs to our portfolio. We recently decided to add size variations to all of our products, we can offer our products at half of the current price which will appeal to a larger audience.
– Ron Eiger, www.sunnydecals.com

Gaining Traction

A lot of times you read about how to go about getting new customers and getting the word out, but the reality is that it’s incredibly hard to get users to flock to your site and stick. The only way to overcome this challenge is to stick with it and grit it out, day in and day out. You always hear about the “overnight success” of a lot of businesses, but what most people don’t see is the years of behind the scenes blood, sweat, and tears that go into pushing a business to that single point in time.
-Steve Duffy, www.listhere.com

There you have it! Does your business face struggles or, what hurdles did you have to get over to be where you’re at now?
Carissa DunphyCarissa Dunphy, Director at Small Businesses Do It Better, is very passionate about supporting small businesses, providing valuable resources and sharing her knowledge about entrepreneurship.
Image courtesy Tristan Higbee

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5 Comments

  1. Really great insight and I really appreciate the sharing of other business owners. It makes doing the work not feel like you’re alone.

  2. Thanks for this great compendium of challenges. Two things come to mind: 1)To deal with any of these challenges, find a small business service provider. Having run a small business for 18 years, and worked for Fortune 10’s as well, the small guys frequently possess more current value than the older, more staid service folks. Grow together and truly create the partnership you both need. 2)I am a really firm believer in crafting a comprehensive and realistic business plan. Yeah, yeah, I know your eyes just glazed over, but having done multiple plans (business acquisitions, capitol projects, etc.), you find yourself getting to a certain point and saying, “….oh yeah, how AM I going to deal with that…?” First, you answer the question for yourself. Secondly, if a bank or other money source asks that question, you can smoothly come through with a plausible answer!

  3. I’ll take it from another perspective, small business marketing issues.

    Here’s a list that maybe standing in the way of better planning, measurement, integration, and bottom-line results for your strategic social business plans?

    – Not enough time. A lack of time is the number-one issue for small businesses. This is just one more thing these people have to do, and they are probably already wearing several hats. Most small companies are not going to hire someone just to do this. Many small businesses are going to hit a wall, if not already, because they just do not have the time for social strategy.

    – Too many social sites. The time issue is compounded as the number of social platforms continues growing. Facebook still leads the pack of social sites used by small businesses. However, what about Yelp, Foursquare, etc…Many small businesses are confused about which strategies and sites make sense for their business.
    Too tough to measure. Small businesses are unable to accurately measure the value of our social media.

    – Right tools and services. There is indeed an emerging menu of social monitoring and management tools. However, are they the right tools? Moreover, small businesses are not likely to deploy a command-center approach that involves myriad tools and services operating simultaneously. They need something deployed in a single, easy-to-use format for all of their social activities, including metrics.

    – Confusing customer sentiment. Small businesses have a tough time understanding–much less acting on–more nuanced feedback from the social universe. Even complaints can take various forms, and there is no simple formula for handling all of them. What business owners say is, I see this information swirling around on these social networks, but I cannot really figure out what it means.

  4. Hi Carissa and all contributers

    I found your article very interesting. It’s quite a task to cover everything that a small business may struggle with but you have certainly touched on a great many of these problem areas.
    I agree with your placing of attracting customers at the top of the list but for me number two is a problem that spreads itself accross just about everything that the small business owner has to handle.

    Even if a business employs thirty people, should they all be manual workers or unable to contribute any specialised knowlege to the business, the owner will find himself trying to do everything and be an experet in all subjects.

    I can remember in the early years of my business ( now 15 years old ) when I knew that the answer was to delegate and to outsource but unfortunately there was no one to delegate to and no money for outsourcing.

    The one thing that is different now from when I started is the emergence of websites who will put you in touch with people who will do a lot of this work for you and for a very low price. Following on from Fiverr in the states there are now several Uk based companies, such as Fourerr, Fivess and Fiverbid, who will get peolpe to bid for your work for under £5.

    So don’t struggle with things that can be done by others, save yourself for the big stuff.

    Once again thanks for the intersesting article and the collection of thoughts from those in the know.
    Brian Gregory recently posted..VAT Changes and VATMOSS Cripple Small BusinessesMy Profile

  5. Damn true, we all do face such challenges and struggle with many problems especially during the first step towards our business when we are just beginners. Really helpful article it was, mainly the contribution by other business owners puts an impact.

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