Lessons learnt as a Small Business Owner
This week I will be covering some lessons I’ve learnt along the way after a decade of being a Small Business Owner. If you’re a business owner - maybe some you will relate to yourself, or if you’re thinking of taking the plunge, it might just give a few things to bare in mind!
1. Learn to Say “No”
Now this is a tough one, it’s certainly something I still struggle with now. The nature of our work means we are often asked to create pieces that aren’t within our norm. While this is usually one of our favourite things to do, sometimes a request will come through that for one reason or another, I know we can’t take on. It might be tempting - and it’s always horrible having to say no - but ultimately you have to decide what is within your limits and capabilities and ultimately, time. Over the years, we have spent a lot of time designing items requested and then ultimately the sale doesn’t come through. The time spent is sadly wasted and time is precious when you’re running a business - spend it wisely.
2. Organisation is Key
I find organisation is key to not only my business, but my life! I carry around a brown leather diary that contains everything - I write lists, notes, ideas and to-do lists all in my little brown book and it keeps my brain from overflowing and things being forgotten.
Keep your workspace organised - keep the area you work in as neat and tidy as possible, make sure everything has a home and if possible, make it a place you WANT to spend your day. Paint the walls, add some decor, put a TV in there, play your favourite music, anything to make it an enjoyable space.
At the beginning of each day, I make sure I have the “supplies” I need for the days work - my tools, my packing supplies, business cards and stickers - I place them out next to me and then I know I’m good to go!
I keep a stock check of all supplies and ensure stock is ordered before I’m down to the last box.. lots of time has been lost in the past because we have been waiting for delivery of stock (and we all know when you’re desperate, for some reason it takes longer…) don’t let it get to that point - order well in advance.
3. Don’t fear the numbers
Accounting is also something I used to fear in the beginning - was I doing it wrong? It all seemed so complicated. Spoiler alert - it isn’t! These days, there are great online software programmes which allow you to keep track without paying for a Book Keeper (if you’re a bigger business with lots of staff, maybe this would be easier) but for us, this works great. We have a great Accounting Team who do all the filing and sort the PAYE and tax bills but the general accounting and VAT is done by me - keep it up to date, it will save you time later on!
4. Things go wrong - Accept it!
This is another struggle for me. As much as I try to avoid at all costs, ultimately, in every business, things WILL go wrong. Mistakes will be made, items will be lost in the mail, you’ll have an unhappy customer for one reason or another and these are the things that can make having a business too difficult for some people. It’s never nice to have to deal with a complaint or issue - particularly when it’s not directly your fault (hi mail system, yes I’m talking to you…) but ultimately you are the business and therefore it’s your job to fix.
When I was 17, I completed an NVQ in Customer Service - I feel I’m lucky it’s always been something I feel quite comfortable in. If I have made a mistake, I will own up to it completely, apologise profusely and put it right immediately. There’s no point being defensive about an issue that was of your making - take the hit and sort it out.
There’s no denying that some people are just plain unreasonable (or worse, abusive) and I don’t believe you should have to handle that no matter what work position you have. The trouble these days is people have got far too comfortable writing things behind screens (hello social media trolls 👋🏻) that they would NEVER have said to peoples faces and I find sometimes, buyers can be the same way. With the likes of Amazon taking over the world, some people want everything overnight or forget that not all businesses are manufacturing machines without a face. Just a note to anyone (myself included!) when you are dealing with any company, remember there’s a person on the other end of that phone, email, live chat and just keep it kind. Nothing is that awful or serious that justifies being abusive, and a flippant comment can ruin someone else’s whole day.
As tough as it can be, it’s part of business life - luckily, if you’re doing your job right, it won’t happen often and when it does, you have to try to not take it personally, and never send an immediate reply. Let yourself calm down first and then put a balanced response together - never be aggressive but be firm in sticking to your business policies. Rolling over to unreasonable customers just because they’re difficult shows them that that behaviour works and that’s just bad news for everyone…
On the flip side 99.99% of customers are wonderful - if anything crops up, an issue, a delay, something out of your control, communicate it. Be honest, keep them in the loop and it will be appreciated and understood. I love Etsy as a platform as buyers understand items are handmade and have a real appreciation of that. The number of messages I get post dispatch just to thank me for making the item is just amazing - to take the time just to say “thank you” when they really don’t need to, it always makes me smile. When you know you’ve made an item that’s genuinely bought someone joy - there’s nothing like it!
My final point on this list is a big one…
5. Work and Life are Separate
I’ve learnt this more than ever over the last 18 months. I have always been a workaholic (Craig would say a control freak..) and I struggle with switching out of work mode. I’m always thinking of new ideas, or trying not to forget something I have to do and it drives me nuts (even with my little brown book). I have spent many mornings getting to the office at 7am or staying on until gone 10pm. I’ve missed social events and countless bedtimes with my son and ultimately something had to change. I came to realise, as much as I love what I do, work is only one part of life. First and foremost, I’m a Mum, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, an Auntie… and this is what matters most. I now set myself ‘work boundaries’ including dedicated working hours at the office and set admin time to answer emails and messages.
We introduced our “order slots” to keep the workload from becoming overwhelming - now we know how many orders we can produce within our dedicated working hours and we won’t overstretch ourselves beyond this. Overworking can lead to stress and anxiety which are already a lot more common in self-employed people. “You can’t pour from an empty cup” my mum used to say - so now I prioritise keeping that cup as full as can be.
I hope some of these points helped - if you can relate, sometimes it’s just nice to be reminded you’re not alone! If you have any questions, or anything you’d like me to cover further - drop me an email at email@example.com or comment on my Instagram @byvictoriamaxwell