How to Overcome the Challenges of Starting a Small Business

Written by Binfeng Zhang

Starting a new business is one of the most rewarding yet terrifying adventures you can embark upon. You may have a final destination in mind, but the journey largely remains unknown, despite your best efforts to write up a business plan or draw a mind map.

Don’t get me wrong; these are still very much worth doing because as you get caught up in the day to day tasks, you can lose sight of your original vision and the big picture.

Most statistics say something along the lines of “90% of startups fail in their first year”, and while these are not to be ignored, they should be taken with a grain of salt.

I recall the first day I walked into my newly rented office and sat down thinking “Where am I going to get my clients from and how can I possibly deliver good quality service”. These were my two biggest fears, and the latter question is particularly important because clients are often lost due to poor service, and in the migration industry, unintentional incorrect advice can have drastic outcomes for the client’s future.

Servicing your clients well and building them up as advocates for your business will ensure the growth of your business. Servicing them well not only means that you are diligent in doing what they have paid for but rather you treat the clients as a relationship rather than simply an arms-length transaction. Dealing in relational currency is far more rewarding than financial currency.

In this blog post, I hope to share with you three key lessons I have learnt and how they have helped the business grow annually.

Get a Mentor to Fast-Track Your Personal and Professional Development

It would be unrealistic to assume you have the time or resources to commit every mistake your predecessors made and learn from each one of them. Mentors have the ability to fast-track your personal and professional development without making all the mistakes and provide an unbiased perspective because they are not emotionally attached to your business.

There are many facets to your business, so do not limit yourself to a single mentor and seek those who are experts in the areas in which you are weakest. My first mentor was someone who had 15 years’ experience in the migration industry who showed me how to resolve complex visa issues.

My second mentor was an accountant who helped me to understand the financial side of the business. Both mentors were found using the more conventional methods of networking and introductions from personal relationships.

I then took on 400 mentors overnight because I was exposed to something called peer-to-peer mentoring. This unconventional method of mentoring was through a Facebook group comprised of peers in the same industry who have a desire to uphold the reputation of the industry by mentoring one another and sharing their learnings. Two-way participation is required, which means you not only receive mentoring, but you also become a mentor by sharing your learnings with the group.

While there is no commitment to share anything, often you learn more through sharing. Simply make a list of all the facets of your business which may require mentors and begin exploring both conventional and unconventional methods of mentoring to help your business grow. Be creative.

Adopt a Culture of Learning: View “Failures” as “Learning Opportunities”

In a book called Blackbox Thinking author Matthew Syed challenges organisations to build a culture which encourages the reporting of failures for the purposes of learning and improving. The airline industry and the medical profession were used as two contrasting examples of how the culture of a company or industry can directly influence the quality of the service experience by their customers – in this case fatality rates were used as the comparison.

Syed further highlighted that failures sparked innovation but only if the business culture was conducive to this. The founder of Dyson created over 1500 prototypes of the household vacuum cleaner we have today before it was released for sale. You can either view that as 1500 failures or 1500 opportunities to learn.

One of the main barriers for companies learning from its mistakes comes down to key personnel within the business, viewing failure as an indictment on their ability to perform their role effectively. This results in what is commonly known as the “blame game”, whereby everything else is identified to be at fault except for the person who committed it. Consequently, the mistake is never analysed, and the organisation’s growth is either being stunted or backslides.

The perspective to adopt here would be to view “failures” as “learning opportunities” and remove the negative stigma associated with it. Encourage your employees to report mistakes, engage them in the learning process and empower them to implement the changes.

Take the Time to Stop, Reflect and Re-Evaluate

Starting a business can be a rather glamourous idea, especially when you can tell others that you are your own boss and work the hours you want. The reality is you are your own boss and you can work the hours you want but additionally you are your own hardest working employee and you work much longer hours than the standard 9am to 5pm.

Entrepreneurs or small business owners experience burn-out after the first 12 months because the reality of the business did not match their ideal. They never envisaged it would be so difficult to get clients, or that it would take more than 12 months to pay themselves a decent wage. All these unknowns and disappointments can create stresses and pressures in your personal life, which through careful planning, can be mitigated, managed and minimised.

If you haven’t yet started a business or are at cross-roads in your business, it is a good time to stop, reflect and re-evaluate. There are a number of aspects of your life and business you can evaluate, but for today you can take 3 simple steps:

  1. Evaluate your expenses and savings – list all your savings and monthly expenses. This will give you a clear picture of how long you can sustain your lifestyle if you are not drawing an income from the business.
  2. Review your business plan. If you do not have one, then write one immediately, with many templates available on the internet. The business plan does not need to be long but it should try and answer the following:
    1. What is your vision for the business?
    2. What is the problem/need you are trying to solve?
    3. What is your unique selling proposition?
  3. Define your exit strategy. Persistence is a highly valued trait, however the wisdom to know when to exit the business is priceless. Set yourself very specific markers to determine when you should exit the business or conversely set yourself goals which acts as indicators of whether you should continue the business.

Starting your own business doesn’t need to be full of too many challenges when you are aware of a few simple strategies to keep your business on track. Never forget to value the importance of mentoring and networking, to continually keep learning and finally to re-evaluate and monitor the development of your business. Good luck!

If you’re still looking for a business idea try this: 5 Small Business Ideas with Low Investments.

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About the author

Binfeng Zhang

Binfeng Zhang is a Director of Affinity Migration Group and a Registered Migration Agent. His strength is in helping SME with employer sponsored visas, skilled migration visas, business investor visas and overcoming challenges in small businesses.