Who is running a small business?

And more importantly what are the biggest mistakes you have made so far?

Tips are more than welcome!

Comments

  • 18 Comments sorted by Date Votes
  • I ran a small studio in Japan for a bit. Mainly recorded indie bands. Biggest mistake was being bad at the business part of it. Loved recording the bands that game through, but had a really hard time billing appropriately for my time, chasing down unpaid bills, sending analog gear in for maintenance, cleaning, keeping track of expenses, etc. Doing what I loved was great until the business stuff got in the way. Sadly wasn’t making enough doing it to bring in a business savy partner, so eventually closed up shop.

  • Sounds like a good experience @DYMS

    The recording studio business is an unbelievably difficult one to make a living from I would imagine. Many of the great ones have had to close the doors over the past few decades.

    The importance of contracts, limits on the number of revisions and some type of deposit before beginning work are things that many people in the field advise.

    Also never send the finished material before the cheque clears...

  • Not run one myself, but have been around plenty who have (including my dad). Biggest mistakes I've seen are:

    • Not paying attention to cashflow.
    • Not factoring in fixed costs when setting prices (amazing how many people manage to set prices so they lose money), or interest payments on debt.
    • Not getting paid by customers.
    • Failing to set aside money for taxes.
    • Inflexibility (what happens during a downtime, not changing the business plan when the current one wasn't working).
    • Dependency on one or two big customers (suddenly your contact leaves, the new guy brings his own person in and you're screwed).

    Then there's the restaurant business where quite frankly I'm amazed anyone makes a living sometimes...

  • I'm running a web design business. No mistakes particularly over the last 15 years, but sometimes the competition becomes a bit more ruthless and underhand than you expect, or the market changes, so it can dent your income for a while.

    My tips: keep your overheads as low as possible, be ready to diversify if you have to, and try and have a revenue stream in place that provides regular cashflow to pay the bills if new work dries up.

  • My wife ran her own art instruction biz from our space. Luckily, I have a regular gig so healthcare and the like was not an issue. The problems were mostly related to the comings and goings of the students - sometimes too few, sometimes too many (though this second was more enviable for obvious reasons). Having a good way to promote the biz was really important. One must always plan for fallow times.

  • Small business owner here (mastering studio). The only real mistake I can think of that I made early on was being so desperate for work that I took on jobs my gut told me I would be better passing on. Due to difficult clients usually, but sometimes it was unrealistic delivery times/goals. It took me a long time to realize that one of the most powerful things about running your own business is that you can tell people no, I don't want to work with you (nicely of course). Would have saved me so many sleepless nights and stress-filled days over working with people who had no idea what they were doing or were downright rude to me for no reason.

    Tips?

    • Treat it like a business, not a hobby you get paid from. Before you buy anything, think "does it REALLY help my business?" or "how long will it take me to recoup this investment?".
    • People will largely use your services because of YOU, not because you have "special gear x,y,z". Don't think you can buy your way into new clients by upgrading your tools.
    • Treat it like a business part 2. Get an accountant to help you set up your bookkeeping properly right from the get go. Apply for any licenses you need to operate as a legitimate business, keep them up to date. PAY YOUR TAXES. Make sure you're not violating any zoning laws where you live. For instance some cities have requirements about where commercial music studios can operate, or their hours.
    • Build your own unique brand and identity, don't try and promote your business based on things that have neccesarily worked for similar businesses in the past. Unique always trumps "me too" when it comes to getting people to associate your brand with quality.
  • Thanks all for the great responses so far :)

    I'm curious if @MonzoPro would be able to help me out. I'm torn between hiring a web designer or using something like squarespace. I would need a solution that allows me to easily add updates and changes to the site with ease?

    I hear you on the gut feeling thing @Tarekith. I have ignored these quite a few times in the past and the outcomes were never good!

  • edited March 10 Vote Up0

    @BlueGreenSpiral said:

    I'm curious if @MonzoPro would be able to help me out. I'm torn between hiring a web designer or using something like squarespace. I would need a solution that allows me to easily add updates and changes to the site with ease?

    It's really down to your budget, and what you want to achieve from the website.

    Squarespace, Wix etc. type 'hosted' solutions are a quick, and initially cheap way of getting a website online. The downside is if you have a problem and want to transfer your website to another host, you can't. You can't download any of your website content or the theme they provide. And if they go offline, or stop trading, you lose everything. And of course your website will look pretty much like everyone else's, but with a few style tweaks. It's also worth checking the small print to see if they charge for 'extras' - remarkably they include email accounts as an extra.

    And of course you have to build the whole thing yourself, so the finished result will be as good as your own design skills. I've seen some atrocious hosted websites.

    In contrast, most freelance designers or companies will build everything for you, with a bespoke design that matches your brand - and if you don't have one they'll create this for you as well, and put all the content on your website for you. They'll have experience of what will appeal most to your target audience, and help you get the best from your website. Speaking personally, we use a content management system that as well as allowing you to update your content and add new pages, provides complete flexibility for future expansion - so if you wanted to add eCommerce, built-in membership system, forum etc. you can do so cheaply and easily. We also give you complete control over your hosting account so you have ownership of all your files and content and can download these at any time.

    If you have a good eye for design, and just want a simple website for personal use, and have a small budget then the hosted systems might work best for you. If it's a company website, or you have future plans to expand the website into something bigger and more complex then I'd recommend getting some quotes from design companies.

    Always worth checking out the prices first and getting quotes anyway - you might find a custom built website works out the same as a hosted system in the long term.

  • edited March 10 Vote Up0

    Thanks for that @MonzoPro

    I do have access to some grants that would cover 80% of costs for certain things. I suppose my main concern is being able to add blog posts, tutorials and downloadable content myself once the site is up and running.

    I would ideally have custom animations and a simple but non confusing interface that stands out a bit from the standard templates. The homepage would be a box where clicking the sides would take the guest to various pages with a slick animated movement.

    I'm wondering what would be a rough estimate of the cost to get something like that online?

  • @BlueGreenSpiral said:
    Thanks for that @MonzoPro

    I do have access to some grants that would cover 80% of costs for certain things. I suppose my main concern is being able to add blog posts, tutorials and downloadable content myself once the site is up and running.

    As long as the website is built around a 'content management system' (e.g. Wordpress via a web company, or the Wix type hosted systems) then you should be able to do this easily.

    Would you sell content, or require log-ins/subscriptions for downloadable content? If that's the case the Squarespace type providers wouldn't be a good option.

    @BlueGreenSpiral said:

    I would ideally have custom animations and a simple but non confusing interface that stands out a bit from the standard templates. The homepage would be a box where clicking the sides would take the guest to various pages with a slick animated movement.

    I'm wondering what would be a rough estimate of the cost to get something like that online?

    Depends on how it's to be animated, if it's a CSS type thing then that would be more compatible with mobile devices, and keep download speeds at a decent rate. Personally I advise clients to keep to a standard navigational system as this works better for search engine indexing, and doesn't confront visitors with an unusual UI.

    Years ago I was brought in to redesign a website for a well known computer company. For part of this I replaced their graphical, animated menu with simple CSS HTML text and as a result hits went up, and their sales multiplied by 8x.

    I'd also advise against home 'splash' pages. For SEO and indexing I recommend getting as much relevant content and keywords on the home page as possible, with 'teaser' boxes to introduce and link to sections inside the site. Splash pages might work great for big brands or companies that have a budget for promotion, but for individuals and small companies, you want the search engines to pick up your website as quickly as possible.

  • Thanks for the helpful advice! @MonzoPro
    I will need to think about this carefully...

  • A lot of people get into running a business because they are good at something or have an interest in something, but that is only half the story. Have a business plan that sets stretching but realistic targets, be clear how you will market your services and win new clients. At least half your time will probably be devoted to sales and marketing, rather than doing the job. And cash flow is critical - have a system to chase up debts and don’t be afraid to get tough with difficult clients when you need to. It can also be very satisfying, occasionally exillerating! And having been your own boss, most people are reluctant to work for someone else again. Oh I ran my own business for 15 years before taking early retirement last year, although I still earn from a sideline hobby.

  • Spending more than I had to as "investment" into venture, when it really created more stress to pay back.

    So, use minimal tools(like anything) from tools, labor, hardware, supplies, parts, advertising.....

    Maximize about with Skelton Crew approach.

    Also, be sure to use "soft openings" for events and venue based ventures. Get the issues taken care of first.

    You know like apps that aren't ready to be released but are.....applies to all.

    I guess many are also industry specific so common sense is best.

    No shortcuts. You always lose in the end. I know.

  • I've run a number of operations down the years and the one commandment I've ended up basing what we do now on is: Work with and for nice people. In a somewhat related matter it took me a long time to come to realize that the 'Wish, Want, Walk' method of general negotiation is applicable to all businesses. I am not a follower of 'self help' cults, fads or doctrines, but this guy outlines the general idea well:

    https://www.amazon.com/Fearless-Negotiating-Michael-C-Donaldson/dp/1259584801/ref=mt_paperback?encoding=UTF8&me=&dpID=51YpECiyElL&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70&dpSrc=detail

    Essentially when I came across this I recognized it was espousing what I had had to learn (slowly) over a long time. Wish I had just read his codified thoughts earlier. It's not perfect, but the essence is very helpful.

  • I went out of business last year and am back to being a satellite comms tech. The business was an in-home care franchise. Several factors went into my decision to close the business...

    • I hadn't fully understood the difficulties in dealing with regulatory agencies.
    • I didn't have enough money to ride out the time frame for a new business to take off (I closed after a little after three years....and who knows when that magic break-even date can occur.)
    • I should have hired someone for the marketing since that was my weak spot.
    • I hadn't anticipated some of the difficulties in dealing with employees (I had been a manager before, but being an owner requires more in-depth knowledge of labor laws.)
    • I liked the concept of helping families out in caring for their loved ones, but the day to day (financials, legal, HR, regulatory, etc.) left me unmotivated, and once interest waned, it was just a matter of time.

    Hope that helps. For me, at the end of the day, I'm quite happy to be a worker bee once again. The stress of running a business, particularly if the revenue stream is inadequate, took its toll on me.

  • Wordpress is really easy to get started with if you want to blog and whatnot. Lots of tutorials and things to get you started, and a lot of pre-made themes out there that make it even easier. I found mine on themeforest.com.

  • @Tarekith said:
    Wordpress is really easy to get started with if you want to blog and whatnot. Lots of tutorials and things to get you started, and a lot of pre-made themes out there that make it even easier. I found mine on themeforest.com.

    The downside with that is when devs abandon themes. A few keep them updated for years, but many abandon them or replace them with new products.

    I’ve had loads and loads of enquiries from potential clients with broken websites, due to themes being abandoned, and one had lost a serious amount of money when the out of date ecommerce theme they were using was hacked.

    I wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole, and they’re not that cheap these days either. You’d be better off with the official free ones or get something with regular support.

  • That book looks like a good one, thanks for the recommendation @JohnnyGoodyear

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