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10 things they don’t tell you about running a small business

  • Blog
  • 04 August 2016

Whoever the mythical “they” might be, there are some things about running a small business that no one will tell you.

Running a small business can be an incredibly rewarding endeavour. The journey from idea to fruition comes with its own hurdles and you might think that getting your doors, literal or proverbial open, means you’re all set. But there are some things you only find out once you’re on the go.

 10 things they don’t tell you about running a small business

You don’t have to take every job

You might feel, especially at the beginning, that you have to take everything that comes your way to establish yourself and get some much needed income. That’s not strictly true, though. No matter how long you have been in business. The work you do is ultimately up to you. If you genuinely can’t see eye to eye with a customer, or you don’t have a clear slot to take on more work and you’re already wondering how to explain to your significant other that you might not be able to go away for the whole family holiday, then you need to reconsider the value of the work.

If you’re building a new brand, you also need to make sure that your work aligns with your brand values and the image you want to create for your business. Doing something that doesn’t fit with you brand identity can have a negative impact on your business and it isn’t worth risking a solid brand for one job.

You are allowed to turn jobs down. Perhaps you can recommend one of your peers, thereby saving yourself a difficult situation and sending business someone else’s way. Your work has to sit well with your core values, not infringe on other work significantly enough to interfere with quality, and it must never negatively impact on your personal life.

Incredible highs and lows

You expect everything to be rocky sometimes, and you expect to be happy when you score yourself a big contract. But no one ever tells you exactly how intense the emotional roller coaster can be.

You might find yourself at the extreme ends of the emotional scale, from being so happy you are fit to burst, to feeling as if you are never going to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Knocks to your confidence can also weedle their way into your mind only to ambush you later on when you are least prepared for it.

Having a strong support network behind you will help a lot during these emotional extremes. Make sure you maintain close relationships with your family and friends, and you can be sure to count on them when you hit those bumps in the road and when you just want to share your happiness with those who matter.

You will have to work. Hard.

There is famously a theory out there that has something to do with a 4 hour work week. This is an incredibly unlikely scenario, especially when you’re just starting out or when you take on a rally big project.

There really are no shortcuts you will need to put in the hard graft yourself. Unpredictable hours, unforeseen circumstances, good or bad, they all contribute to make running your own business a very hard job.

Make sure you’re prepared for that and get your ducks in a row, ready to deal with any eventuality.

There is no one size fits all plan

This sounds obvious but it bears mentioning anyway: just because it worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for you.

You can follow the exact steps someone else did and you may never achieve the spectacular success they did.

Just like we are all individuals, every business operates under different circumstances. Use great ideas you see implemented by others, but don’t try and base your expectations off what worked for someone else. 

You can change direction

Your first idea isn’t necessarily your best one. You will also realise as the business grows what you are best at.

Focus on what you do exceptionally well, rather than trying to cater to several small niche areas and diluting your efforts at all of them in the process.

You may also come to a point and realize that this isn’t what you want to be doing at all. Your interests and skills change and you suddenly find that you’d rather do something else.

That’s perfectly acceptable. You are allowed to change your mind.

Everything is your problem

Another fairly obvious one but it’s really all your problem. Everything that goes right, and wrong, is up to you to deal with.

Things might happen that you genuinely, despite the best planning in the world, never saw coming.

Even if you don’t have exact specifications, make sure you have a rough idea of what to do and where to go for help and advice if something does go a bit wrong.


It will take longer than you think

It just does. I can start sprinkling round quotes about how everything worth having takes time, but I won’t.

Sometimes you may think that there is just never going to be an end to the hundreds of things you need to do.

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not a resounding success after two weeks or you’re still trying to sort out details on a potential deal. You will get there, but you have to be patient.

Everyone will have some advice for you

Just like when you decide to buy your first car, or when you buy a house or have a baby, you’ll find that when you start a business everyone’s an expert.

Take this with a pinch of salt. Advice from anyone other than someone who does in fact run a very successful business is just that: advice. You definitely don’t have to take on everyone’s contributions.

Early success is luck – you need to keep going

Sometimes you hit the jackpot early on and you imagine that’s how it will always be. And you never know, it just might. You could well be the next big thing.

But don’t feel too bad if that’s not the case. It’s often pure good fortune that leads to an early win. Don’t beat yourself up if that same level of success doesn’t repeat itself again for a while. The important thing is to keep at it, stay consistent and continue to do your best work on every job, big or small.

It’s unpredictable

This is a big one and comes full circle to that rollercoaster ride again. Being in business is an unpredictable old thing. You just never know what’s going to happen next.

Don’t try and have a white-knuckled grip on everything. Some things are just beyond your control, and even if you have an exact system for everything, sometimes things happen that you never saw coming.

Events outside your business can very easily influence how well, or poorly, you’re doing. Learn to roll with the punches and build u some resilience. Being flexible and adaptable means you’ll sustain a lot less damage in stormy times.