According to FSB, at the start of 2020 there were 5.94 million small businesses (with 0 to 49 employees), in the U.K. I read and hear a lot about business success stories but never enough about the fails. With millions of smes you think we would see more about this. I’ve learnt more about business from my mistakes than my wins – here are a few of my takeaways.
Master of none
I was trying to be all things: HR, new business, engineer, sales & marketing, finance, PR, operations. This is almost manageable when you are a one-woman band, but at the point your team grows exponentially, it’s not. Everything then became reactionary decisions such as working with clients who weren’t pleasant just to get the money in to pay the staff salaries. To steer a business is a full time job in itself. I was taken away from the work I enjoyed and thrown into the deepend of a world I was clueless about.
Takeaway: you don’t need to always hire salaried staff. Use freelance support on retainer to assist with the roles you need assistance with.
Paying for junior support but needing a senior
It took me three failed junior hire instances to realise that I needed to take a pay cut and hire a senior. There is often a pinch point where you are not quite making enough money to feel comfortable with a hire but you need that hire in order to be able to grow.
Takeaway: If you hire a junior assistant your expectations and the pressure on them to be your right-hand person isn’t fair. If you want to become more profitable and to grow, have the confidence to hire with experience. And as an aside, pay fairly, don’t just pay the minimum.
Diversity & inclusion wasn’t a strategic pillar
I saw talking about d&i as something I was passionate about and wanted to support. But I didn’t want to be seen as an activist in this space because I didn’t have the language to support that. Despite having an eye-opening conversation about my white privelege with a friend in 2016, it took until after the civil rights movement following the death of George Floyd for me to really take note that I wasn’t doing enough. We now make sure we are baking d&i into a strategic pillar of our business.
Takeaway: every white business owner should invest in diversity & inclusion training for their own business. I naively thought I could do it in a one-hour coaching session. It’s work. It’s uncomfortable. I’m still learning about how to be a better champion of equality.
Have a bigger purpose
We know from various articles, such as this one on Forbes, that purpose driven companies perform financially better and have better employee relations. However, for five years my goal was an arbitrary financial number with no real meaning or connection behind it.
Takeaway: a life changing experience in 2019 has meant I now want to raise awareness and support other parents of what we have gone through. This is a cause close to my heart and at a company level with my head, we are putting more formal d&i and equality supporting plans into 2021.
As I’m writing this, I’ve realised there are so many more lessons I could share but I would love to hear about yours. If you have a business fail / positive takeaway do let me know in the comments.
Ultimately, I’m not mad about the mistakes. They had to happen for the business to evolve. I’ve also found that sharing my struggles and fails has actually grown my audience and built better connections. Sharing the wins is great but too often they are done without any context of the journey it took to get there – something we actually always include with the fail.