A staggering number of small businesses fail within the first few years of operation. According to Bloomberg, this figure is as high as eight out of 10, meaning that the success rate for entrepreneurs is as low as 20%! The immediate cause of most small business failure is poor cash flow, but the cracks usually appear much earlier. These cracks include being out of touch with customers, poor market differentiation, lack of market exposure or ineffective communication about points of difference, non-competitively priced products and services, leadership breakdown, and unhealthy organisational culture. In some cases small business managers lose control of their outgoings or try to grow the business too quickly. Ultimately, most small organisations are run by a single director or a modest management team whose communication skills and personal levels of motivation, commitment, energy and resilience are closely correlated with the overall success of the business.
Drawing from our 17 years of experience in running a successful online transcription business at TTP, we’d like to share some ideas with you for ways that small business managers can maintain their enthusiasm and motivation on a day-to-day basis, to ensure the longevity of their business:
One of the most important keys to survival includes building a supportive and collaborative network of business contacts and mentors. Keeping in touch with experienced and motivational people in your industry can help to inspire you and keep you sane when times are tough. At TTP we enjoy attending workshops and professional networking events run by savvy organisations such as Business Chicks and Business Network International (BNI), who are passionate about promoting and inspiring women in business.
2. Maintain a daily routine
Make a personal commitment to start and finish work at a regular time to ensure that you are not blurring the lines between work and home life. This is particularly important for those who are working from a virtual office at home. Setting boundaries and maintaining work/life balance is critical to longevity, and the avoidance of burnout.
3. Ensure that you are being productive, rather than mindlessly busy
Managers who become ineffective or ‘mindlessly busy’ are likely to develop a general sense of powerlessness, which is an immediate red flag that things are veering off course. In contrast, those who are confident they are taking even small steps each day towards their goals are much more likely to remain motivated and on-task. A sense of forward momentum is crucial to survival.
One simple and practical idea you can adopt to promote productivity is to write a daily ‘To do’ list of important tasks, and to tick those off as you complete them. Not only does this type of list help you to organise and prioritise your work, it also provides a visual way to track progress. There is nothing like the sense of achievement gained by crossing things off as they are completed!
4. Take regular breaks throughout the day
Although you will often be run off your feet, don’t forget to eat lunch away from your desk or go for an occasional short walk to clear your head. Besides keeping your brain active, regular movement will prevent a raft of physical illnesses that can result from remaining sedentary for hours on end. Remember to stand up from your desk and move around your office or home every half hour if possible. Another idea is to buy a height-adjustable desk that allows you to work in a standing position, actively discouraging you from spending long periods of time sitting still.
5. Schedule at least one non-work day a week
Ensure that you take a complete break from work at least one day a week to give your mind and body a chance to recharge. Without this you’ll find yourself losing perspective and motivation. Remember to plan some holidays throughout the year too. Scheduling time for breaks can seem impossible to do when you are the manager of a small business with limited human resources, however time away is imperative to both your own mental health and the resilience of your business.
6. Take time for family and friends, and to nurture yourself
Small business owners often concentrate so intensely on their business that they neglect their own personal needs and forget to adequately prioritise family time, which can have devastating outcomes. Be sure to attend to your own social, physical and mental health needs, as well as those of your loved ones. Treat yourself to relaxing activities such as a regular massage or day spa to pamper yourself, and make sure that you reward yourself for hard work/achievement of goals. Similarly, ensure that you prioritise regular quality time with your family and friends, to maintain a healthy balance.
7. Remain grounded but optimistic about the future
Try to maintain a positive view of yourself and your business, even in the face of setbacks. During a particularly rough patch it may help to write a short summary of things that you have recently achieved (no matter how small), to remind yourself of your progress. You might also write a list of positive attributes about the company or about yourself, and keep these in view. Some people find motivational quotes and sayings of value. These can even be framed and positioned in a prominent place on your work space. When things are really tough try writing down three things in life you are really grateful for, or even one good thing that has happened today. A great idea is to have a reciprocal arrangement with a colleague or mentor to ask you about something positive that has happened either personally or professionally each day. Keeping things in perspective is a core component of resilience.
8. Seek opportunities for self-growth and learning
It’s important to keep your mind active and motivate yourself by learning something new each day. Consider scheduling an hour or two per week to attend a business-related course where you can learn new skills and expand your horizons. If you don’t have time to attend a physical classroom, completing an online course is always an option. By fostering self-development and personal growth you will avoid a sense of stagnation or boredom, as well as stimulating creativity and new ideas for your business.
9. Demonstrate flexibility
Be agile and tackle change head on, rather than shying away from it. Being flexible about your business and willing to pursue new ideas and directions is critical to your survival, especially if something you are doing isn’t working, or if market conditions change. You need to ensure that your products and services remain relevant and valuable to customers in our fast-paced world. At TTP we are about to launch our new ‘BlogSpeak’ service, in response to feedback from customers seeking a transcription service for dictated blog content. As a small business we believe it is vital to be responsive to our customers’ needs and to remain dynamic!
10. Learn to control the things you can, and let go of those you can’t
There are many things that we have some control over in our lives and others that we cannot influence at all, or have only a limited ability to change. It’s more productive to focus on aspects of the workplace that you can improve, and accept that there are other factors such as external market conditions that you cannot alter. Once you identify and account for these, you will feel a sense of peace. Letting go is sometimes easier said than done, but it will allow you to focus your energy much more productively on concrete tasks.
There are many things you can do to foster workplace resilience. These include networking, maintaining a daily routine, being productive rather than ‘busy’, taking regular breaks, keeping in touch with friends and family, nurturing yourself, remaining grounded but optimistic, seeking opportunities for self-development, and being flexible. Learning to take control of the things you can change and let go of those you can’t is also a core aspect of resilience. By remembering to look after your own physical and mental health you will be able to effectively contribute to the success of your organisation over the long term.