Small Business Saturday - What Is It Actually Like Running A Small Business?
Small Business Saturday is here again, and with it, we get to see the amazing work of hundreds of small businesses across the UK. It is always a humbling day for me, serving as a reminder of just how many talented people there are running fantastic small businesses on this little island of ours. It also gives me the chance to reflect on my own journey as a small business owner and take stock of what is important, what I have learnt and how far I have come. So today I'm going to share this reflection with you, as well as some insight from our many small business owners.
Being in business is hard
It's really hard. It is all consuming, exhausting, challenging and some days, outright hellish! But it is also thrilling, fun, rewarding and exciting. Being able to create something, an entity outside of yourself but encompassing your whole self too, that exists in the world is a truly privileged position to be in, and one that most people don't get to experience. So for any of you who have just started your journey into business ownership, or for the more seasoned pros of you out there, I have this message: it is ok to say that it is hard, you don't have to pretend that everything is all rosy, all of the time.
Now, this isn't always easy. Social media would have you believe that running a business is super glamorous, relatively easy and that you'll be a success within a matter of weeks/months. When you're surrounded by these misleading messages, posts and articles, it can be disheartening when your business doesn't take off straight away. The reality, for most people, is very different to what the course sellers would have you believe. I wake every week day at 4am to work for 3 hours while my family sleep, before getting my son ready for school and then myself going off to work in my 'proper job'. I then come home and work some more. I work weekends, I work holidays, I work in the two minutes while I'm brushing my teeth in a morning and on a night while I should be sleeping. For most small business owners, this is their reality. Their work is 24/7 and many have others jobs that they do whilst trying to launch or maintain their business. You see the glossy website and cheery social media posts, but behind this is probably a very tired, multi-tasking, wonderfully talented someone who's trying to make their business work.
So why do we do it?
The answer is simple: we want something more. We want to create something different, we want something other than the 9-5, we want the freedom to live our lives as we wish, we want to do something useful, be helpful, give something back or perhaps we're just a little bit crazy! Being in business can be amazing and for all the hard work, late nights and early mornings, there are times of pure joy and exhilaration. When you sell something, when your post gets featured somewhere amazing, when Lena Headey hearts your item on Instagram, those moments are what keep you going.
So is there hope for our small business owners?
Abso-ruddy-lutely! I know not everyone who owns a small business will have had the same experiences as me, but I do know a hell of a lot of small business owners (just call me lucky), and I know how hard they work. I also know how hard it is for them to get their voices heard above the multi million pound businesses who often drown them out with money. But, despite this, I am ever hopeful. I am hopeful that more people are seeing the benefit of shopping indie and supporting small businesses. Getting great customer service, unique items, care and attention, great value for money and amazing quality, amongst other things, are just a few of the benefits. The UK population seem to be wanting more from their consumer goods and services, and instead of looking to grab a bargain at a human cost, they are looking for provenience. They want to know that someone has taken time and care over their item or their service and that actually, this is something truly valuable in the throwaway world that we have been living in. This gives us small business owners an opportunity. An opportunity to appeal to people, showing them what makes us good at what we do. And yes, we don't have millions of pounds to do a John Lewis style Christmas ad or dominate everyone's Facebook walls but we have something, that in my opinion, is better - word of mouth.
Give your customers good services, great products and something a bit different and they will tell people. This lovely set of recommendations is priceless as it is free, it's caused by something you're doing already and it's potentially never ending. So if you own a business, get out there, do what you do, be amazing, get involved and let people talk about you. Don't worry about the competition or what other people are doing, just focus on getting your own shit right and everything will fall into place.
So this is my call to action
As a consumer, join the #shopindie movement and make a conscious effort to support those independent businesses who are so reliant on your custom. Buy your meat from the local butchers and veg at the local green grocers rather than giving your hard earned cash to Asda, Sainsburys or Tescos (who lets face it, have more than enough!). Don't buy your clothes from Primark or other highstreet shops that use unethical means to bring you cheap clothing, shop handmade and get clothes that will last and look amazing. Rather than getting a gift from Amazon (who don't like paying tax here in the UK) spend your money with indie business and get something bespoke or personalised for someone you love (blatant plug here!) from the UK's best indie online marketplace, And so to Shop.
As a business owner, keep your nerve, trust your gut, be tenacious and be kind. Good things come to those who wait (and who put in a shit load of time and effort). As long as your idea is good and your product/service gives value you can be successful but it does take time, hard work and a little bit of luck.
To finish off, here are a few best and worst bits of running a small business from some of our very lovely suppliers:
Best - working from home in your jarmas
Worst - it can get pretty lonely
Best - you're building your dream instead of someone else's
Worst - but your also doing the work of 10-20 other job descriptions, exhausting trying to keep up!
Best - flexibility and pride in your achievements
Worst - loneliness and struggling to switch off when working from home
Best - super flexibility and loving what you do for the people you do it for
Worst - Financial worries when you do it full time
Best - love the flexibility of working around school runs, learning new skills, making new friends - achievement when it all goes well
Worst - never switching off, late nights working, sometimes having to learn things I hate (accounts 😩😩) working at home alone
Best - doing what I love and feeling proud of it as well as flexibility with two young daughters
Worst - the pressure of managing it against already demanding full time events consultant job so inevitable late nights and weekends!
Best - being my own boss. You get to enjoy 100% job satisfaction. Flexibility to spend time with my family is ace and meeting amazing new couples every week. I am wedding crazy, so the number one best thing about my job, is going to so many awesome weddings.
Worst - financial uncertainty and not switching off from work mode enough
Worst - working 18 hours a day, seven days a week.
Best - choosing which 18 hours of the day you would like to work!!
Best - you tell yourself when you can have a tea break.
Worst - you never actually remember to have a tea break
Best - seeing your dream become a reality and knowing it’s your own hard work and dedication that got you there
Worst - not being able to switch off and forget about ‘work’ at 5pm
Best - the feeling of accomplishment of building and running a business from scratch. Seeing it grow month by month is so satisfying.
Worst - if you aren't careful, it can be incredibly isolating and lonely.
Best - knowing that you are providing for your future and not somebody else’s along with how people really appreciate the hard work that you put in.
Worst - spending time away from family whilst trying to build said business
Best - being able to express your creative talent in a job you enjoy and sharing your achievements with a fantastic support network!
Worst - still having to work a full time job to support my business when all I really want to do is quit!
Best - choosing what I do everyday and not following a timetable anymore! Meeting fabulous people and couples and then making their day lovely.
Worst - those brown envelopes that come through the letterbox 🙈
Best - feeling genuinely passionate about my business and the will to keep learning and growing. Meeting so many like minded business owners who love what they do.
Worst - working full time alongside my own business! It definitely has its perks but also means I am limited on how much I can get done. I feel very strongly about having a healthy work-life balance so try really hard to have a break whenever I can, even if it does make me feel guilty at times xx
If you're looking for a supportive community of small business owners in the UK, you've found it - join The Cafe to engage with other entrepreneurs, be supported, be challenged, access opportunities and grow your business.