Solving Startup and Small Business Pain Points

In the UK, as of 2016 there were close to five and a half million businesses classified as small or medium enterprises (SMEs) — that is any business with fewer than 250 employees.

These small businesses were responsible for £1,825bn turnover in the country. That’s 47% of turnover attributable to the private sector.

That’s a hefty proportion of business in the UK; but do small businesses get short shrift as media, and oftentimes policy, focuses on the City, big business and the hunt for unicorns?

There are a lot of startups and small businesses out there with huge potential but lacking the access or expertise to take that next step and really realise that potential.

I’ve led and run startups, small businesses and SMEs in the manufacturing sector out in a frontier economy, as well as in the UK for the better part of a decade, and I know the things that kept me up at night are the same for startups and small business owners everywhere.

Over the course of the next several weeks, I’m going to explore those issues and hopefully give a few pointers as to where you as a startup or small business founder, owner or manager can try and take your business to the next level.

But what exactly are the pain points for startups and small businesses?

Talking to businesses I work with and taking my own experience into consideration as well as referring to a couple of publications like this one from the Insitute of Directors or this one from CityA.M., not only were the results pretty clear, they were industry and sector agnostic and the big ones don’t change year on year.

Cash

Not surprising that this is top of the list wherever I look.

Startups and small businesses will, at some point or the other, always come across the age old financing problem.

Whether you’re a startup looking to raise your first round or a more mature business looking for some extra working capital from your bankers, getting hold of money and being able to articulate how you will control and spend it, is up there when it comes to the old sleepless night test.

With cash it’s about where to find it, be that through investment, crowd funding or debt; and once you’ve got it? How to manage it.

Talent

It may be that your startup or small business needs a trusted adviser to join your board, maybe a non-executive; or it may be that your bookkeeper doesn’t have the skills to interrogate and understand the drivers of your business but you can’t find a finance director that fits your budget.

Talent and human capital management is all about identifying where you need help, attracting the right person that fits your needs and keeping your good guys as long as you can.

Planning and Execution

I’ve combined these two here because they really do go hand in hand.

Having a solid plan in place (and that doesn’t necessarily mean reams and reams of paper a la old school) is a must, building in flexibility so that you have the agility to move if things change goes without saying.

But planning is nothing without execution. How to take the plan off of the drawing board, or out of Excel and into the real world is where many startups and small businesses fall over.

Have a plan — it doesn’t matter if it’s perfect (and in businesses there’s no such thing) — but understand how to make your plan reality.

Standing Out from the Crowd

How to position your product or service in the market, how to differentiate when there are seemingly myriad other startups or small businesses doing something very similar to what you do.

Is it about burning some marketing spend, understanding your SEO or PPC, or is it about becoming highly specialised in a particular niche.

Differentiating your product or service is hard work, you have to be an evangelist for your startup or small business, you have to gain referrals and spend your money smartly to make sure you’re getting bang for your buck.

Ultimately, every business whether startup, SME or scale up will have problems that are specific to them, as with many things, a one size fits all approach won’t do justice — that’s where having the right people around to advise and assist is of immeasurable value.

Stay tuned as I explore each of these areas in more detail and in the meantime, leave a comment and let me know the sort of issues that your startup, small business or scale-up business struggles with.