How to ride out the rough times as a small business owner

Beatrice Bartlay remembers the times when her business was under threat - and how she pulled through the dark days.

Every entrepreneur and business owner will come up against obstacles during their journey to set up a successful business, but it is how people cope with these obstacles that sets them and their business apart from the competition. There is nothing more empowering than running your own business but when encountering a rough patch, there can be nothing more demeaning too.

Expecting an easy ride is the first mistake any entrepreneur can make, as no matter how organised you are and no matter what contingencies you have in place, something will happen during your entrepreneurial journey that will shock you and make you question your decision to ‘set up shop’. But stay strong and stick to your guns, and you will survive. Any entrepreneur who hasn’t encountered difficulties is either very lucky or is lying!

It is important to always remember that with the good, comes the bad, and you never know when a challenge will come your way. One of the first big breakthroughs for 2B Interface, the specialist recruitment agency I set up nine years ago, came in 2007, when it was named Best New Business by the London Chambers of Commerce. I was so happy and proud of our achievements. However, just three weeks later our main client went bust, leaving us with a £90,000 unpaid invoice.

Listen to your instincts

Ignoring advice to close the business, I refused to admit defeat, and set about recovering the money owed to me. I realised that if our client still had customers waiting and orders to fill, I could help them find the staff for their production line. I managed to save jobs for the workers and negotiated the best way of payment for the client, who paid in small instalments – it took me three months to be in the black again but 2B Interface survived. However, this was not without months of long hours, hard work and minimal income; I lost almost a stone in weight, and was working 16-hour days.

With the rough though, comes the success, and I’ve had many highlights along the way, too. In particular, all of the awards we have won as a company (and presenting business awards as a judge is always a thrill!). Nothing ever feels better though than seeing the happy faces of people suffering from MS when our charity money helps them with rehabilitation.

The challenge of running an SME

Another big breakthrough came in 2011, when three of my managers left the business out of the blue to set up on their own after I had trained and promoted them. It was later discovered that their departure was carried out in cooperation with our former IT provider, so they also had access to the company servers and information. They caused a big threat to the company but despite their effort, all of our customers remained loyal to us. I learnt a lot from this rather dispiriting experience – about myself and other people. I made my company even more structured and it taught me that good service is more important to customers than a slightly lower price.

Looking back, I actually think this was the best thing to ever happen to my company as it taught me a lot and it showcased my loyal and hard working team.

A key lesson I have learnt on my business journey is that perseverance is priceless. You will make mistakes, but be sure that you then learn from these experiences, and play better!

Plan, plan and plan again

I would advise budding entrepreneurs to really think of what you want to do, why you want to do it, and with whom you want to work. You then need to prepare a business plan with contingencies for the unexpected, including a back-up source of revenue. It’s important that this plan is implemented consistently. Then set yourself achievable long-term and short-term goals and take expert advice wherever possible – you need to know your industry inside out.

You must always remember that every entrepreneur encounters barriers, challenges and obstacles and this is not a reflection on you and your ability. It is how you cope with these challenges that demonstrates your true entrepreneurial spirit, and there is nothing better than surviving against all the odds!

Further reading on starting a business

Beatrice Bartlay

Beatrice Bartlay

Author and businesswoman, Beatrice helps entrepreneurs build and grow profitable businesses.

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