Small businesses are very difficult to maintain, and persistence is required. In fact, persistence may be the primary trait needed for success. No business launch goes smoothly. There are always snags and obstacles along the way – whether that is in hiring, learning new skills, or struggling through a period of growth.
But a few key obstacles stand out as the primary culprits of failure for small business owners. If entrepreneurs can be persistent in learning, trying, failing, and repeat – they’ll find they eventually overcome, move forward, and can look back at a path littered with beaten obstacles.
Nobody knows this better than small business owner Suzanne Ford, owner of Windows, Walls, ‘N Floors in Southern California. She has been operating her business for almost 16 years. She primarily sells floor coverings and blinds, and she has won multiple sales awards doing so. Ford has earned her success by overcoming multiple obstacles to obtain it.
Obstacle #1: Marketing
With so many options available to consumers, developing name recognition as a small business is a challenge, to say the least. Ford is constantly improving the quality of her marketing mantra. More recently, she developed a Suzanne Possible character to put on her business cards, website, and advertisements around town.
Yet perhaps the best marketing tool available to small businesses is word of mouth. Because Ford works hard to provide quality customer service to every person who visits her store, she often gets referrals and returning customers. “I may not be the cheapest, but people understand that they will get the best job,” Ford says.
Marketing your services starts with a solid customer support approach. What most small businesses forget is that your brand slowly builds name recognition. So protect your image, always work hard for your customers, and keep a steady flow of marketing going. It eventually pays off.
Obstacle #2: Multiple Responsibilities
In large businesses, there are more people to answer the phone, make phone calls, handle customer complaints, place orders, track orders, check inventory, manage records, make payments, and attend to customers who visit the store. Ford employs one bookkeeper, one office manager, and sometimes one office assistant. This means that many of the responsibilities fall squarely on her shoulders. This reality is therefore a daily challenge, and Ford works six and often seven days a week to overcome it.
What most entreprenuers have found is that the responsibilities ebb and flow. You’ll hire staff to handle one set of tasks just to have to take on some new ones of your own to support the new growth. Accepting the fact that you will always wear multiple hats is an important part of staying motivated so you can stick with the program for the long-term.
Obstacle #3: Gender Prejudice
While large corporations simply work to sell their brand, small business owners instead have to sell themselves as reliable resources. Ford works hard to be a competent business owner—and she is—but some people are prejudiced against her gender.
When she goes to events hosted by her various suppliers, other business leaders—primarily male—tend to talk to her husband instead of to her, even after they discover that she is the actual owner. This reality was the very first obstacle that Ford mentioned in her interview.
Unfortunately, there is not really much that she can do about it, other than to keep running her business in a competent fashion and not grow discouraged by what other people say. Sometimes this can even work in your favor as you allow others in your company to share the burden of leadership.
Gender prejudice can also work for you. Often men are much more likely to close a sale when a woman is talking with them than with another male. This varies wildly based upon the amount of the item to be sold and other factors, but don’t always assume gender prejudice has to hurt you. Stick with your plan and adapt as needed based upon the reaction from your customers.
Obstacle #4: Customers
To a large business, one unhappy customer is not a big deal. But to a small business, every customer counts. Ford goes above and beyond to satisfy the demands of every customer, looking after every countertop, every square of carpet, every tile, and every blind. She can’t keep everyone happy, but she does what she can on her end to make sure that things happen on time, from placing the bid to installing the order.
Sometimes, though, there is nothing more she can do. When this happens, move on as graciously as possible. You’re simplying going to eventually have a customer who isn’t happy. Don’t get discouraged, but do take the time to try to understand what happened and how you can prevent a problem in the future.
Obstacle #5: Suppliers
A small business does not necessarily get priority when it comes to suppliers. Ford once placed an order for an $11,000 carpet job. The carpet was backordered, so Ford called the company regularly to make sure it was going through production. Her supplier assured her that the carpet would be delivered on time, but when the delivery date came around, the carpet was still in production.
Ford then had to call the customer and inform them that their carpet would not be installed on time—a small business nightmare. Surprisingly, the customer was very gracious. “Because we were open and up front with this person,” Ford says, “she was so understanding.”
Working through supplier issues is a challenge and can become a very frustrating task for small businesses who are dependent upon suppliers for equipment, supplies, and service. When a project falls apart, be open and honest with your customers.
Problems crop up. Issues will occur that are beyond your control or capabilities to handle on your own. The key to long-term survival is persistence—the ability to keep going no matter what happens. You may have to adapt and change your plan, but the point is that you get up, step up, and move forward.
Tara Hornor has a degree in English and has found her niche writing about marketing, advertising, branding, web and graphic design, and desktop publishing. She writes for PrintPlace.com, an online printing company that offers brochure services, business cards, flyers for marketing, posters, postcards, booklets, and more printed marketing media. In addition to her writing career, Tara also enjoys spending time with her husband and two children. Connect with @TaraHornor on Twitter.