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Business Agony Aunt, Part 1 – Small Biz Liz solves your business woes

We get a lot of questions here at Small Business Heroes, on subjects from managing cash flow to asking out cute customers (afraid we can’t help there, chums). So we decided – why keep the wisdom all to ourselves? Our resident agony aunt Small Biz Liz has some nuggets for you – and here they are.

1.    I run a restaurant and we operate on a very tight margin, but my main supplier is always late and sometimes doesn’t show up for days on end. I know we’re just a small account, but if I keep running out of stock I’m going to lose customers. What do I do?

Firstly, don’t think you have to stay with the same supplier. Switching may involve some extra effort as you shop around for the best fit, but it will be worth it as your business begins to run more smoothly. You can’t run a restaurant with no food, and your business is unlikely to grow if this carries on!

Sometimes, when running a small business, it is worth aligning yourself with companies in similar situations. Often the bigger suppliers are less interested in smaller accounts because they aren’t worth as much to the company, and the relationship is usually less personal, leaving you as just another account number. Smaller suppliers are more likely to be more intimate, and you will often find yourself dealing with the owner rather than an account manager. This can be great because they rely on your custom just as much as you rely on their deliveries (which solves the immediate problem), and as both companies grow you can profit from each other’s success. Putting in the effort now to foster this relationship will likely keep your business on track for a long time! 

2.    My ecommerce business is growing and I was thinking about branching out into mobile. How do I know whether it’s worth the investment? How do I find the right person for the job who won’t cost the earth?

Only you can decide if you think having a specific mobile site is going to help your business, but let’s look at the stats: mobiles account for 31% of UK website traffic and one tablet can drive four times as much, leading to four times as many sales – so optimising your site for other devices is going to go a long way to ensuring consumers stay on your site long enough to make that all important purchase.

Even if you’re not necessarily looking to directly boost sales, user experience can account for a huge part of your brand reputation – we all hate trying to navigate a poorly designed site, and most people give up all together!

As for finding the right person, take your time! You’ve survived this long without a mobile site so far, you’ll probably last while you find the right person. Whilst there’s no point paying someone to do the job for you if they don’t do it well, there are a range of ways to keep costs down. A bit of research online, through a site like People Per Hour, can keep costs down and allow you to read reviews of people who have used their services before.

3.    I’m looking to take on staff for my business but I know nothing about employment law – how do I make sure their contracts are all above board?

While it’s tempting to look after those pennies when starting out, HR for small business is one of those things that is best done properly. And taking on staff doesn’t have to be a nightmare! Chances are, you already have had some sort of legal assistance with setting up your business, so it might be worth considering calling them in again to get your employment contracts drawn up. Remember, they can also advise on your ongoing responsibilities as an employer and make sure you are keeping the right records.

You can also outsource your HR, or look into using technology, both available for a monthly fee. Outsourcing to a team of HR professionals will mean there’s always someone who knows your situation that you can talk to with queries, which can be invaluable if you have any problems along the way. As far as software goes, there are thousands of options available from as little as £2 a month, so be sure to check out our handy guide to cloud-based HR software if this sounds like the one for you! But make sure to do your research.

It might be tempting to cut corners now, but it will likely cost you in the future! Remember, there are plenty of mistakes you can make – like these! 

4.    My business is growing fast but I don’t yet have the capital to take on new staff – how can I make sure we don’t fall behind?

Although it’s often tempting to do everything yourself, letting yourself get overwhelmed by demand can be almost as damaging as a lack of it.

One possible solution is to take on apprentices or trainees, if appropriate to your business, because there is plenty of funding available and their wages are generally lower (minimum wage for an apprentice is £2.68). In exchange for overseeing the apprentice’s training, you are receiving an employee that is committed to your business and will eventually be equipped with the skills you need to benefit your bottom line.

In fact, taking on entry-level staff in any capacity can be a great way to set your business up for the future with faithful employees trained to your own specifications. Often, in exchange for training and experience, entry-level candidates will work for less money – but remember that you do still have to pay them a fair wage (and this goes for interns, too).

5.    I want to put my prices up to help the business grow; is there a way to do it without alienating my customers?

Sometimes, prices need to be put up. Simple as that. And it’s understandable that you’d worry about telling your customers – after all, the last thing you want is to lose them! But there are a few things you can do to ease the transition.

The main one is communication. Conversations, particularly with key customers, will not only keep them in the loop, making them feel valued, but will make sure they know why you are raising prices.

Try letting them know how you have come to your new price or sharing the benefits and progress that is coming from the new profits. You could do this through newsletters, meetings, or even just simple conversations, depending on what works best for your business and your customers.

There’s also a lot to be said for using brand loyalty in such situations. If your product or service is exceptional, or people enjoy working with and around you, then the chances are they won’t mind paying a bit more. Make sure you research your customers to investigate the sorts of price rises they find acceptable and unacceptable, and focus on the reasons they would be happy to stay with you. This will also make you feel warm and fuzzy!