Celebrating the people behind British small businesses

Small Business Agony Aunt, Part 2 – Small Biz Liz solves your business woes (again)

Our first Small Business Agony Aunt session covered subjects such as mobile sites, employment law, and more. Now Small Biz Liz is back to solve even more of your business issues!

1.    I’ve set up accounts on all the main social media sites but we just haven’t been getting a following – help!

Social media may be a great way to access a huge potential customer base, but that doesn’t mean it’s always right (or easy!). One thing to consider is your target audience. If your customers are mostly pensioners then Instagram is unlikely to be the best way to reach them, but if you’re aiming for the under 35 crowd, two thirds whom use Twitter, then that network could be the one for you.

Another thing to remember is that as accessible and valuable as social media is, you can’t just make an account and sit back with your fingers crossed. Engaging with other companies and customers, and encouraging them to do the same, is a great way to get your name out there and get people talking about your business. Creating interesting content, even if it’s just posting photos of your day-to-day office life, will also keep fans engaged and encourage people to look you out. Just one re-tweet can share your business with hundreds, if not thousands, of new potential customers –  but you’ve got to make it worth it!

Don’t forget, followers don’t necessarily mean sales – take a look at our tips for making the most of your virtual following to find out more.

2.    I have quite a high turnover of staff in my small business – they only seem to stay for a year or so before moving on to bigger companies. I can’t afford to raise the wages but I keep having to start over again with new employees. How can I encourage them to stay without having to pay them more?

A high staff turnover can be really damaging to small businesses. It may be that you are doing something your staff don’t like, so keep talking to them and work out if there are any improvements you can make.

To offset an inability to raise wages, try introducing other work benefits. These can be anything from flexible working and staff drinks, through to shares in the business and more holiday. Check out our article on improving your work-life balance for some great ideas, many of which won’t cost you a penny!

Something else to consider is hiring grads, where possible, and train your staff up to be the perfect fit for your company. Encouraging your employees to grow alongside your business will encourage commitment to the project and loyalty that may just keep them with you to progress through the ranks.

Professional development can be another great incentive, encouraging employees to gain new skills that will not only benefit them, but your business as well. This might cost a bit, but it’s money worth investing.

3.    I find it difficult to insist on clients paying me on time, especially when they have a good reason for a delay. We mostly work with other small businesses so I feel bad demanding money if they’ve had a bad month, but it’s seriously affecting my business.

Many people find it difficult to get into the habit of talking openly about money, but when it comes to your business it is very important. Obviously you should try to maintain good relationships whilst working, but you can’t afford to keep letting people get away without paying until they are ready.

The best thing you can do in this situation is just bite the bullet – you don’t need to be rude but you should make it clear that you can no longer work with a client that cannot pay. Check out our beginners guide to chasing late payments. If you really feel like you can’t do this then you are going to need to get inventive!

If you can’t find a way to ask for payment (or part payment) before you offer your service, then you could try and incentivise on-time or early payments. If you can afford it, discounts might be a good way to go with this, or alternatively a less frequent discount tied to a loyalty scheme.

If you are good with figures (or know someone who is) then see if there is a way you can re-jig your finances to allow clients to pay in instalments without affecting your cash flow, allowing you to keep your customer, your reputation and your money.

4.    My shop is doing really well and I’d like to open in another location but don’t have the capital. How can I go about growing my business?

There are plenty of ways to finance your business at different points in the process, so our great infographic may give you the start you need. If not, there are other options.

If your business is doing well then you should have a good case to take to the banks. Take the time shopping around for the right lender and maybe get some advice on how to evidence your argument and prove how well your business is doing. After all, they will only lend you the money if they think they will get it back – plus interest!

Another way to go about it is to look for investment. This could mean asking a business associate, family member or friend to front you the money for the new location for a share in the business, or finding more formal investors. Crowd funding is another great option (and always a great way to see how enthusiastic people are about your business!)

5.    I’ve always done everything in my small business on my own but was thinking of branching out into investor capital – the money would be great for the business but I don’t want to lose control of my company.

One thing it is important to remember as an entrepreneur is that your role is often to lead the company, which is not always the same as managing it. Sometimes it pays to bring in people from outside who have skills (and money) you don’t have. Investors can offer this, as they are more often than not veterans in the business game and therefore have a lot to offer in the advice department.

Of course, by investing their money you will have to devolve a little power to them, but often if you find the right investors they are just as interested in letting you carry on what you have been doing so successfully. Agree on ground rules before you start and don’t expect them to run the business for you, but keep the lines of communication open – you never know when it might help!

Check out our guide to securing investment for your small business for more information.