Setting up a business is a milestone in anyone’s life, but it’s only the start point of what is often a long and complicated journey. To make your business a long-term success, there are several challenges you’ll need to overcome. However, it can be difficult to recognise and address these challenges when you’ve got a business to run. That’s why we’ve created a handy guide of the top five survival tips for small business owners, to help you stay afloat.

Nailing time management

This can be the biggest pitfall for new and inexperienced small business owners. You’re trying to do everything you can to benefit your business in as little time as you can, and you don’t feel comfortable letting other people do it for you because your business is your pride and joy. The irony is, you’re probably hindering your business in the long run by adopting this approach.

The more you overwork yourself, the more tiredness and fatigue creep in, and the less real value you can provide to your clients. If you’re just starting out and want to establish a stronghold in your industry, the last thing you want is to gain a reputation for being disorganised or error-prone.

Let’s face it – as a small business owner, your company is going to have a lot of priorities, but not all of these can be dealt with directly by you. This is where having time management and delegation strategies in place comes in handy. Don’t be afraid to outsource responsibilities to enable you to concentrate on your company’s top-level priorities.

John Woosey, Founder and Managing Director of Ripe Insurance: When I was trying to get the business off the ground, I would spend so many hours meeting clients and chasing new business. Some days, I could be out of the office for three or four hours. Trying to balance building relationships and networking with doing my day job took its toll on me, so I enlisted the help of designers and artworkers to take away the strain.

Finding a work-life balance

Being your own boss means you’re no longer working in a typical 9-5 job – in fact, more than 80% of small business owners work more than 40 hours a week, according to a survey from The Alternative Board. Let’s look at how you can potentially reduce your total working time and successfully balance your professional and personal life…

We’ve already covered above how you can outsource work to third-party suppliers – but as your business grows and becomes more profitable, you may want to consider hiring employees to improve your work-life balance, if you feel you can afford to. Investing in and surrounding yourself with a stronger, more talented team allows you to share responsibilities, resulting in more ‘freed-up’ time.

Adopting flexi-time for your business could also help free up your time, particularly during school-runs, and makes you appear like a 21st-century employer to anyone who is potentially interested in working for you.

JW: By freeing up some of my time, I could then utilise this time for “blue-sky” strategic thinking and the mentoring and guidance of our management team. While I’d never say that I totally “switch off” whilst on holiday, I certainly find them much more relaxing these days, safe in the knowledge that the team are looking after my company’s day-to-day operations.

Gaining support

When you’ve got a vision of where you want your business to get to, one of the biggest challenges is getting others to buy into this vision.

You could find yourself in meetings with potential business partners which deal in tens of millions of pounds. These businesses will often have much bigger names knocking at their door, therefore trying to convince them to support a small, fledgeling business could prove problematic.

A solid pitch will help you achieve this by positioning you as a leading expert in your field. Although programmes such as Dragons Den have trivialised the pitching process, it is invaluable to small business owners and involves a great deal of thought, planning and preparation.

If you’re still in the early stages of your career and want to get your business in front of potential investors, there are plenty of useful articles and videos which can provide you with some useful tips on how to deliver a successful pitch.

JW: What I’ve found over the years is that not many people within insurance truly understand digital marketing, whereas to us it’s always been second nature. Therefore, if you can find a niche or an area of expertise and can get ahead of the chasing pack, you give yourself every chance of success.

Retaining clients

On one hand, growing your business and winning new clients is a good thing. On the other hand, it can prove incredibly frustrating longer term.

For instance, you may invest large amounts of time and money into a big pitch, win the pitch and acquire a new client. Further down the line, through no fault of your own, you may lose said client due to a change in personnel or budgetary reasons.

The commonly known and unfortunate fact of business is that it costs considerably more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one. Although losing clients is sometimes out of your control, there are a variety of retention tactics you can employ to ensure you keep your existing customers as happy as possible.

JW: It’s not uncommon for marketing directors to move around, so you could win a new client and build a good relationship with the said director, but then six months on they would move on, and the new person would bring in their incumbent. When this happened, I’d have to start all over again. The key lesson I learnt was not to take setbacks like this to heart and to continue working hard and believing in what you do. I’m a strong advocate of the mantra ‘the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get’.

Learning about business

This last tip might sound fairly rudimentary – however, as we’ve covered above, even basic business strategies such as investing in good people and technology are not put into practice by many small business owners.

One of the main reasons so many business owners are reluctant to invest is due to their fear of failure. We’ve heard the age-old cliché that the most successful businesspeople are the ones who take risks – but the thing about a cliché is, it’s usually true!

While acting cautiously is to be encouraged to a point, it can also prevent you from taking advantage of opportunities which could transform your business. That’s why it (literally) pays to have the courage of your convictions as be prepared to take risks from time to time. This is easier said than done, though – stronger decisiveness usually comes with experience.

JW: It’s easy to say with hindsight, but I sometimes wish I knew back in 1989 what I know now. I would tell myself to have more conviction and not be so worried about things going catastrophically wrong. Looking at the size of the business today, I can safely say it’s a gamble which has paid off in the long run. What I regarded as success back in 1989 is VERY different to what I view as success today. As any entrepreneur will tell you, whilst you can see the horizon, you never quite get there!

tips for small business owners

Getting through the first few years is one of the biggest challenges faced by small business owners.

Our founder John Woosey knows this as well as anyone, having overcome various obstacles en route to a successful career in business.

Woosey founded the agency JRW Advertising & Design, now Ripe Insurance, back in 1989. Today, the business employs more than 60 people and has a turnover of over £10 million.