Simple hacks to overcome small business struggles

By Viresh Harduth

DUBAI 27 October 2019: Small businesses are on the rise in the Middle East due to supportive regulations and the attractiveness of striking out on one’s own as an entrepreneur.

A 2019 survey by leading job site in the Middle East and UK international market research and data analytics firm YouGov revealed that nearly seven out of 10 respondents in the Middle East want to quit their current jobs and be their own bosses.

In the UAE, SMEs make up around 98 per cent of all businesses, contributing approximately 53 per cent to the national GDP. In line with the objectives of the UAE Vision 2021, the government is seeking to increase this contribution to 60 per cent by 2021.

Entrepreneurship is a difficult and risky, although rewarding, path to follow. Some challenges you might face as a small business owner include ensuring cash flow, attracting top talent, and finding time to innovate.

Thankfully, today there are digital tools at hand that can offer you access to the audience, information, and resources you need to overcome common challenges and tip the scales in favour of long-time sustainability.

Viresh Harduth

Here’s a snapshot of the top five struggles startup businesses encounter and some ideas on overcoming them:

Attracting customers

Challenge: As a small business owner, you’re in high-stakes competition for the customer’s business with organisations that might have bigger sales and marketing budgets. Traditional print and radio advertising is expensive, and might really not do the trick if you want measurable success metrics, such as the number of new customers an advertising campaign managed to attract.

Hack: Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and search engines like Google, offer you competitive basic advertising options. You can set strict budgets so that you don’t overspend, and target potential customers by location, interests and demographics. You can also easily track how people share and interact with your content, enabling you to optimise budgets for better outcomes. Always remember that while social media can be useful, your connections in the physical world are just as important. Networking is still a great tool to gain the trust of others and gather some referrals.

Tackling the mountain-load of paperwork

Challenge: You’re not ready to invest in a proper accounting software package, either because you’re not familiar with accounting solutions or because you don’t want to spend the money. Yet, you also realise that carrying out your invoicing and quotes on spreadsheets is tedious and time-consuming – especially when tracking unpaid amounts.

Hack: Today, simple and affordable online softwares with monthly subscription payments enable business owners to quote and invoice on-the-go from a PC or mobile device. All you need is internet access, and in just seconds, while you’re sitting with a client, you can generate a quote or send an invoice for a job that is completed. You can easily track unpaid invoices and review how your business is doing.

Hiring the right people

Challenge: When you’re ready to grow from a one-man-show or a two-person company, you need to target and recruit the right talent to suitably position your business. You probably will not be able to pay them as much as a bigger company; what’s more, you need to hire carefully to ensure that they are a good fit for the company culture and your unique management style.

Hack: Let your business network know that you’re hiring and look carefully at references from people you trust. This is a great way to tap into talent that will suit your business without publishing an ad or turning to an external recruiter. Remember, never look at qualifications alone – always hire people for their attitude and their willingness to grow with your company.

Mastering multiple roles

Challenge: Every small business owner needs to be a jack-of-all-trades, managing everything from the printer and the coffee machine to finance, sales and operations. As your company expands, you’ll need access to more specialised skills to run an effective and thriving business. At the same time, you might not have the budget to pay for a full-time accountant, IT manager, HR manager and marketing director.

Hack: Selectively outsource your business needs to freelancers and agencies who know your industry and work with other small businesses. This will considerably free up your time to focus on innovation, product development, sales and other aspects of your business that you consider to be your real strengths. It will also broaden your horizons to fresh perspectives and helpful advice.

Note: The author is Vice President, New Customer Acquisition (Start-up and Small Business) at Sage Africa & Middle East.