1.) Client Dependence
If a single client makes up more than half of your income, you are more of an independent contractor than a business owner. Diversifying your client base is vital to growing a business, but it can be difficult, especially when the client in question pays well and on time. For many small businesses, having a client willing to pay on time for a product or service is a godsend.
Unfortunately, this can result in a longer term handicap because, even if you have employees and so on, you may be still acting as a sub-contractor for a larger business. This arrangement allows the client to avoid the risks of adding payroll in an area where the work may dry up at any time. All of that risk is transferred from the larger company to you and your employees. This arrangement can work if your main client has a consistent need for your product or service. However, it is generally better for a business to have a diversified client base to pick up the slack when any single client quits paying.
2.) Money Management
Having enough cash to cover the bills is a must for any business, but it is also a must for every individual. Whether it is your business or your life, one will likely emerge as a capital drain that puts pressure on the other. To avoid this problem, small businesses owners must either be heavily capitalized or be able to pick up extra income to shore up cash reserves when needed. This is why many small businesses start out with the founders working a job and building a business simultaneously. While this split focus can make it difficult to grow a business, running out of cash makes growing a business impossible. (For related reading, see: How to Start a Business While Working a Full-Time Job.)
Money management becomes even more important when cash is flowing into the business and to the owner. Although handling business accounting and taxes may be within the capabilities of most business owners, professional help is usually a good idea. The complexity of a company’s books goes up with each client and employee, so getting an assist on the bookkeeping can prevent it from becoming a reason not to expand.
The hours, the work and the constant pressure to perform wears on even the most passionate individuals. Many business owners, even successful ones, get stuck working much longer hours than their employees. Moreover, they fear their business will stall in their absence, so they avoid taking any time away from work to recharge. Fatigue can lead to rash decisions about the business, including the desire to abandon it completely. Finding a pace that keeps the business humming without grinding down the owner is a challenge that comes early (and often) in the evolution of a small business. (For related reading, see: Time Management Practices to Master Before Starting Your Own Business.)
4.) Founder Dependence
Is your business completely dependent on your input, attendance, and contribution? If you get hit by a car, is your business still producing income the next day? A business that can’t operate without its founder is a business with a deadline. Many businesses suffer from founder dependence, and this dependence is often caused by the founder being unable to let go of certain decisions and responsibilities as the business grows. Meeting this challenge is easy in theory—a business owner merely has to give over more control to their employees or partners. In practice, however, this is a big stumbling block for founders because it usually involves compromising (at least initially) on the quality of work being done until the person doing the work learns the ropes.
5.) Balancing Quality and Growth
Even when a business is not founder-dependent, there comes a time when the issues from growth seem to match or even outweigh the benefits. Whether a service or a product, at some point a business must sacrifice in order to scale. This may mean not being able to personally manage every client relationship or not inspecting every widget.
Unfortunately, it is usually that level of personal engagement and attention to detail that makes a business semi-successful. Therefore, many small business owners often find themselves tied to these habits to the detriment of the company’s growth. There is a large middle ground between shoddy work and an unhealthy obsession with quality, so it is up to the business owner to navigate the company’s processes towards a compromise that allows scale without hurting the brand.
The Bottom Line
One of the worst things a would-be business owner can do is to go into a small business without considering the challenges ahead. We’ve looked at some things to help make these challenges easier, but there is no avoiding them. Besides, a competitive drive is often one of the reasons people start their own business, and every challenge represents another opportunity to compete.