One of the most asked business questions in Facebook Groups tend to be around “What are your key frustrations and stress in business” or “What are the biggest challenges you face in running your business”. Same question, just worded differently. These questions are usually asked by either an accountant or a business coach who’s prospecting for a client even though they couch it as a “survey”. True? Those who answer the survey are looking for answers and yet answers are rarely provided on the group itself as the prospector is obviously looking to get paid for their advice. True?
As an entrepreneur who has owned over 20 businesses and helped countless others, I see the same challenges, frustrations and stresses over and over again especially in small business. I can confidently say that if you have been in business for any length of time, then you would have gone through the challenges, frustrations and stresses in these 5 areas:
- Paperwork – record keeping, taxes and all things that takes the fun out of business
- Time – or rather lack of
- Cashflow – that feast and famine that plague all businesses
- People – Staff AND customers
- Feeling overwhelmed by it all
Although I would have to say that my pet peeve and frustration at the moment is online software that doesn’t work the way it’s suppose to. What was supposed to have taken me an hour to do, took ALL day yesterday! If you haven’t yet had the fun of experiencing any of the ones mentioned above, count it pure joy that you will! These challenges, frustrations and stresses affect all business owners at one time or another.
Overcoming The Challenges
Can you overcome these challenges and frustrations (without throttling someone)? Yes. But not overnight. There are no shortcuts. There is no golden goose that lays the golden eggs. There is no magic wand that you can wave. There’s plenty of opportunities and plenty of business to be had – they ALL require persistence and hard work. When opportunity knocks (and they do regularly if you keep your eyes and ears open), it is ALWAYS hard work that answers the door!
I have a list of people that I “look up” to. They are all considered extremely successful. They weren’t always successful though. If you read their autobiography, you’ll see that they have been “through it”. They’ve gone to the valleys and they’ve surfaced and made it to the top of their own icebergs. They had to listen to a lot of people putting them down and they had to overcome many failures. There’s too many for me to list them all. For example, where would we be today if:
- Elvis Presley stopped singing when the manager of the Grand Ole Opry (one of his first singing gigs) told him he “ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck”.
- Walt Disney stopped imagining what could be when his boss at his first newspaper job fired him because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas”. What if he gave up after his theme park concept was trashed 302 times?!? There would have been no Disneyland!
- Vincent Van Gogh stopped painting when he couldn’t sell his paintings. He only ever sold one painting during his lifetime, and that was to a friend.
- J.K. Rowling stopped writing after multiple publishers turned down her work. There would have been no Harry Potter!
If you give up too soon, you’ll never know what you’ll be missing. One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when you are suffering a temporary defeat. We’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another. There is a balance between hitting your head on a brick wall and giving up because of short term failure. One of the most well-known stories was told by Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich. Have you read “Three Feet From Gold”? If not, google “RU Darby Three Feet From Gold” (I’m not going to repeat it here) and read it for yourself. It’s a story about perseverance. It will help you when you feel like giving up on your business idea and you start entertaining the thought of just going back to being an employee.
You must remember that the past is a place of reference, not a place of residence. It is simply what happened yesterday and it has absolutely nothing to do with today – unless you choose to make it so. When you hang on to your history, you are holding on to a belief that will limit you and hold you back. Too many people are moving backwards into the future. I always say – its really hard to look forward when your eyes are at the back of your head!
My very best teacher has always been my latest mistake (Yes, I still make mistakes … You would have thought that at my age I would know better!) In my younger days, I would deny that I even made a mistake. THAT in itself was a HUGE mistake! I never learnt because I was too busy trying to prove that I was right! It has taken me a while to learn that while I can’t go back, I can start from now and create for myself a brand new ending. That was when I finally stopped the excuses and started really learning. I would have to admit – this is a much better way to do life!!
Let’s look more closely at the challenges all business owners face. What has 40+ years in business taught me??
Challenges, Frustrations & Stress #1
One of the biggest frustrations or stress that the business owner goes through, by a very long shot, would have to be PAPERWORK.
For some, this is not even an issue. You LOVE paperwork. In fact, you would happily spend all your time behind the desk and attend to all the paperwork that has to be done (and THAT love of paperwork, in itself, can be a huge problem because you spend so much time on paperwork that you do not attend to the business of growing your business). From my experience as an advisor and consultant, the typical entrepreneur hates paperwork and would prefer that they never had to do any. Their biggest challenge, frustration and stress is caused by the need to attend to paperwork!
Paperwork (or administration) is often badly done because it’s done only as an afterthought or ignored as being unnecessary and irrelevant to the “real” business of making money. Ignoring paperwork is, however, one of the biggest myths in business. For a business to be successful, there are 4 areas you must get right – and paperwork is one of them!
There’s two parts to paperwork – there’s “boring bookkeeping” and then there’s tax! Both cause big problems for those who absolutely hate paperwork. And both can be oh so painful! Both are considered by most entrepreneurs as a cost that merely suck all your spare cash. You went into business to follow your passion and fulfill your dream. You did not go into business saying “Yay! I got lots of paperwork to do!”
Whether you hate it or love it, record keeping is a necessity. What you can measure, you can manage is an accepted principle in management. No records mean you cannot really know how your business is doing – Except that you never seem to have any cash to pay the bills!
With record keeping, especially the bookkeeping part of it, the best way is to outsource it to a bookkeeper who LOVES bookkeeping (Yes, there are people around who actually enjoy sorting out other people’s mess!). Have someone else attend to the mundane that you don’t want to do. Having someone do all the work and just tell me to “sign here” is my idea of paradise!
I know for some, especially when you are starting out and looking to build your business … paying for a bookkeeper is just another added expense you can do without. You’re trying to cut down on your expenses and bookkeeping is, after all, really quite simple especially if you use accounting software. Is this the right way to go?
Well, it depends.
Let me do the sums for you. A good bookkeeper (I do stress – a GOOD bookkeeper) will generally cost you anywhere from $60 to $80 an hour. How long it takes them to do the bookkeeping will very much depend on the size of your business and how well you keep your paperwork (Make no mistake – shoe boxes WILL cost you dearly). Yes, you can get bookkeepers who charge a lot less than that or you could make the spouse suffer and make him or her do the bookkeeping for free LOL. That would be a case of penny wise, pound foolish. Good bookkeepers can save you an arm and a leg in accounting fees later. A bad bookkeeper WILL cost you an arm and a leg in additional accounting fees.
Let me put it another way. I’m a qualified accountant and I can do bookkeeping with my eyes shut. I can assure you that I don’t my own bookkeeping work. No way! I actually outsource mine to a Malaysian company where I get the best of both worlds, paying just $30 an hour for a very experienced bookkeeper. That same bookkeeper would probably cost me closer to $80 an hour in Australia.
The time I save (and it is substantial) is better used for income earning activities. If I can earn, say $150 an hour for my time, then would it not be better to pay someone else to do the bookkeeping at $30 an hour to free up my time? Administration is essential to keep your business running smoothly but it needs to be done efficiently at the lowest possible cost.
Now some would voice an opinion that I should not outsource the work overseas. More often than not, those same voices would be the ones who shop online and have their products shipped in from China because “it’s cheaper”. Like every business owner, I look to deliver great value – and I can only do that if I take every opportunity to keep my costs down (same as every other business owner) and I keep a tight control of my overheads. The way I look at it, what I pay my overseas contractors is far more than what they would get working for someone in their country, but it is also far less than I would pay locally where I am and those savings are passed on to my clients.
We now live in a global economy. I compete with other business mentors in USA, UK and Asia. I would never be able to compete entirely on price only with my Asian competitors – so I’ve learnt to compete in other ways. We buy our products from China and India because it’s cheaper. Yet, we complain that our potential clients ask us for a discount when we ourselves go discount hunting!
Shopping for a discounted price for products is now the norm. Shopping for a discounted price for services is a logical extension. With the availability of web services such as Zoom, Skype, Whatsapp, Messenger and WeChat, communication cost is no longer a factor in dealing with overseas providers. Outsource platforms such as Upwork allows someone in Australia or USA to have their work done in Europe or Asia. We have to learn to be creative about how we sell ourselves (and I will deal with how we handle discounting in another blog). And if we’re not getting the results we’re after, then I would suggest that we’re not selling ourselves right.
As a bookkeeper in a developed country, what can you do? How do you compete against the cheap Asian labour? You can’t. But you can beat them at their own game. So rather than complain about cheap Asian labour taking your business, why not be the person who contract the cheap Asian labour for your clients? If you subcontract out your bookkeeping services, you free yourself up to get out there and get more clients (unless, you really do enjoy doing the work yourself – but that’s a different story). You could potentially be earning far more than you would ever earn doing the bookkeeping work yourself. You become a true BOSS, running a team of bookkeepers. Ask yourself this question – If you work by yourself, how much can you earn? If you subcontract out the work, how much can you earn? I would take a bet it will be a lot more then working by yourself. That’s what some of the Big 4 and Second Tier Accounting firms do now – except not all of them pass on the savings. That’s THEIR extra profit in their pocket!
If you do not feel comfortable outsourcing your bookkeeping overseas and you would prefer to keep your work in Australia, have a read of an article I wrote Is Outsourcing Your Bookkeeping a Good Idea. In that article I covered the options you have and the issues on outsourcing.
Tax, Tax, Tax
And then there’s tax! This one probably causes more angst, challenges, frustrations and stress for a lot of business owners. As someone who has been on both sides of the fence (as a tax practitioner advising those who come to me for tax advice and as a business owner that chooses not to be a tax adviser anymore), this is one area that I would NOT outsource overseas. A good accountant and tax adviser are worth their weight in gold irrespective of how much they charge.
Having said that, you do need to be sensible about the type of tax adviser you use. For example, as a small business owner, I would not use any of the Big 4 or even second tier firms – their overheads are high, and whilst they may be well trained and highly specialised, the chances are you would never use most of the specialist services they offer. Much better to use the smaller firm who charges less and then seek the specialist advice when you need it.
Whatever you do, please do not ask tax questions on a public forum or group. Honestly, no accountant can provide specific advice on a forum. They wouldn’t know anything about the specific circumstances, and they would be opening themselves up to lawsuits if they provide advice on a public forum. It’s OK to ask for a referral to a good accountant, but it’s not OK to ask for advice on a public forum.
Which actually leads me to the other question I’m regularly asked … HOW do you find a good accountant? I was asked this question so many times after I quit public practice, I ended up writing a book on it. It’s not just about getting a recommendation. Know the questions you should be asking your potential new “best friend”. If you would like a copy, just click HERE. It’s free and yes, you do have to give up your email address to get one LOL.
One common misconception I would like to address here is that you should go to a local accountant i.e. within 5 km of where you live or work. I disagree with that statement. You need an accountant who has a good knowledge of the tax in your country. They don’t have to be “local”. That is the worst reason for selecting an accountant. Select one based on recommendation, the services they offer and ultimately, based on whether you can relate to them. In my previous life as a practising accountant, I serviced clients over 3.600 km away on the other side of Australia. I had one that I didn’t even meet till after nearly 12 months of doing his work. We got on like a house on fire, I provided what he was looking for and that was all that mattered to him.
So who gives advice on the public forums – generally they would be other business owners who, at best, can only tell you that their accountant told them based on their own particular circumstances. Would that person’s situation be exactly the same as yours? Unlikely! The business owner is not trained to provide tax advice. You would never go to a plumber for advice on electrical work. Why do we persist in asking the general public for advice on tax, a specialist field? Trying to save money by not seeking proper advice is a bit like building a house without worrying about laying a proper foundation.
Yes, I am a little biased with my views on this matter. All I can say is – Don’t be like some of my former clients (from my accounting practice days) who came to me to fix their mess left behind by their trying to do it all themselves or their using the cheapest accountant they could find. They ended up paying far more in the end for me to fix it all up. What’s the saying? Pay peanuts and you get monkeys. Harsh but true!
Next week, I’ll get into Challenge, Frustration and Stress #2 – What to do when you just don’t have enough time to do everything you need to do!
About the Author:
Patsy Lim’s business and financial background (having qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1980), together with her entrepreneurial spirit enables her to apply a potent blend of strong financial and accounting expertise, deep practical business experience, and entrepreneurial flair and creativity to complex business problems. As an entrepreneur, she understands the issues that an entrepreneur faces. So, unlike some accountants who only know the theory of business, Patsy has had hands-on experience of what it means to be IN business, to start a business, to grow a business, and most of all, to manage a business when times inevitably get tough!