The task of running a small business is anything but… well, small. It’s a huge undertaking! As a small business owner, your list of responsibilities can seem endless. From balancing the books to managing employees, marketing to customers, and more, the success of your business is on your shoulders. That also means when challenges arise, it’s up to you to find the solution.
Searching for answers can be overwhelming. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. So, where do you start?
First, take a deep breath.
Then, remember that you are not alone. While every small business is different, they all experience similar struggles when it comes to attracting customers, improving efficiency, and navigating circumstances beyond their control. In this post, we’ll explore five common challenges that small businesses might face and offer advice on how to overcome them.
Five Common Small Business Challenges by Business Type
We’ve created five business owner characters with challenges that their business (or yours) may face. Start reading from the top or choose an option from the list below to skip to that specific section.
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Carl’s Coffee Shop
Good morning! My name is Carl and I own a small coffee shop in my hometown. I’ve got a few very loyal customers who always come in for their morning cup of java, but I’m having trouble keeping newer customers interested. I mean, there are five other places to grab a cup of coffee in my town alone. It’s hard to make my business stand out. How can I encourage my customers to choose my coffee shop over the competition?
To stand out from his competition, Carl needs to develop an engaging marketing strategy.
When many small business owners read those words, they see dollar signs. But what Carl and his fellow small business owners might not know is that marketing goes beyond what we think of when we hear the word. It’s more than commercials, brochures, radio spots, videos, professionally photographed ads, etc. Marketing is about making connections and building relationships with people who are excited about your business. It’s about building a brand and a reputation that your customers believe in and want to support. And no, marketing doesn’t have to cost a fortune. All it takes is a team with some creative ideas and a bit of hard work.
A specific, low-cost marketing tactic that may help Carl is email. He can use email marketing to boost brand awareness, send business updates or information, and even share unique promotions to encourage customers to visit his coffee shop instead of another one down the street. To learn more about cost-conscious marketing for small businesses, check out these blog posts:
Ben and Bobby’s Burger House
Hiya, it’s Ben and Bobby! We run a burger house near our local shopping mall. Customers visit our restaurant at all hours of the day to kick back and relax after their busy shopping outings. It’s ideal for business and exactly why we chose this location. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we were unprepared. We had to close for months because we didn’t have the right measures in place for carry-out orders. We’re happy that now we can open again but worry that we won’t be able to properly distance tables and make enough profit to keep the business running. What should we do?
Ben and Bobby are navigating circumstances far beyond their control, and they’re not alone. Many restaurants were forced to close temporarily or even permanently in the wake of the pandemic. Here are a couple of ideas to help Ben and Bobby keep their burger house open:
Extending their seating capacity to the outdoors may provide a temporary solution for Ben and Bobby. Even if they don’t have a patio or deck attached to their restaurant, there may still be a space that can be used for seating. They could try safely blocking a section of their parking lot, transforming the yard around the restaurant into a fun dining area, or even contacting their local government and request to use a section of sidewalk in front of their building. To read more tips for creating a unique dining area, click here.
Equip the restaurant for carry-out orders.
It’s not too late for Ben and Bobby to prepare their business for carry-out orders. To get started, they’ll need to:
- Purchase sturdy containers for transporting food at a safe temperature. Stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, and even Amazon sell these containers in bulk.
- Prepare their staff with a process for carry-out orders and delivery.
- Discuss the carry-out menu with their kitchen team and decide on any adjustments that need to be made.
- Market the change to customers via their website, email, social media, and any other channels they use.
Click here for more advice on adding carry-out services to a restaurant.
Francesca’s Flower Shop
Hello there, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Francesca and I own the only flower shop in my small town. Business is always busy, and I see new faces almost every day; it’s exciting! Lately though, I’ve been seeing news reports of small businesses like mine that have fallen victim to identity theft or security breaches. Because I process so many transactions each day, I’m worried that my business information and my customers’ personal information could be at risk. What steps can I take to protect my customers and myself?
It's wise for Francesca to be thinking about protecting her business and her customers from cybercrime. The unfortunate reality is all businesses, regardless of size, are at risk for a cyberattack. Some of the most important things Francesca can do are:
- Educate her employees and herself on cybersecurity best practices.
- Always create strong passwords.
- Lock all devices before stepping away from the counter.
- Be careful when clicking on links or attachments in unsolicited emails.
Click here to read about protecting a business from cyber threats.
Francesca should also take careful measures to recognize and prevent identity theft. Identity (ID) theft occurs when someone steals personal information to commit fraud. That fraud can take many forms. For example, an identity thief may use personal information to fraudulently apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services. If an identity thief were to steal customer information from Francesca’s business, she could be held responsible for the breach. Click here to read about the signs to know and how to protect a small business from identity theft.
Greetings! My name is Shannon and I am the proud owner of a hair salon. My clients come to me when they need a trim, fresh look, or just a little pampering. Helping them feel confident and handsome or beautiful is why I do what I do! Recently though, I’ve been wrestling with offering the high-quality service my clients deserve and taking the necessary precautions to keep everyone healthy and safe during this pandemic. There are some things that we just can’t do right now, like trim beards and blow dry hair. They may not say it, but I can feel that my clients are on edge and disappointed that their time in the salon isn’t what it used to be. Is there something I can do to help my clients and my business?
Like Ben and Bobby, Shannon’s business is being affected by circumstances beyond her control. The new health and safety protocols she is required to follow are changing the customer experience. Even though she can’t offer full services like she could at the beginning of this year, there are creative things Shannon can do to make her customers feel special.
For example, she could offer pre-visit consultations via video conference so her clients could have a mask-free chat about their upcoming service with their stylist. She could also consider optimizing the check-in process and ask clients to check-in via text. Click here to read more tips on how to balance the customer experience with new health department expectations.
Caroline’s Cake Shop
Hi! My name is Caroline and I own a popular cake shop in my town. I love sharing my sweet creations with my customers and frequently take orders for custom cakes. Designing, baking, building, and decorating the custom cakes takes a ton of time and energy. Sometimes I’m so busy with upcoming orders that I have no choice but to turn new customers away. I just don’t have enough time to devote to appointments for new cake designs when the list of orders gets long. Not to mention the administrative duties I have to perform. Sometimes I don’t have time to call customers for payment for a week after their order has been completed. Is there a way I can streamline these tasks without hiring additional help?
Innovative web solutions would go a long way for Caroline’s business. A Virtual Terminal could help her streamline payments by setting an automatic schedule in advance. That way, she can keep on decorating and not have to worry about calling the customer for payment. She could also benefit from a dynamic online ordering system. This would allow her customers to list all the details of what they would like to see on their cake without an appointment, which gives Caroline more time back in her day. The creative professionals at Electronic Merchant Systems can help Caroline implement these and other solutions to help improve efficiency in her business. Click here to learn more or check out the blog post below.
How the Right Merchant Services Products Can Help
We hope you will find these stories and responses helpful as your business faces challenges in marketing, customer experience, or difficult circumstances. To check out more stories like these, click here.