It’s almost a given that the small business owner wears many hats. Sometimes it feels like you’re troubleshooting more than you’re creating. Running a small business comes with its share of challenges. Combined with a lack of experience and resources, owners often need to come up with creative ways to solve problems.
In this article, I will go over common challenges that most small businesses face. I will use actual examples of challenges I’ve faced running my business and how I dealt with them and give you some creative and practical solutions to use on your business.
Before I begin, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Glynis, I’m an Apparel Business Specialist and mama to a wonderfully energetic, smart and funny little boy. I’m also the founder of Chase Your Dreams, a consulting agency focused on entrepreneurship and personal growth. I help fashion entrepreneurs build a purposeful and profitable clothing business so they can make a living doing what they love.
Before launching my consulting company, I ran a clothing design company called Punch Brand. I started my business in 2005 just as a hobby while I was working full time as a Product Manager in the apparel industry.
That hobby eventually turned into a full-time business for me that led to creating and selling my products globally. At one point, I caught the attention of the Google campus merchandise buyer and we collaborated on several official Android apparel and accessories for the Google store. I ran Punch Brand for an amazing 10 years!
In my 10 years of running Punch Brand, I was faced with many challenges as you can imagine. One that I faced from the very get-go was a trademark opposition. I wanted to register my brand crazyheads with the USPTO. There are several steps that a trademark application goes through in order to be approved. One step is that it’s published in a trademark journal, so that anyone who feels your trademark is possibly infringing on theirs, has the chance to oppose your trademark application. One day before the opposition deadline, I received a notice from a trademark lawyer of a large corporation. I’m not going to reveal who that company was but I found out they are a $130 million company.
O.M.G!! What the heck? How was I, this one-woman show going to be able to go up against this huge company?
So I thought about it and came up with a solution. I did some research and learned that the USPTO publishes all the other trademarks that had oppositions from this company, and all of them had the word “crazy” in it. It became apparent to me that this company was determined to stop anyone trying to register a name with the word crazy in it. So I began to scan through each trademark one by one, then noticed something. There was a trademark lawyer that had fought and gone against this opposing company and won. So what did I do? I contacted this trademark lawyer! We talked about a strategy and came up with a plan. Also, I had limited funds to spend on this so I set a budget on how much I was willing to spend. After several months of negotiations, I was able to get my trademark for crazyheads. It was stressful at the time but it was a huge accomplishment once I got the name registered. Hooray! I used a little bit of creative thinking to figure out a solution to a difficult problem.
So let’s get started and talk about 5 creative solutions for common challenges in business:
Challenge #1: How do you stay organized with tight deadlines and a million moving parts?
The solution is calendars. They are your BFF. I learned very early on from working at various corporations in the apparel industry that those companies that followed a calendar, whether it’s a product development calendar or sales calendar, they were better able to stay on top of timelines and deliveries. Those companies that didn’t use calendars had problems getting their products delivered on time to stores and clients. Another reason to use calendars is to avoid burn out as oftentimes employees are scrambling and putting out fires because they are so behind on their work. Using a calendar helps you stay on track. I start with a 12-month calendar and plug in my important deadlines. For product-based businesses, those deadlines are usually your delivery or ship dates. Then I work backward to figure out lead times to hit each deadline. This may take some practice to figure out, but I would recommend adding a buffer of a week or two to allow for any unforeseen problems. Once you have all your key dates figured out, then you can break them out into your weekly and daily tasks.
Challenge #2: How do you reduce the risk of an order getting canceled or potentially losing a client as a result of suppliers not shipping on time?
The solution is to build a solid foundation. Having a diverse supply chain is a key to ensuring you do not have all your eggs in one basket, and you have back up incase one falls through. I indirectly found out through a 3rd party that my main factory had declared bankruptcy, while they still had my goods in transit. That means that their creditors could cease the goods as collateral while they wait to be paid back. This was a huge repeat order from Google, so I was freaking out a bit. Luckily my goods arrived without any problems, however, this taught me a huge lesson. You should always be looking out for new suppliers as back up in case one falls through. Even when things are going well, you never know what will happen tomorrow. Start building a database of suppliers, manufacturers, and contractors even shipping companies today. You don’t want to run into the risk of not delivering your goods because your factory has gone belly up.
Challenge #3: How do I increase sales and stay ahead of the competition?
The solution is to focus on a niche business. Who’s your ideal customer? You know that saying, “If you’re everything to everyone, then you’re nothing to no one”. Knowing who you help and how you help them is a big part of a successful business plan. I personally find it sad and frustrating when clients cannot choose what business they’re in. Many business owners with a product they don’t consider to be niche, resist the idea of narrowing the focus of their marketing, fearing that they will lose business. However, choosing a niche and targeting it can actually increase sales. Here’s how it worked for my business. I started out creating character inspired clothing for anime fans. Pretty niche right? I was predominantly selling my products at anime and comic conventions, because that’s where my customers hang out. Everything I created was designed for this one specific customer. And guess what? That’s how Google found me. They were looking for someone to design and produce Android mascot hoodies and beanies for them. I guess I showed up on the search engine, they are Google after all. Niching also helps with becoming known as the expert in your field. When your business is niched very finely and you’re always talking about and writing about the same pain point, you become regarded as an expert. Niching is also the best way to command a higher price. Once you’re perceived to be the only person for that specific job, nobody will blink at or haggle about your prices ever again. Niching brings higher quality clients. When you increase the quality of what you offer in terms of value, the clients you attract will be of the same quality. It’s the law of attraction. Like attracts like.
Challenge #4: How do I make the best use of my time? I constantly feel overwhelmed, I wear too many hats.
The solution is outsourcing. Sell your strengths. Buy your weaknesses. This is probably one of the best pieces of advice I was given when I started out. I was doing everything myself. I mean EVERYTHING. I would be packing my own orders, scheduling social media posts, even doing my own bookkeeping. It’s very common for small business owners to feel like they have to do everything themselves. I hated bookkeeping to the point where I felt like it sucked the life out of me. So why did I do it for so long? Well, I was stubborn. Once I got over my need to control everything and hired a bookkeeper, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Suddenly I had so much more free time to work on my business and do the things I enjoyed doing. Another tip, if you’re thinking of hiring an assistant check with your industry or trade association to see if there are grants or wage subsidies available. I was able to get a wage subsidy through the Apparel Connexion, which allowed me to hire my first assistant.
Challenge #5: How do I get unstuck when I have so many questions? Who can I turn to for answers?
The solution (and this is very important) is to surround yourself with a support network. When you’re starting out as an entrepreneur it can feel lonely, especially if you work from home. It’s important to surround yourself with the right people who will support you and uplift you when times are tough. Learning from experts such as mentors and coaches are critical to helping you move along when you get stuck. A business coach can help you with brainstorming so that you’ll have someone to bounce ideas off. A coach can be someone to hold you accountable to get things done and give you guidance to help you get back on track. Having an expert who’s been through it can help you avoid some of the pitfalls when first starting out and that can save you from costly and time-consuming mistakes. You can also look into joining an industry or trade association, networking groups or other business groups and organizations. I’m proud to be a member of Mompreneurs and Forum for Women Entrepreneurs.
I would love to hear from you. If you have a small business challenge that you need my help with, please write to me in the comments section. If you have you have a story of a time you used creativity to overcome a challenge, please share in the comments section below.