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Being a sprat shouldn’t make you mackerel food

When you are the little fish trying to hold their own in an ocean of giants, it can be hard.  Especially when they don’t play fair.  Jim took a few of his own experiences and those of friends and made them in to a little bit of advice for micro business owners. 

Being a sprat shouldn’t make you mackerel food.

In the UK, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in 2017 there were 4.3 million non-employing small businesses.  That translates to 76% of businesses in the UK that don’t employ anybody.  Small businesses accounted for 51% of all private sector turnover in the UK.  The landscape of British business is marked by small companies.

For many of these businesses, there’s no choice other than to work with and for companies far larger than they are.  The ability for a small, agile and responsive business to punch above its own weight is powerful.  The case studies that these micro-businesses create and the credibility that their work builds will be used to enhance reputations and acquire new clients.  It’s how the game is played.

But that isn’t how it operates the other way around.  When you’re big and employ a micro business, the benefits are huge.  A dedicated, agile, experienced and keen to impress (or willing to over-invest) resource that can add value quickly and in short bursts.

It’s a win-win.

But that does not always reflect the reality.

I have proudly and happily run my own business now for 5 years having previously worked in a range of organisations – some small, some large and one that was frankly massive.  What I do today is the most rewarding and fulfilling thing I believe that I have ever done and I wouldn’t change it.  I’ve worked with some massive companies and made mistakes along the way.  Many of those have cost me money, but most have dented my pride and confidence and made me question whether I was ever cut out for this in the first place.  All the while, I know that I am doing the right thing, in the right ways, getting good results and providing customer satisfaction.

Being the little fish in an ocean occupied by giants can be a tough gig.  Everyone who runs their own business knows and expects clients to come and go.  The hope is that the work is good enough, enjoyed enough and valued sufficiently for there to be more where that came from.  From the perspective of the micro-business owner, these big boy contracts provide cache, recognition and just possibly a few months when they don’t have to worry about the kid’s next pair of school shoes.

The ocean giants can pretty much behave as they please and many are superb when it comes to caring for their small contractors and suppliers, paying on time, communicating future needs and keeping everything moving forward.  But that is not always the case.  Talk to most small business owners and they will be able to tell about the day that they got dropped without notice, or when they had to wait over 90 days to get an invoice settled, or when agreements went missing.

And those are incidents that hurt more than just cost money.

How to stay protected

It’s sad that micro-businesses have to protect themselves from bad situations.  Mostly, these businesses are made up of people who love doing what they do and just want a chance to shine.  The reality of these situations however, is that micro business owners need to protect themselves in case the worst happens.  So, based on my experiences, here is what I would suggest.

The simplest tip is often the hardest one to swallow because it goes against everything that being a micro-business is about.  Get everything written down.  Put terms and conditions in place and make notes at the end of client meetings.  If things go south, at least you have a written record to fall back on.

Stay in the moment.  A micro-business cannot run on a jam tomorrow basis.  I’ve seen so many circumstances and messages that say “great job, we’ll be back in 6 months, so can we just…” or “project a is closed effectively from today, but don’t worry, we’re having a project b meeting next week so we’ll be in touch”.  Don’t fall in the trap of doing favours for things that are not guaranteed.

Stick to your guns.  Don’t let size bully and intimidate you.  You did the work, they made their promises and you can prove that – so don’t be afraid of putting your foot down and getting what you want, need and deserve.  There are millions of reasons why a client decides they want to end their project.  If you’re confident that you’ve done everything they asked of you, then don’t allow yourself to be pushed around.

When you create one-on-one connections with people, especially when you’re giving your all to them, it’s easy to lose focus on the true nature of your relationship.  The micro-business can be a tiny, disposable consideration in a much larger picture.  While you’re giving blood, sweat, gravy and egg to your clients, someone at their side is measuring you as a line on a spreadsheet, not a person and business.  So, remember your value and do all that you can to retain it.  It’s the best commodity that you have.

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