Think small business is easy? Think again.

I've had a conversation over lunch for a few colleagues about small businesses where I've been closely involved in, and some of the things small business owners have to deal with.

Here are some abbreviated lowlights. Of course the real situation is more complex (and painful!), but I hope this serves as a reminder how remarkable any small business owner is, even if they are just surviving!

In one business, we had a really good engineer, who quickly added a huge amount of business development value over his expected technical role, simply because of who he knew. He introduced us to a patent lawyer who was efficient and quick, he introduced us to a very senior decision maker in the largest customer, he gave us very deep insights into a tender before it was published, he gave us some magic differentiators we did not expect, he even got one of our biggest suppliers from the US to fly over and show us their yet-to-be-launched latest technology.
The only hiccup was that this was all fabricated, dreamt-up stuff. (He even fabricated an NHS trust, complete with web site, just for us.) And he was very convincing in how he'd introduce this. The bottom line? He cost us probably £1/2m of wasted time and energy in a fragile start-up... and without benefiting personally from it in any way. (E.g. we found the patent lawyer's cheque in his drawer later, together with drafts of fabricated communications.)

Another business had one full time person and business owner plus five part time people working shifts.
The only problem was that one employee was naughty and had to be sent packing at the same time as another one was going off on maternity leave, the next breaking a foot, one breaking a toe and the other resigning because they moved home. That sort of makes it hard to keep all the balls in the air for the sole remaining owner!

One business I was involved in once offered to pay £25 to get in a local school booklet/advert "for the benefit of the kids". Or so we thought. In fact, the £25 bought us a place in an "easy-to-scam" list. So the rest all followed.
We received silent calls, sometime 10 a day, blocking the phone line for real incoming customers calls and making the staff nervous. (And then, magically, a call from a company promising a service to help block nuisance calls for money.) This is still ongoing.
Another was repeated calls from numerous companies claiming the business signed up to pay for long-running advertising in various publications and on various web sites, sending threatening letters and even calling, pretending to be bailiffs that would turn up and take all the equipment. Of course, they never did turn up, but sometimes the threats worked with some of the staff to then "save the company" and sign over more money.

Another one I've encountered was a company offering HR services. They pressure sold their service by pretending to get injured by tripping in the business, then saying they would not sue providing the service contract was signed. And then the contract stipulated extortionate fees that would increase dramatically every year... requiring a 5 year notice period before it could be cancelled.

So - if you sometimes feel frustrated with processes and departments (e.g. legal or procurement), spare a thought for the value they do add!


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