The Hardest Part of Building a Business?

Mike Cole

It’s a question I’m often asked in regard to my experience in business and the answer is easy. By far the most challenging part is dealing with staff. Recruitment, inductions, integration, training, motivation, inspiration, reviews, salary packages, maternity, paternity, problem solving, stress, finances, disputes, complaints, rewards, resignations, promotions, career paths, sick leave, holidays, pensions, cars, parking, flexi-time, part-time, tax, personal problems, disagreements, contracts, bonuses, loyalty, competition…. 

And, if like me, you genuinely care about the people without whom your business couldn’t function, be warned it’s an emotional rollercoaster.  

You will need to be bulletproof yourself because while we all have our personal life challenges to deal with from time to time, none of yours will be of very much interest to those you employ. Nor can the business afford for you to be off your game or wallowing for any period of time. You will have to be ‘up’ almost constantly in order to inspire and motivate and earn the respect you need to lead.

The pressure you will be under to ensure the health of your business, and in turn, the livelihood of your people will be too much for many, especially in economic downturns when your turnover is suffering. Your focus must not waiver.

Your individuals will understandably, but frustratingly, mainly care about the impact of decisions on their own welfare, while you have to consider the impact of every move you make on an entire workforce.

You will have to train and develop your team constantly, and when you do, some of them will be poached by bigger fish with deeper pockets. This may break your little heart.

When they make mistakes you will have to step in and take responsibility as though it were your own. Woe betides such a mistake impacts on a client who then drops a social media bomb on your business that unfairly undermines the whole ethos of your company to the entire world.

You’ll need to know ALL your people inside out – their kids’ names, personal circumstances, goals, motivations, strengths and weaknesses – any lack of knowledge will reasonably reflect as a lack of compassion, understanding or appreciation.

You will have to create career paths for your best people or risk losing them. That means building your business, innovating and progressing.

To this end, you will be responsible for coming up with the bulk of ideas that push the business forward and/or improve it. You’ll need to make the decisions required to instigate these new process and systems. Yet those same staff who need the business to develop and not stagnate will probably not like change and may well resist the things you try to implement.

Your business must cope with sickness and maternity/paternity leave that will significantly impact on your ability to run smoothly, effectively and profitably, and retain the best service experience for your clients - but for which you must be empathetic and supportive at all times. Don’t forget you need to pay an additional 3% of their salaries for pension contributions from April.

Nowadays the idea you can manage with personality and banter is not really an option, you make a mistake (or a perceived mistake) and you can be dealing with a tribunal situation in a heartbeat. At some point guaranteed you will employ a bad egg who will send you down that path anyway. You will be too small (under 65 employees) to realistically justify your own HR department, so you will have to pay for outsourced support to cover yourself from making procedural mistakes.

Of course, the managing of all these staff challenges is additional to the actual role you need to fulfil for your business.

I think that more than sums up why it’s the toughest part of running a business. Why I have massive respect for anyone who builds and keeps employing knowing the challenges only multiply when you do that. But before I leave you thinking it’s a complete downer and why on earth does anyone bother, let me add this closing statement…

Many of my proudest and most satisfying memories in business have been the result of employment. Seeing people grow, mature and become successful in their own right. Finding really talented people I love being surrounded by. Giving opportunity to quality youth to develop. Rewarding those who excel. The loyalty that makes me well up. Knowing purple Imagine blood runs through the veins of many of my people. Hearing staff happy and laughing. Thank you messages, often years later, saying we made a difference to someone’s life. Sharing our successes.

If you can cope with the challenges – the rewards are powerful.