EOW Reflections 08/09/2023

Why do business owners wait until they’re up to their oxsters* in the poo before asking for help? It’s a question that comes up time and time again. We thought about it again today in the context of small businesses struggling with debt.

Anyone who has run a small business knows that if things are tough the tough get going. What that means that they work every hour available to keep the business afloat. Small business owners are emotionally invested in their businesses, don’t want them to fail, don’t want to let any employees, or suppliers or customers, or their families down. They are also rooted in the local communities, helping out various organisations, donating to local charities and helping sponsor local events. It’s not about being the ‘big I am’, but about doing their bit and ultimately in however small a way, levelling up. The though of letting all those people down drives small business owners on to work harder to avoid failure. People hang on grimly for decades assuming they should be able to sort it all out themselves and that asking for help is to admit failure.

Sometimes though that has the opposite effect. Sometimes the better route to take would be to stop, down tools, stand back and think about what or who is out there that could get you through this rough patch. Sometimes it’s a case of not seeing the wood and there are other people who could help you see through the trees (maybe a few need to be chopped down too).

Asking for help is brave. It’s saying I know there are problems and I know I’m too close to things. I need solutions and I am brave enough to know I am not seeing them. That’s a really hard conversation to have in any aspect of life, about money, mental health, relationships and in business.

Stop and think. The answer could be staring you in the face, someone in your team, advisers like accountant or solicitor, other business owners you trust, any business organisation you belong to. There are peers out there who would love to help, would be flattered to be asked, have got the T-shirt. There are organisations which offer free services to help you navigate all sorts of aspects of business such as the Business Support Helpline (we at OSBC can help you get paid money you’re owned). There are people you may have to pay to get the help you need but saving the business will make it a good investment.

However, we often don’t know the questions to ask, where to find the right person to ask and haven’t got time to ask. Once you open your mouth and speak you will discover people willing to help, people with similar experiences so you know you aren’t along. That gives you strength. Online communities are great places. Post the question and you’ll be amazed. There’s very rarely a quandary that someone hasn’t already grappled with and is willing to share what they’ve learned.

The best thing I’ve learned so far is to start the conversation. Just plunge in. Even if the person you talk to isn’t the right person, they will know someone who knows someone who can get you closer to the right person and with luck a solution that works.

*Scottish for armpit.