Out of OfficeOut of Office Blog

What I Never Knew About Running a Small Business

Claire Diaz-OrtizClaire Diaz-Ortiz

Although I joined Twitter when it was still small, I did so most unequivocally as an employee – not an owner, and so was pleasantly absent from the ownership decisions that face small (and growing) business owners on a regular basis. When I left Twitter to become an entrepreneur of my own, the floodgates opened. Suddenly, I found myself immersed in a brave new world. It wasn’t exactly my first time being in charge, but it was my first time at the helm of a for-profit small business, and the learning curve was far steeper than I ever imagined.

Here are a few of the most salient things I’ve learned on the journey, so far:

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Working ON the Business is Different than Working IN the Business

One of the biggest changes in the work life of a new small business owner is the mental shift required to understand the difference of working IN your business versus working ON your business. Especially if you come from the experience of being an employee, your default mode will initially be to work IN your business – to do the specific things your skillset has tasked you with to move the needle in your specific department or area of reach. When you’re a small business owner, though, a whole new, massive, category of work has been added to your plate that you might not expect. That new category? Working ON your business.

To keep a small business running and in top order, any small business owner has to prioritize working ON your business in order to ensure the ship is clean, on an even keel, and ready for regular sailing. And sometimes, this is all too easy to forget.

Ensuring that your company’s finances are in order, that your employees health and happiness are top of mind, and that your office trash cans are emptied on a regular basis is no small feat, and you’ll quickly learn that “working ON your business” isn’t a small item you can add to your to-do list. Instead, you have to rethink the way you think about work, and realize that as a new small business owner the work you do to keep your business healthy is an essential part of your role – and not an add-on.

Doing this, of course, requires adjustments. The only way to truly take this on is to ensure that you are cutting down in other areas of your business – those areas where you used to be working IN your business. And as many small business owners see, this is where smart hiring, clear delegation, and quality communication becomes paramount.

Contracts, Contracts, Contracts

When you spend years as an employee, and not an owner, it’s easy to forget that all the legal mumbo jumbo taking place in the background is taking up a big chunk of someone else’s time and energy. Making sure those “i’s” are dotted and those “t’s” are crossed in the deal you’re brokering as an employee in Department X is a big job – but it wasn’t your big job.

When you’re running a small business, suddenly you’re on point for lots of legal details that you more easily let an entire legal department handle in the past. This often leads small business owners to cut corners when it comes to essential items like ironclad contracts. Being more flexible than you should with a client, say, or not having a new contract triple-checked for accuracy, are common errors that small business owners can find themselves facing. Thankfully, most of the time a small business owner doesn’t face any negative consequences from not being as thorough with contracts as one should be. But if – or when – you do get burned by client, provider, or customer – it will immediately change your perspective and wake you up to the importance of this critical role of being a small business owner.

 Running a Small Business Is Not for the Faint of Heart

In case you didn’t guess it already, running your own small business is not a walk in the park recommended for any and all excitable humans with a cool, new idea to change the world. Instead, it’s an amazing experience, a wonderful chance to do exactly what you want to do, and an incredible challenge.

So let’s talk about the challenge part for a minute. In this day and age, it’s rare that any employee can leave their work entirely at the office when they go home, so the idea of being “always on” as a small business owner doesn’t feel dramatically different to some folks who are making the leap from employee to small business owner. Let me be the first to disavow you of this notion. In reality, when you check in late at night on a work email as an employee you do so with a limited notion of responsibility. Ultimately, if the fire is a really big one, someone else is going to be truly in charge to call the shots and mediate the fall-out. So what happens when you check in late at night as a small business owner and find a fire that needs attending to? It’s up to you.

To be clear, running a small business is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things you can do in your career, and it’s a step that I’d encourage many an ambitious individual to take. That said, it is not without its challenges. Being up to the task, and ready to fight the good fight, is crucial to seeing the success you dream of in your small business – wherever you are and whatever you do.

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