Despite the celebrity glamour that’s come to surround startup culture, the UK’s small businesses tend to be a little more practical about matters. For the majority, there’s no dream of rapid growth or Series A funding – instead, there’s a whole lot of grit, determination and hard work. If you fail, you figure out what went wrong and get up and try again. And again, and again.
Starting up in 2018
I’ve worked on UK Business Forums for a little over two years, and I’m constantly in awe of the bravery it takes to start up your own business. If the looming threat of a no-deal Brexit weren’t enough, there’s Amazon’s increasing market dominance, the steady disintegration of the High Street and the late payment epidemic that’s leaving the country’s small businesses £14 billion out of pocket.
All of this is a whirlwind to be reckoned with, even for an established business – yet we still get over two hundred new threads a week, from people who want to start up on their own or keep pushing to do more in their business. For some it’s a lifetime ambition, for others it’s freedom from the traditional workplace; either way, it seems there’s no killing the small business spirit.
A window into British small business
One of my favourite things about working on the forums is the glimpse you get into what actually matters to business owners. We have an incredibly diverse mix of people and businesses: the accountant in the northern reaches of Scotland, the web design company in Newcastle, the dog walker in Essex.
Some of the businesses have weathered the industry for thirty years and emerged with a substantial employee count, while others are still a side-project, crammed into a spare hour on the commute.
Each week, I try to compile a mix of the best threads and posts to share with a wider audience. It’s an opportunity to showcase some of the honest and insightful advice that our members offer up for free, and give a real-time insight into what’s on the small business agenda.
Topics range from small, everyday queries like choosing an e-commerce platform or dealing with a problematic employee, to something bigger – handling failure or looking after your mental health. Despite the option of posting under a pseudonym, most members tend to use their real names and are surprisingly open about their experiences.
It’s an advantage of working for yourself, one of our regulars said. You don’t have to answer to anybody.
The discussions that never die
Here’s a couple of subjects we see regularly, plus some of my favourite replies:
What can we expect from Brexit?
“In reality, there are certain givens in the world of business, and these include fluctuations in interest rates, commodity prices and exchange rates. If these didn’t feature in your original plan then you never really had a business, you were just riding a wave.”
How do I come up with a name for my business?
“I like the use of your own name. It says to me that you stand behind your business. “I am proud of my product/service and believe in it enough to attach my name to it.”
Is social media worth the effort?
“Social media is not like TV advertising. And it’s not like YouTube or putting up posters in the subway either. It is about connecting to your audience or customers. Whether it’s a full-blown forum for a major piece of software, or just a Twitter or Instagram account, it is the act of a company insider, sometimes the CEO or similar bigwig, connecting with the customer. Listening to the customer. Talking directly to the customer.”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in business?
“The biggest business lessons I have learnt have been through making mistakes. The sooner you get mistakes out of the way, the sooner you get to reap the rewards of doing things the right way! Business isn’t always rosy or pretty and doesn’t go ideally to plan, but I genuinely think drive, determination, and positivity go a hell of a long way to getting you where you think you currently want to end up.”