The decision to dive in and start your business is often driven by your desire to be your own boss. Working for yourself, on your own time, sometimes even in your fuzzy slippers is like a dream! But by year two, the thrill of having your own business is often replaced by the gravity of everything hinging on its success. Harsh reality sets in and things may get stressful as you realize that the books aren’t going to keep themselves and customers aren’t going to magically appear in your shop.

As business owners from seasons 1 and 3 of Deluxe’s Small Business Revolution — Main Street can attest, things can get dicey fast. Tracy and Aaron Griffith of Thriftalicious in Wabash, Indiana, and Jay “Hart” Stanley and Alex St. Cin of Lighthouse Sounds in Alton, Illinois, came face to face with some startling realities, such as cash flow crunches and dwindling foot traffic. Here’s how they met these year two challenges head-on and came out on top.

Reality: Bad bookkeeping (or no bookkeeping) can break your business

Like many small business owners, the Griffiths weren’t financial wizards, and they didn’t have a budget in place. They hadn’t been tracking their sales, and that often meant they were living from paycheck to paycheck. “There have been times when I spent the last of what I had to buy on [inventory] we had to sell,” said Aaron. “When we first started, we’d go all day and not make a dime.”

How to handle the reality: Hire a CPA

With four children to take care of, the Griffiths didn’t want to spend money they didn’t really have. But they discovered that the small fee they paid to outsource their accounting to a CPA, who could keep their books and records in order, was well worth the cost. The CPA kept their finances in order and allowed them to focus on running their business. (Learn more about outsourcing your bookkeeping in our free eBook, Finance Fundamentals.)

Reality: It’s hard to mix friendship and business

When long-time friends Stanley and St. Cin partnered up to start a recording studio, they didn’t realize how their friendship would be tested. “It’s been a lot a lot a stress,” said Stanley. “We do something stupid and spend money on what we shouldn’t. That can make or break us, so we bicker about the slightest things.”

The ambiguity swirling around ownership, decision-making, compensation and other aspects of the business put a strain on the men’s friendship. Stanley used his inheritance to originally fund the business and tossed in an additional $100,000 to purchase a bigger and better building, so the corporation was under his name. But there would be no recording studio without St. Cin’s gear and services.

How to handle the reality: Document your partnership

To keep their friendship intact, Stanley and St. Cin decided to put their partnership in writing. “We talked with the lawyer the other day,” said St. Cin. “We figured out the percentages, and we’re setting stipulations for those percentages to change as the business grows.” Having clear-cut lines established about their roles and responsibilities will not only help keep the peace but also make it easier to separate, if need be, on good terms.

Reality: Without a website, you’re as good as invisible

If people don’t find you online, they won’t know you exist and can’t become your customers. The Griffiths enlisted the help of a website design service provider to create a professional website that would attract people’s attention and business. Their new website captured the business’s “Old School Cool” personality, which differentiated it from other thrift stores in the area. The site featured just the right balance of messaging and visuals to give various types of online visitors, including sellers and gamers, the information they needed to make shopping decisions. And the site’s mobile-friendly design amplified the shop’s visibility by tapping into customers on the go.

How to handle the reality: Launch a professional website

Many small businesses don’t have a website right out of the gate, figuring they can tackle that problem later. But a website is a basic necessity of having a business. Here’s why:

  • A website establishes credibility
  • It allows search engines and people to find you
  • It provides valuable location, phone number, operating hours and service offering information to potential visitors
  • It drives visitors to take action, whether that’s to shop online, visit your physical location, call your business for more information or even sign up for your newsletter

If your business doesn’t have a website, it’s never too late to start one.

Reality: Time really is money

Recording studios only make money when the spaces are booked. That meant that Stanley and St. Cin needed to offload time-zapping tasks and focus on booking and serving more clients. Stanley, especially, had very little time to promote the business and find customers because he had the huge burden of managing employee payroll.

How to handle the reality: Outsource common time-consuming tasks like payroll

Stanley and St. Cin decided to outsource their payroll. Trusting a professional service with your business’s payroll not only frees up time, but it can also help your business stay compliant with ever-changing tax laws and help you avoid paying penalties for common errors. “Now that we have more engineers, I’m thankful Deluxe set us up with payroll services and took care of all that red tape, giving me more time to focus on the business,” Stanley said.

Reality: It can be tough to get your business name out there

Drawing customers to your business takes time and effort. The most innovative idea, the most attractive branding, the most effective website only goes so far in getting customers in the door or driving them to click the “Buy” button. Spreading the word about your business is a mix of promoting yourself — via channels like email, social media, direct mail, directory listings and the like — and letting others promote your business for you.

How to handle the reality: Branded merchandise can drive business

Branded promotional products are a great way to build goodwill, increase repeat business and create new opportunities for revenue. By selling or in some cases giving away branded items and apparel, you turn customers into ambassadors for your brand. For instance, to crank up the volume on their brand, the Lighthouse Sounds owners decided to sell custom apparel like T-shirts and hats, featuring their recording studio’s logo so people would wear it around town. They also handed out branded coasters and guitar picks to promote the business.

As a new business owner, you’re bound to come face-to-face with some startling realities, but don’t get discouraged. Follow in the footsteps of other entrepreneurs who’ve been there, done that and emerged victorious. And don’t forget to tune in this fall when six small businesses in Searcy, Arkansas, tackle the everyday challenges of thriving in their community.

Reality can be rough, but your website doesn’t have to be

Get the strong website your business needs — and that your customers are looking for.

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