Small biz owners reveal the things they wish they had done differently when starting out

Mark Fitt

Source: Photoshot

Shoulda, woulda, coulda…

Technology dominates the top five things small business owners wish they had done differently in their first years of business

Top five things business owners wish they had done sooner:

  1. Created a website
  2. Invested in better IT
  3. Bought accountancy software
  4. Employed some help
  5. Sought financial advice

Small business owners have revealed the top five things that they wish they had done differently in their first years of trading, as new research highlights the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of starting a new business according to owners themselves.

The research from Xero and Aviva found that small business owners wish they had got to grips with technology sooner, as owners admit they should have created a website (33 per cent), invested in better IT (29 per cent) and bought accountancy software (27 per cent) sooner than they did.

Other elements business owners wish they had started earlier include employing help (27 per cent) and seeking financial advice (26 per cent), as the research reveals that financial administration takes up more head space than it does real time for business owners.

Business owners spend an average of just three hours 40 minutes on financial management per week, despite 59 per cent being worried about keeping their books in order and meeting accounting deadlines, 62 per cent say they find managing the accounts one of the least rewarding elements of running a business.

Baby steps

The first steps for most start-ups are company and tax registration before they start trading, and over half take out public liability and employer liability insurance in the first few months. However, 60 per cent of start-ups admit they have difficulty understanding what types of insurance cover they need, with 58 per cent agreeing that insurance is a complex area.

Financial management comes next, with at least half engaging an accountant in the first two months, and most having some kind of software for managing their accounts by month four. Experienced entrepreneurs, who have started businesses before, also prioritise talking to a financial advisor, typically by the second month of trading, whereas novices typically delay until month five.

When the going gets tough, a third (33 per cent) of first-time business owners turn to friends and family for support compared to 25 per cent of experienced business owners. Accountants and financial advisors are also trusted by one in ten new business owners who turn to them in times of trouble.

When it comes to staff and insurance, experienced business owners were found to understand the value of protecting their people and their business, taking out cyber insurance and protecting their assets just one month into operation. In contrast, the research found that novice entrepreneurs take out cyber insurance as late as seven months into the start of their business.

The survey aso found that experienced business owners are quicker to put benefits in place for their staff to aid the process of recruiting and retaining talent, while novice businesses are far slower to protect employees. Just under half (46 per cent) of novice businesses have no private health cover, while 40 have no cover for long term health issues.

Darren Upson, Director of Small Business at Xero said: “Unfortunately there are no instructions when it comes to starting a new business as a first-time entrepreneur, so mistakes will inevitably be made along the way. The research from those business owners who have been through it has uncovered clear advice - invest in the technology that can help simplify your business admin and allow you to spend more time and energy growing your business.”

Andy Beswick, MD SME Solutions at Aviva, said: “We all look back on some of the decisions we have made and with hindsight, wish we had done things differently. But when you are in the middle of setting up your own business and about to start trading, there are a huge amount of priorities that need balancing and inevitably some things slip.

“Listening to what established business owners have to say is a great way of avoiding similar mistakes, but firms like Aviva have a part to play as well. By working with companies like Xero we are able to help SMEs understand what financial services they may need, if they have the

right level of insurance in place and allow business owners to make decisions on whether they need to enhance their cover. Developing products and propositions like this will help a small company survive those early years.”

The ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of starting a small business:

  1. Make sure your heart is in it and that you have the support of the people you care about, as the journey is going to be tough.
  2. Sort out processes and business administration sooner rather than later. Having outstanding and time consuming administration tasks hanging over you can be distracting. Accounting software that enables you to keep on top of your numbers can help here.
  3. Don’t leave your assets and people unprotected - you have a lot at stake. Insurance might feel like a complex decision, but once it’s done, it’s done.

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