What keeps an SME Business Owner Awake at night?

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

I thought I would share some of the insight I gained over the last few months. These are some of my observations from talking with several business owners across various sectors, and illustrates what it’s really like to be a business owner in 2020.

To be a business owner can have a lot of benefits. It provides you the freedom to provide a service and products to your customers in a way that is unique to you. You can forge and build a business that you are proud to call your own. With the added flexibility of doing so in a way that works around you.

Well in an ideal world this would certainly be the case. But as anyone who has run their own business will tell you, it is not all smooth sailing. It brings with it a lot of worry and stress. It is by no means a 9-5 day, it constantly consumes our thoughts. We are often working late in the night on new ideas or ways we can improve sales, profits and day to day activities.

The challenges that all businesses face have not changed much over the years. Perhaps only changing in order of priority and importance. Having said that, one new challenge has universally posed a threat to all business in one way or another.

I have listed the 10 key challenges, in no particular order below. How relevant they are varies since every business is unique in their situation.


This is a constant struggle for any company. Even more so if you have a product led business or hold inventory to provide a service. Understanding where your costs are coming from, and reviewing ways to reduce them. Ensuring that you focus your investment in the key areas that provide the quickest and best return.


Finding and retaining good staff can be difficult in any company. More so in certain sectors if specific knowledge or experience is required. Aside from talent, there are concerns around keeping up with changes in legislation. Pay bench-marking and now the added pressure of Furlough schemes.

Customer retention and User Experience:

The evolution of eCommerce and new selling platforms has widened the scope of choice. This means businesses now must work even harder. Good customer experience is the key to retaining business and maintaining a strong lifetime value. This has also meant that customer expectations and demands are always evolving. A constant review and adaptation of product offerings and services is of upmost importance.

Productivity and Process:

With time and money a precious commodity in many SME businesses, ensuring we are deploying both in the most efficient way is high on our priorities. This is especially true if we have extra staff members in the team. A lot of time is wasted on manual processes, that cause bottle necks in the business. New technological advances and software providers offer a host of solutions to improve productivity. But is often deemed as too costly. On top of that, navigating through the choices on offer and knowing which would be the most effective in your business can be a daunting prospect for many.

Marketing and Lead generation:

We talked about customer retention already, attracting new customers is often a much harder challenge.

Knowing how to market yourself to stand out in a busy marketplace is no easy task. With so many ways and places to promote your business, how do you know which option works best for you and will bring the most return. After all a constant stream of new business leads is your lifeline to sustainable growth

Being everything to everyone:

As a business owner, you are the HR manager, the administrator, the marketing expert and the sales manager. You will often wear several hats throughout each day depending on the need. Many of these areas are completely alien to you and don’t play to your strengths, but still you must assume them and do the best you can. This can mean that you become too over stretched, there is after all only one of you and a limited number of hours in a day! Eventually things will fall to the wayside, and could cause bigger problems down the line.

Profitability and Sustainability:

This goes without saying. Any business must maintain a healthy profit to sustainably grow. It is reported that only 1 in 4 businesses are likely to grow in 2020*. There are so many factors that come in to play here. Many we have covered already, but essentially it boils down to two things. How strong is your pricing strategy and product positioning? and How well are you controlling your cost base? It sounds simple enough but in reality, is much harder to balance.


This ties in with our previous comment about the new digital age. The internet market place has provided customers with almost infinite choices. This means where you had 1 or 2 local competitors in the past, you are now competing in a bigger playing field. One filled with bigger companies and well known brand names. How you differentiate yourself is imperative to showcasing why they should choose you. This new dynamic has placed an even bigger emphasis on getting your product/service, your pricing and your messaging in perfect sync.


Regardless whether this is something that relates directly to you or not, it is bound to have an impact. The uncertainty of what it will actually mean to businesses is still looming over our heads.

Online Security:

With more and more of our business now transacted online or in the cloud, it comes at the risk of cyber-attacks. The cost of such attacks can be devastating, not only as lost revenue but reputation too. And lest we forget the recent GDPR compliance regulations, which cause a great deal of concern for many business owners.

These are the top 10 concerns that I observed. Taken from my conversations with business owners pre and post Lockdown. They are not by any means exhaustive but should provide some insight around owning your own business in 2020.

This brings us to the final challenge. This one challenge in itself has added even more weight to each of the points raised above.


We have all experienced this pandemic in very different ways. The one thread that seems to run true for everyone, is one of uncertainty.

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” — H. P. Lovecraft

If you are an SME and any or all these issues resonate with you, then consider this.

You ARE your business. It is not easy to detach yourself enough from it to gain a fresh perspective and find new solutions.

The answer does not lie in slashing your prices to keep up with competitors. Trying to be everything to everyone by widening your product offer. Or even pouring money into endless marketing campaigns. They may seem like great ways to get new business fast. But this period in our lives will pass. Applying a quick fix now will eventually end up causing more harm to your business in the long term.

If there is one thing we should take away from our experiences during COVID, then it should be the importance of being prepared.

No one could have ever predicted the effect this pandemic had on us. But what you can do is make sure that if anything similar happens in the future, you are ready. You know exactly where you are in your business, can adapt quickly and have the tools in place to help you do so.

That is where I can help. It costs nothing more than the time it takes you to have a coffee break. So why not get the kettle on and let’s have that chat.


Photo by Irina Iriser


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