Linh Bergen-Peters, Chief Marketing Officer at Spotcap
In recent years we have become captivated with the notion of entrepreneurship — so much so that big corporates are now emulating startup practices, such as daily standups and casual everyday wear in the office. We make links to ping-pong playing startups in Silicon Valley, and tend to ignore the fact that most successful small businesses are founded in our own backyard, by someone who was around before the age of reality TV, Blockchain and futuristic mobile payments.
Although there are a handful of undeniable traits all business owners share — creativity, passion and dedication for example — there are many common misconceptions, or myths, about the kind of people who gravitate towards self-employment, and what that looks like.
These myths often take our focus away from the hard work small business owners diligently put in every day. To debunk a few of the most common myths, I’ve asked several founders what it’s really like to run your own small business. Here is what they had to say:
Linh Bergen-Peters will be giving a talk titled ‘Customer Centricity in B2B Marketing’ at European Women in Tech 2018.
Linh’s session will cover the nature of customer centricity in B2B marketing – how the customer should be considered in every decision you make, from product development to product marketing.
Myth #1: Only millennials are made for entrepreneurship
There is a misconception that the young ‘n’ hip drive the lion’s share of innovation and production, but a wealth of recent data tells a different story. According to research from the U.S. Census Bureau and MIT, successful US founders are middle-aged, 45 years old on average. A similar trend can be observed in the UK, where the fastest growing age-group for business owners is the over-65s, and that’s according to a report by Barclay’s Business Banking.
Co-Founders Tim and Gina Murray, who started their business, Aware Senior Care, in 2014 when they were in their mid-fifties, believe the driving force behind this emerging trend is financial stability. “By waiting till our fifties we had a pretty good picture of our financial responsibilities and after analysing business startup costs, we felt we were in a position to take on the risk. If it failed, we could absorb it. That’s the acid test,” said Murray.
There are myriad of benefits to starting your business later in life. Founder and CEO of Boroughbox, Andy Lawson, believes it was his work and life experience which enabled his current success. “I'd been a co-founder in another business a few years earlier which enabled me to bring a wealth of experience to the table this time around.”
Multinational small business lender, Spotcap, has also observed this trend. “About 60 percent of our customers are more than 40 years of age, often running established and mature businesses. It’s interesting that there was this idea that fintech services like ours would be the preserve of early adopters but that hasn’t been our experience at all,” explained Jens Woloszczak, Spotcap Founder and CEO.
Myth #2: Work-life balance exists
When you work for yourself, you set your own rules and don’t need to subscribe to any rigid workplace structures, but that doesn’t necessarily create a greater work-life balance. A report from Gallup found that up to 57 percent of small-business owners say they work six or more days each week. In sharp contrast, only 7 percent say they work fewer than five days each week. For owners such as Gwendi Klisa who founded a business in her namesake, her company is the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up, and her last thought before bed. It’s not a nine to five, it’s a lifestyle.
“I craved that elusive freedom of being my own boss, also assuming I’d have a better work-life balance. So I quit. Whilst I’m now in charge of my days and time, I’m never as free as I imagined — I’m obsessed with my business. It’s always there, my customers are omnipresent, the business as a whole follows me everywhere, every day, and I have to work way more than I used to,” said Klisa.
Helmut Heptner, COO of ApprovalMax, shares Klisa’s view: “It’s like running a marathon; everything starts to hurt after a certain period of time but there’s an achievable end-goal. When you hit your milestones it’s great fun, and when you finally reach the goal, you can be proud of your achievements.”
Myth #3: You need to be an expert in business before you can start your own
Do you need to have a complete understanding of an industry or a market before jumping in? Well, it won’t hurt, but there are certainly a plethora of owners making it work without previous experience in their particular field.
Before founding JimJam Spreads in their mid-forties Kellie and Kevin Bath had zero experience in the food industry, but in Kevin’s words: “you’re never too old to learn new tricks.”
And similarly, Sophie Gibson, didn’t have any formal business qualifications before she founded The Penguin Patrol. “I started with just a passion for the product I was selling. I picked most of it up on the way”.
Myth #4: Small business owners have to do it all
For a small business every penny counts, which often means owners try to do it all themselves to save on costs. This is a somewhat counterintuitive approach as it ends up draining a far more valuable resource—time.
Katrina Starkie, owner of A-Star Media which recently merged with Media Purpose, encourages all business owners to seek out external support from people with skills which complement their own, even if it means recognising personal weaknesses.
“I think the key to being a successful business owner is recognising your weaknesses and the areas where you need support, then either delegating within your team or working with people outside of the business,” says Starkie.
Myth #5: Business owners don’t rely on financial support
The greatest challenge to small business growth and survival is economic uncertainty. Modern businesses are dynamic, flexible and fast—always looking to meet customer demands. When they see an opportunity, they want to capitalise on it, and for that they need financial flexibility.
According to a U.S. Bank study from Jessie Hagen on small businesses, in 82 percent of cases poor cash flow management, or poor understanding of cash flow, contributes to the failure of a business.
Heptner believes the majority of businesses will need finance at some point in time, but is concerned about how accessible finance is to them. “For many startups finance is required and my business was no exception. It’s often a chicken-and-egg situation; you need to prove your success to access finance, but often need the finance to be successful.”
Many businesses aren’t aware of the financing options available to them. The rise of the alternative lending industry means business owners can explore options such as crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending or online lenders. For example, Spotcap offers an unsecured product, better suited to owners who often don’t have real estate or sufficient collateral to secure a loan.
Myth-busting is a must to ensure the right support
We have an image in our mind of small business owners as young, energetic and hip. We believe entrepreneurs are experts in their field, with total control of every aspect of their business from their working hours to their finances. However, the truth is this picture is not a true reflection of the small business community. Every business owner is unique and cannot be adequately defined by their age, industry nor lifestyle.
But, in order to provide the right support, it’s crucial that the government, industry associations and lenders understand business owners’ reality. We’ve learnt that age isn’t a barrier, that passion and dedication can take a business further than industry expertise, and that you don’t have to take on financial risk personally.
Linh Bergen-Peters will be giving a talk titled ‘Customer Centricity in B2B Marketing’, at European Women in Tech, on Wednesday 28th November.
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Bio, Linh Bergen-Peters, CMO, Spotcap
Linh Bergen-Peters brings more than 20 years of marketing experience to her role as Chief Marketing Officer at Spotcap. As CMO, Linh is responsible for Spotcap’s multinational marketing strategy and the global marketing team. Linh has worked for leading technology companies across Europe, building and marketing high-tech brands. Before joining Spotcap, she held senior roles at HID Global, AMD and Hewlett Packard. Linh is fluent in four languages and holds a masters degree in management from ESSEC Business School in France.