If you have a side hustle, consider yourself in good company. Black women are starting up businesses at a phenomenal rate. American Express reports that the number of businesses operated by African-American women has grown by 164% since 2007. Additionally, African-American women-run businesses make up the second largest segment of women-owned businesses in America. The report also finds minority women are more likely to run a side-hustle. We've come a long way, and we are continuing to make strides. But it's not easy.
Holding down the fort at home, at your daytime job, and your side-hustle can be a Herculean feat. It's easy to lose focus when demands from family, pressures from work, and expectations you've placed on yourself and your business are pulling you in every direction. Every day, great ideas succumb to the realities of having a business while trying to manage everyday life. Navigating through this pandemic and the current social justice movement are additional issues that small-business owners face.
Entrepreneurs need the right advice to help their businesses succeed, especially during turbulent times. Thankfully, we got the chance to sit down with business strategist, Rhonda Toussaint, MBA, PMP, to discuss what entrepreneurs can do to ensure their company remains viable in the current climate.
Toussaint is the owner of Fulcrum Shift: Business Strategy and Consulting, where she offers salient and practical advice to small-business owners. She's operated two small businesses of her own while working a full-time job, so she is well versed in the struggles that face entrepreneurs. Over the years, she's learned to work smarter, not harder, and is committed to sharing those techniques with others. Her friendly personality and professionalism made this an easy interview to conduct, and we made sure to pick her brain for the best advice anyone with a side hustle could use.
First, let's get the big question out of the way. Is it even possible for a small business to survive in the chaos of 2020?
Absolutely, 100% - maybe even more now than ever before. There are a few reasons why. The first is the current movement to support small businesses. People have more awareness now of local, small businesses and are actively seeking them out. The second is the increase in online purchasing. COVID restrictions like quarantining, self-isolation, and stay-at-home orders forced most of us to turn to online shopping. Whether you were an online shopper before or not, it suddenly became something you had to do instead of something you liked to do. A more significant focus on online shopping has given small-business owners a larger platform and a chance to expand and do things even better in 2020. Finally, small-business owners who have the right plan and processes, in place, can do exceptionally well in this climate.
What do you think are the biggest mistake(s) small business owners are making?
I don't consider them mistakes; I think of them as learning opportunities.
But if I had to boil it down to two of the most significant issues that I see, the first would be a lack of clarity about the company's purpose and direction. Small-business owners should know what problems their company solves (or gap it fills) and who their audience is. Knowing these key factors helps you stay focused and informs every other decision you make. I find people tend to spin their wheels because they're unsure of their plans and goals.
I would say the second issue is opting for cheap instead of quality. I'm talking about materials, suppliers, services, and whatever you need to make your company work. Cheap always ends up costing you more. I'm not saying you shouldn't look for a great deal or inexpensive options. The "hookup" can be great if you know the quality of what you're getting. But if you're just looking for the cheapest option, that's going to be a problem. Because as the old saying goes, "you get what you pay for." Take the time to do the research; know who you're doing business with, test the quality, get references, sample the work, and ask questions. Don't let a low price point be your only factor.
Explain what working smarter actually means to you. Wouldn't working harder achieve the same result?
Can you still be successful by working your tail off? Absolutely, but why if there is a better way? I like to use the analogy of working out at the gym to illustrate my point. Let's say you go to the gym every day and do long but random workouts on different machines. At the end of the month, you will see results. But what if you find a trainer/expert with a plan where you only have to work out for 40 mins for 3 or 4 days a week. Option 2 is the less stressful and time-consuming option. You can get the same or better results in less time with less chance of burnout and injury. A business plan is like a training plan in that way. It keeps you on track, breaks down your goals into smaller achievable objectives, and allows you to work more efficiently. A good business plan, combined with a firm knowledge of your audience, business model, values, and mission, will help you achieve your desired result.
What are the most important processes/systems that small-business owners can put in place to make their workload easier?
In my opinion, small-business owners need two fundamental processes for the short- and the long-term management of their company.
The first is legal. For some, this may seem not as important in the early days of a business. And while it's true that you won't need it until you need it, do you really want to wait until then? It's better to set it up early because it will save you so much drama and hardship later. For example, issues like your legal obligations, what recourse you have if someone doesn't pay, or steals your work are just some of the legal questions you may want to sort out early on. Have a professional create legal documents for you that protect your interests. It's not as expensive as people think, especially for simple solutions.
The second is operational. I'm not talking about a corporate manual but a simple outline of how you conduct your day-to-day business. Most people keep everything in their head because it's just them, and they know how everything runs. They figure they don't need to write anything down. But you're not doing yourself any favors. A procedures manual can help your business run smoother. How you inspect your products or how you deal with returns, are two examples of the types of operational activities you need to write down. Having something to refer to will help you remain calm when these situations arise. But more importantly, I think it is most helpful when you need to take a temporary leave from your business, whether it's a vacation, an illness, or a family emergency. If you have your operations procedures written down, somebody can fill in for you or help out, as needed.
Is it necessary to outsource work?
Necessary, no. Is it a good idea? Absolutely. I've found that the limitations of the owner often hamper small business growth. As an exercise, I often ask people to calculate how much money they are losing by doing everything themselves or not doing a task at all. From here, they can see if it is cost-effective to do specific tasks or if they are losing money by avoiding the work altogether. I tell my clients that if they're not good at doing something (i.e., social media, taxes, website creation), or if they're wasting too much time doing it, they need to pay someone to do it for them. Because after all, time is money. Why struggle with it when somebody else's side hustle can be your best investment.
Another thing I recommend is the use of virtual assistants. They are excellent at what they do. You can easily streamline your search to get someone who knows your specific niche or need. They can help build your social media accounts, answer your calls/emails, or respond to client questions or requests. We tend to assume we can't afford to outsource, but we have to consider what it costs us not to.
During these difficult times, how can small-business owners figure out what to do next? Where can they find the inspiration to pivot the focus of their business?
The first thing you have to do is break down your business into its basic components. Next, look at those parts to see what elements need to change in the current environment. Third, come up with options for how they can change. Don't forget to ask customers for their feedback – find out what they want. Finally, select the options that are the most doable and start there. You have to be willing to think outside the box, put yourself out there, and change your model. I recently worked with clients to revamp their studio photography business that was struggling under COVID restrictions. Together we found a solution that worked. They now provide social-distancing outdoor (veranda, porch, back yard, and park) photography. We turned the isolation of COVID into a business opportunity to capture families at home with nothing but time on their hands. Business is now booming.
How significant is a social media/online presence to a small business?
It is key. If you do not have an online/social media presence, it will affect your legitimacy as a business. Frankly, you will miss opportunities. People will want to look you up to see your work samples, find out more about your story, see who you've worked with, and so on. Nobody knows you're there if you don't have an online presence. No matter the size or scope of the business, everyone needs at a minimum a one-page or two-page website for potential customers to view. It is the standard now. It is no longer complicated, technical, or expensive to build a website. There are excellent templates, ecommerce sites, site builders that make it easy. Also, if you're still not comfortable, find someone to do it for you. Again, somebody else's side hustle can save yours.
Finally, and this is important, if you have a small business on social media – your page should be public, not private. If you're selling something or providing a service and your page is private, I question how serious you are about your business.
What can small-business owners do if they're feeling overwhelmed with managing their life and their small business?
For me, the business is always secondary to personal happiness and life. Still, I know that not having a supplemental income can be a stressor for many small-business owners. So the two things are interrelated. If you're feeling overwhelmed, there are a few steps you can take. First, ask yourself if the situation is temporary or permanent? Next, consider what necessary activities of the business you have to get done? Third, ask yourself what tasks you can leave behind that will make your life easier. Lastly, remove whatever is non-essential, scale it back, or outsource.
Running a side hustle and having a life are not opposing ideas. They can co-exist, and it is possible to manage both with great success. But your mental health and your well-being are what matter most. You have to remember you can't be or do everything. If you're feeling overwhelmed, it's because you've taken on too much, and it's a good time to step back and evaluate before things get out of control. Having a solid business plan and key strategies in place can make your business run smoother, help you stay focused, and make your life easier.
If you need help managing your side hustle, visit Fulcrum Shift: Business Strategy and Consulting to connect with Rhonda. You can also follow her on Instagram @thefulcrumshift and Facebook @fulcrumshift, where she dispenses sage advice one clever post at a time.