Are you really prepared to start a business?

Should you start a business?
Should you start a business?

In this part of Mark Robinson’s advice series supporting the UK’s Small Business Week 2015, the Canon SMB expert reveals what business owners wish they’d known when they started – so you can implement their learnings now, rather than wish you did in retrospect.

Many people dream of becoming self-employed, starting their own business which might take the world by storm. But although the number of new businesses registered in the UK keeps growing year-on-year, not many businesses make it past the first 12 months. Why? Because entrepreneurs often don’t realise that the long path to success is littered with tricky challenges. Such obstacles, if not handled well, can inhibit the growth of the business and increase the time it takes to succeed.

A study from Canon and ICM identified a number of key areas where small business owners believe they could have benefited from expert experience:

• Legal, bureaucracy and compliance were areas of deficiency (46%), as was general business acumen (36%)

• Half of small business owners also believed they could have benefited from additional technical skills in IT software (36%) and IT hardware (33%)

• SMB / Small office/Home Office (SoHo) owners said they lacked knowledge in finance and accounting when they started their organisations

This leaves no doubt that gaining access to the right knowledge at the right time can really make a difference to small business owners, determining whether their dream will be a success or a failure.

But how can small businesses find the knowledge they require, and where should they direct their attention in terms of skills and technology? Here are our top five tips for starting out with the right information:

1. Improve existing workflows

Almost a third (28%) of SMBs and SoHos surveyed by Canon in Europe and Russia say they spend too much time on general administration. As a result, as many as 29% of firms say they do not spend enough time generating new business, a key factor in the continued success of smaller firms. Small businesses can cut the paperwork mountain by using advanced printing technology. By scanning documents, SMBs and SoHos can digitise their information and create the platform for automated and fast-moving workflows.

2. Implement new technologies…

Gone are the days when a small business owner needed to be tied to their desk. The combined powers of the cloud and mobile technology mean proprietors can stay in touch with their organisation, regardless of location. Furthermore, if the business needs to grow quickly, this is far more manageable with a cloud set-up as opposed to owned infrastructure. By sourcing the right combination of hardware and software, SMB and SoHos can receive documents, edit agreements and sign-off invoices on the go.

Technical expertise remains a moving target. The research suggests many SMB and SoHo owners continue to seek expert knowledge in regards to technology long after they have set up their businesses, with 28% still searching for IT software skills and 27% looking for information about IT hardware.

3. …and use them to improve business productivity

Time is money for small business owners. With limited resources, SMBs and SoHos cannot afford to waste time on non-core tasks. IT should provide a means for smaller organisations to work in a more efficient manner, yet the facts suggest otherwise. The research shows that 20% of small business owners believe they already spend too much time on IT-related tasks. Rather than seeing IT as a barrier, SMB and SoHos should see the digital transformation as a way to reduce the amount of time spent on technology and a means to improve productivity.

The next IT transformation is always lurking on the horizon, so proprietors should make sure they hunt for the relevant expertise on an on-going basis. After all, a well-informed SMB or SoHo should be able to take advantage of tech-enabled change to help propel their businesses forward.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask experts for advice

Cash is often one thing that is in short supply for a new small business. Yet, there are expert sources of information that can help fill skills gaps in a cost-effective manner. Bridging the gap between informal search and formal networks, the reseller community works hard to find the best technical solutions to tricky business challenges – and SMB and SoHos can use this advice to give their firm a sure start. Canon research suggests a quarter of small business owners already tap into resellers as an expert source of advice.

5. Simplify and speed up governance

As almost half (49%) of SMBs surveyed agree or strongly agree that bureaucracy is a challenge for their business, it is going to be difficult for SMB and SoHo owners to move their focus from operations to business development. Proprietors should take steps right at the start and think about how digital technology can make governance less of a bind. Information management can help to automate processes, such as compliance with rules and regulations, which might otherwise hinder organisational productivity.

For more SMB advice, take a look at part one (save money with an energy-efficient office) and two (the power of social media) of this series, or follow @CanonBusinessUK on Twitter.