How I’ve Failed At Small Business

It’s scary to be vulnerable when we talk about business. There’s a focus on being honest and authentic in your marketing efforts, but it’s scary to admit when you or your business is struggling. What will people think? Will clients stop buying from me if they think I’m having issues in the business? Or the dreaded fear of whether or not to throw in the towel and close your business. I often hear the comment, ‘I don’t know how you do it all’, and the truth is something always suffers. Some aspect of your life is neglected. So for Small Business Week, I wanted to share with you how I’ve failed at small business.

The Struggle Is Real

Businesses have been very transparent about struggling since 2020, especially small businesses. We saw so many large corporations claw back locations and staff to stay afloat during the shut downs. For me, 2023 has been my hardest year in my nine years as a business owner. I want to share why.

I acknowledge when it comes to talking about business is that I’m far more creative than analytical. Numbers have never been my strong suit (shout out to my high school math teacher Mrs. Wheeler who helped me get across the finish line of graduation with so, so many after school sessions). This was probably my biggest fear going into business ownership: could I handle the numbers side? I was tattooing for seven years when I decided to make the leap to a new province and open my own studio. While I had confidence in my tattooing, I didn’t have confidence in my ability to run a business.

Flash forward 3 years as a solopreneur and I start a second business in marketing and promotion. My businesses are growing and I need to take on more help to grow and manage. That means more accounting work. In 2019 I attended a business networking event in New York where one of the speakers said ‘Learn to love the numbers’. I knew this is something I had to do. I was clinging to the mindset that if the overall number in the bank account is growing, I MUST be doing ok, right? 🫣

The Hard Truth

I’m sad to say I adopted this policy for far too long. The time came where I really needed to dig in to the numbers – how were both businesses performing? What was doing well and what wasn’t? Where are all our billable hours going exactly? I felt deep shame that I was so hands off the details of accounting in my business. I relied on other people to do what I struggled with. I assumed they would tell me if something was wrong, wouldn’t they..? That shame kept me from facing what I kind of knew but didn’t want to face…something is not right in one of my businesses, and I don’t know what it is exactly.

It took me a year of trying to really get up to date on the details of how my businesses were doing. While I always kept invoices in order, receipts filed and paid my taxes on time, my accounting software had never been set up with the categories I needed to separate my two businesses and the services of each.  While it seemed like things were chugging along and I was focused on growth, the numbers were not supporting the growth I was going after. I believed in what we were doing and that I could figure it out. As I recently heard in another networking session this last year’ “Hope is not a strategy”, and I was definitely hoping it would work out. 🤞

The Decision Not To Open

It was time to face the truth in more ways than one. I had opened a third business, which was a sister company to Truro Buzz- Secret Nova Scotia Tours. Where Truro Buzz was all about showing people online what it was like to live and work here, Secret Nova Scotia would actually take people to these places. Other than the horror of opening a tourism business in 2020, I quickly realized I could not fracture my attention over another business. As much as I loved it and believed in it, after three seasons, I couldn’t continue it. In 2023, I didn’t open for business and it won’t open again. I thought this would feel like failure, but it didn’t. It felt like making the right choice as much as it’s not what I wanted. 

Now I had to do the hard work to break apart all the pieces of my other businesses to get a real clear picture of every aspect. This is honestly hard for me to write. I know there are people out there who will read this and think, “How could you go so long without knowing your numbers?!”, “You should never be a business owner” and other negative, deprecating things our inner voices tell us when we feel shame. 

Learning From My Mistakes

The reason why I’m pushing through my discomfort to write this is because I know I’m not the only one. If my confessions help another business owner to take a better look at their business or reach out to someone for help, then it’s worth it. Shame keeps us from helping other people because we’re embarrassed to admit our shortcomings. I am very embarrassed but I also know that I am making the changes to right the ship, and that’s what matters. Nothing changes if nothing changes. 

So many small business owners are not people with business and marketing degrees. We’re people with a passion and a product or service we want to share with other people. We’re figuring out the business side of it as we go. In a perfect world, we’d be able to have marketing managers and CFOs so we can focus on the thing we do that we love. That’s not an option for many small business owners. Some people are truly a jack of all trades, and can handle the back and front ends of their business. Others, like me, rely on bookkeepers and other professionals to handle areas that we’re not strong in.

Why We Do It

If you’re reading this and feeling your own shame about an aspect of your business, I hope this will encourage you to reach out to someone for help. There are so many free resources available to help you that I’ll tag below. I think it’s obvious to most that entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Another quote that stuck with me is that ‘Business owners rarely have two good days in a row’ and I have found that to be true in my nine years of experience. 

So why do we do it? Everyone has their own reasons, but what I’ve found to be the most common thread is freedom. To own the thing you’re spending so much time working on. To be able to make your own schedule, even though that schedule is often more hours than you put in working for someone else. In many cases for less money! If you’re lucky, to be able to work wherever you want. Yet new businesses spring up every day. Almost 98% of Canadian businesses are small companies and employ over 10 million Canadians ( Whether owning a business is right for you or not is a question only you can answer for yourself, but know this: there is a solution to every problem if you look for it. I’m learning from how I failed at small business and applying it to what I do in the future.

Resources that have helped me:
Truro Colchester Partnership for Economic Prosperity
LSI Workplace Education
Abundant Living, Debbie Lawrence

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