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Opinion: You need friends when times get tough

Michelle_Ovens_feature

Any small business owner needs to develop a strong network of friends who can be on hand to help out when times get tough, writes Michelle Ovens, Director of Small Business Saturday

My small business journey started nine years ago when I left my comfortable, albeit somewhat stressful, job with a big company and set up on my own.

It has navigated around corners, got stuck in ditches, and climbed out of crevices. It has also flown like the wind and stood on mountain tops.

And, almost four years ago, the journey brought me to Small Business Saturday.

Making the decision to get Small Business Saturday going was actually much easier than leaving my job and starting my business, because it wasn’t really a business in the beginning.

It was an idea of everyone coming together to celebrate and support small businesses on one day of the year, and having such a fantastic experience that they continued all year round.

Maybe if we did this enough, small firms would feel it in their bottom line.

I knew from experience how much small businesses relied on their communities of customers and friends. Over time, Small Business Saturday began to encapsulate for me everything that it meant to be a small business. We needed funding – don’t we all?

We needed marketing – website, social media, and someone with expertise to do it. But all this wasn’t enough. So much of the UK’s small business landscape is not onboard with digital.

We needed a way to speak to businesses outside digital. So we needed some local friends. Friends are, I believe, the most important thing in business, and Small Business Saturday is no exception.

Our friends included local councils, local newspapers, central government and FSB. When you need to get people excited in a town, it really helps to have local people in that town getting excited for you.

Probably the most important thing I and my team – which came later – have worked on in the last three years is building a network of friends.

One thing I have learnt from this network is that there are always other options, routes or solutions.

We have all been in situations when we have thought: “What do I do now? Is this it? Am I done?”

The more friends you have, the more other people have been in this situation before, and they will have lots of ideas about how to move forward.

An idea might be advice, numbers to call, websites to check out, sources of funding, or a pitch to your bank you hadn’t thought of before. It might be a marketing campaign that is low-cost and effective.

It might be a new customer you hadn’t thought about. It might be a different way of using your resources to grow your business.

We need this way of thinking. Small business confidence is down, there is nervousness post referendum, and small firms are telling me they are feeling the impact of a slowdown. Now, more than ever, is the time to investigate other options. Is your local FSB group doing training or networking that could help you?

Are there online resources that can train you, link you with new customers or help you save costs? Get onboard. Being part of a network such as FSB is important when times are tough or you feel a bit lost.

This year’s Small Business Saturday takes place on 3 December. For more information, see smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com

MICHELLE OVENS is Director of Small Business Saturday, Do It Digital UK and runs her own small business