Small business owners like to think big, but sometimes it's the small stuff-the almost-invisible things you may not even realize you're doing-that creates the most trouble.
In the world of small business, everything happens on a smaller scale: revenue, employment, market share. While that diminished scale is what makes small businesses so agile, it also means small upsets that might not register for a large corporation can be disastrous to a small business's bottom line.
Here's a look at four common, seemingly inconsequential habits that can have a substantial negative impact on a small business.
- Not sleeping enough. The research on sleep deprivation is pretty clear: Failing to catch enough z's is bad for us. Unfortunately, it's also pretty easy to ignore. After all, U.S. entrepreneurial culture is notorious for valuing hard, relentless work over the cushy luxury of sleeping. A recently released study, though, should make business owners think twice about pushing back bedtime. Published in the June 2015 volume of Sleep, the research shows that sleep deprivation inhibits our ability to make decisions when they involve "uncertainty and unexpected change." Notably, the study also showed that sleep-deprived subjects not only couldn't adapt to new stimuli to make the right decision, but also that they weren't as bothered about figuring out which decision was best. Not exactly the kind of mindset that leads to great decisions for a small business.
- Treating your home office as more "home" than "office." The Internet makes the home office infinitely more lucrative than it was 20 years ago, and working from home is a great way to save money while getting a business off the ground. What many home-based business owners don't realize, though, is that home offices usually aren't covered by homeowner's insurance policies. The good news is that getting coverage is usually simple and inexpensive: Whether through a rider to the homeowner's policy, a business owner's policy (BOP), or another kind of coverage, most home-based businesses can secure all the protection they need for their equipment and liability. This also lets them avoid the unpleasant discovery post-disaster that business-related losses aren't covered by their existing policy. From a psychological perspective, too, separating the home space from the work space is essential: By doing only work activities in your office area, you'll boost your productivity and avoid common focus and motivation traps. (This article by Larry Kim offers some great home-office productivity tips.)
- Using one tablet or smartphone for everything. Smartphones and tablets are convenient. Too convenient, even. They let us switch from managing client invoices to keeping our kids occupied in the car without batting an eye. Using one device for both personal and business activities, though, comes with risks. The obvious risk is that the device is destroyed and the business owner has to scramble to replace it (which costs money). That's a best-case scenario-if data wasn't stored in the cloud or backed up, the recovery costs and time lost can be even greater. The less-obvious risk is that the more a device is used (and the more people who use it), the more susceptible it is to being infected with malware, whether from a cleverly designed phishing email (10% of people still open malicious email links, according to the latest Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report) or an app a child downloads unknowingly. While viruses themselves are a pain, they can also lead to data breach concerns (and costs) when customer data is involved.
- Driving to meet clients. More specifically: Driving to meet clients without updating personal auto insurance policies. Many personal policies exclude accidents and damage that happens when a car is being used for business purposes, which can lead to unwelcome and unexpected bills. The good news: A small update to a personal policy or the addition of a commercial auto policy can keep drivers covered at all times.
As an entrepreneur, thinking big is a necessity; it's how you turn your dreams into lucrative realities. But sometimes it's actually the small stuff-the things that we don't even realize we're doing-that can get in the way of success. By being aware of the subtle ways our habits can undermine our own success, though, we give ourselves the power to fight back and stay on track.