‘Seeing how many people have bounced back is really exciting’: Running a small business in uncertain times

‘Seeing how many people have bounced back is really exciting’: Running a small business in uncertain times

28 October 2021 By Jerome Doraisamy

Small business owners are letting fear hold them back too often, according to this business owner and author.

Nancy Youssef (pictured) is the founder and financial strategist of Classic Finance Group. She’s also the founder and a mentor for Classic Mentoring and Coaching, as well as an author.

Speaking recently on The Boutique Lawyer Show, Ms Youssef shared her top tips for small businesses to survive during uncertain times – from the Global Financial Crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms Youssef founded her first business, Classic Finance Group, in 2003, before the GFC hit and caused a wave of uncertainty.

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“It forced me to sit down and look at my own business journey as a business owner and start thinking about things you never think about when you start a business, such as exit strategies and succession planning and all those things,” she said.

Ms Youssef then founded Classic Mentoring in 2011, which she said was a way to “play it safe” but also something she really enjoyed.

“Mentoring became a thing that I did with industry start-ups. It was a way for me to give back to an industry that had been very good to me. And also, because I learned, as a lot of business owners do, that a lot of the business experience I learned was on the job,” she continued.

“And that was through making mistakes or trying to seek help from people around you. So, it was a gradual learning process.”

Ms Youssef has also written a book, Fear Money Purpose, based on lessons she learnt and conversations she had advising small business owners during the Royal Commission into Financial Services in 2019.

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“That book is based on thousands of conversations I’ve had with clients over the years who are either looking at borrowing money or self-employed clients who are looking from the business mentoring side of things,” she explained.

Whilst when she first started out, Ms Youssef had a number of fears, she’s since come up with a structured process to help her combat them.

“When I first started, I had a fear around debt. And so being as conservative as I could be, because there was this whole thing, if you overspend, then the business could fail. So, then there was the fear of business failure. There was the fear of hiring people. So, you end up being a slave to your own business, doing everything yourself because you’re scared to recruit.

“There was so much fear that stopped me from progressing in those early years because I took an extremely conservative approach. And I think procrastination as well in business can sometimes be a thing that is a common fear across a lot of business owners,” she said.

“So, when I started to think about, well, how do I get past this anxiety or this uncertainty of making these decisions, and I came up with a structured process. The first thing I actually say is when I’m confronted with a decision, and I’m scared about it, it’s like, is this fear perceived, or is it real? Am I magnifying it in my own brain, or is it a real danger, is it a real threat? And so, the first step was to sit down and actually unpack all the fears that I had.”

Next, Ms Youssef advised small business owners to look at the likelihood of anything they fear actually happening, such as the collapse of the business, as well as the absolute worst-case scenario.

“We sit down and we unpack all of the things, whether it’s loss of income or loss of reputation or loss of accreditations or industry disqualification or any of those things. And once you identify what the actual worst-case scenarios are, it becomes front of mind,” she added.

“The next step is then to say, well, if I’ve identified that the worst-case scenario, the next step is to mitigate and put what I call controls in place.”

These can include voluntary audits as well as continually examining how the business can improve, plus other “controls” to help comfort business owners when thinking about the worst-case scenario.

“That’s a process I use, and I started using that in business, but I now use it in all parts of life. You can sit down and you literally think about what those things are.

“The moment it’s all out of your head, there’s a sense of calm that you get, because you’ve identified, you’ve recognised, and you’ve come up with a treatment plan for it,” Ms Youssef added.

Despite the Australian economy being made up of 60 per cent small business owners, too many are wasting time with fear, Ms Youssef said.

“Let’s face it, as a small business owner, it’s a lonely game. You don’t have a big team to soundboard off. You don’t have big strategic boardroom days where you’re bouncing and sharing decisions. A lot of that decision making is on the founder,” she added.

“There are sometimes decisions that are way outside your own experience, and you’ve got to try and wing it and work out, well, am I making the right decision or not? And that can create a lot of fear on a daily basis.

“Business is not easy in a normal environment and on a normal day. And so, throwing in all the challenges of this year and the pandemic, it’s been great to see a lot of business owners who’ve been quite resilient. It’s also been great to see how many business owners have been quite innovative and creative to find ways to survive and not give up,” Ms Youssef continued.

“On the other side, there have been businesses who have suffered and who unfortunately were not able to survive. But again, it’s all a learning experience. And I think, it’s certainly been an opportunity for people to come out and look at ways to be more agile or more flexible in business.”

In terms of the future for small business owners, Ms Youssef said the pandemic, and the rise of technology, has only made it easier to operate and provides exciting opportunities.

“If you had told us five years ago that in the year 2021, you’re all going to sit at home for three months and run your business effectively and still be able to keep the doors open, I think a lot of people would’ve thought we’re mad.

“I think certainly technology and the opportunity that it provides us with is something that excites me. Definitely, as I mentioned, collaborations excite me. And I think just the spirit of business, seeing how many people have bounced back is really exciting,” she said.

“But I just think I’m really positive about the future. I think there’s going to be a hell of a lot of opportunity out there for people who also have sat down and worked on their business in this time and their value propositions and looking at new ways to brace and move forward.”

‘Seeing how many people have bounced back is really exciting’: Running a small business in uncertain times
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