Every business comes with its own challenges. Entrepreneurs running a side business, however, experience some problems and challenges that most full-time business owners don’t face.
Whether you’re reviewing the metrics of your side business, or simply running it for a few weeks, it’s likely that you’ll spot some of these problems. Once you do, it's important to quickly take the steps needed to start fixing them.
Since running a business part-time often means you’re strapped for time and energy, these problems might drag on if left unsolved for long.
With that in mind, here are some of the most common side business problems you're likely to encounter, with solutions outlining what you can do to fix them (and even prevent them from reoccurring).
7 Common Side Business Problems (+How to Fix Them)
1. Not Enough Sales
Insufficient sales is one of the most common small business problems of businesses everywhere. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by Infusionsoft and LeadPages, the number one challenge of small business owners is turning leads into paying customers. If this is a problem in your own side business, you can spot it with any of the following symptoms:
- You don’t meet your sales targets, even if they're modest.
- You’ve taken steps to gauge your target market’s interest and they’ve praised your business idea—but during your launch they don’t buy anything.
- You might have an increase of leads via social media followers, subscribers, calls, or emails, but you don’t experience the increase in sales that usually goes with it.
- Despite any increase in advertising or marketing activity, you see no increase in sales.
Figure out the real reason behind your lack of sales: Do you just lack leads? Or do you have dozens, or hundreds of leads, that are just not converting into sales?
Review Your Sales Funnel for Lead Volume
If you’re lacking leads, go over your sales funnel and see how you’re attracting and capturing these leads. Here is a guide that can help you go over your sales funnel:
When your sales funnel isn’t feeding you enough leads, usually this means you have to find other methods to reach your target market. Consider:
- Are there any online and offline communities that you didn’t advertise or market to?
- Are there other advertising methods you can try to reach your target market better?
Strengthen How Your Leads Convert to Sales
However, if your side business is getting enough leads and they’re just not converting into sales, you have a different problem altogether. This means that your marketing or sales techniques are not convincing your leads to buy.
It might be useful to go back to doing market research, so that you can understand what your target customers are looking for. These tutorials outline some methods you can try:
- How to Write an Online Market Research SurveyDavid Masters09 Jan 2014
- How to Find Out Exactly What Your Target Clients Want—Then Sell It to ThemCeline (CX) Roque24 Aug 2015
Tip: It will also help to improve your sales technique. Even if this particular side business doesn’t work out, learning how to sell can help you for your future ventures, as well as your professional life.
2. Losing Your Momentum
It’s not unusual to lose momentum as you’re juggling your side business, full-time job, and personal life. Sometimes, you just need a short break. But, in some cases, stopping or slowing down your progress can hurt you in the long run. Here are some of the signs to look out for when you’ve lost momentum:
- You postpone single tasks multiple times.
- You fall far behind schedule.
- You’re often uninterested or unmotivated to work on your side business.
- You go through a phase of overworking on your side business, followed by a phase without progress.
If you suspect that you’re losing momentum, it’s best to act on it as fast as possible. Otherwise, you’re quickly trapped in a vicious cycle. You feel discouraged, unmotivated, or burned out so you don’t make any progress. Then the lack of progress makes you feel less motivated to keep going.
Because of this, it’s important to remember that the skill that will save your side business isn’t high productivity, it’s consistency. As long as you achieve small wins throughout the days, weeks, and months of running your side business, you won’t have to worry about losing your drive.
Focus on Improving Your Consistency
You can achieve consistency by being brutally honest about what you’re capable of doing given your many personal, professional, and entrepreneurial commitments. This includes auditing your schedule, using tools such as planners and task lists, and scheduling only the things you can feasibly accomplish given your free time and energy levels for each day.
Don’t forget to also make rest, leisure time, and vacations a part of your schedule. They might seem frivolous given everything you have to accomplish, but they have many benefits that can help you do better with your side business. According to research published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, work engagement can increase and burnout can decrease after a vacation.
The problem with side businesses is that even when they’re successful, their growth can be limited by how much time and money you can invest in them. When your profits or sales reach a plateau, you often experience the following:
- The number of sales you make doesn’t seem to grow despite greater marketing and advertising attempts.
- You’re serving roughly the same customers or clients month after month, despite attempts to land more customers.
- You have bigger goals for your side business, but don’t have the time or resources to make these goals happen.
Hitting a plateau can be a small business problem, but isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As long as your side business is profitable, and you are able to find a good balance between your many responsibilities, you’ve achieved something sustainable. Most businesses don’t even get that far. But if you have bigger dreams for your side gig—whether it’s working on it full-time, becoming a more established brand, or scaling it up—sustainability won’t help you get there.
Act on Specific, Measurable Goals
If you want to break through your plateau, you need to have a specific quantifiable goal for the next stage of your business. Then find out the resources you need to achieve that goal.
These could include more time, capital, a broader audience, or new products and services. You might need to redirect more of your leisure time towards your side business, hire someone to help you out, or find new markets to reach. For more drastic cases, you might need to cut back on your professional commitments or even quit your day job.
For more detailed plans on how to get out of a plateau, this guide can help you work out what you need to reach the next level of your business:
4. Low or No Profitability
When you’re computing your profits from your side business, it can feel like a punch in the gut when you get any of the following results: a negative number, find out you’re only breaking even, or find that your profits are small despite a good number of sales.
If this is the case for your business, you need to get back to basics. Ask yourself the following:
- Are you spending too much money on your side business? Sometimes cutting back on unnecessary expenses can help you raise your profits—up to a point.
- Are you selling your products and services at too low a price point? If you suspect this is the case, check out this guide on raising your prices without losing customers.
- Are you doing everything you can to maximize the profitability of each order? If you’re not following up on your leads and paying customers, you’re missing out on additional income. In case you need additional ideas on how to maximize profits, this tutorial contains techniques you can try.
- Does your current market have a lot of disposable income? Your customers might be few but loyal, yet maybe they can’t afford to pay premium prices for your products and services. See if you can target more profitable markets or come up with new offers that target higher paying customers.
It May Be Time to Adjust Your Business Model
If you’ve already made some of the changes above, it’s possible that your business idea just isn’t as profitable as you thought it would be. You could then pivot to a new idea, or revisit your business model to see if there are some changes you can make. Here are some guides to help you with the latter:
- From Idea to Break-Even: How to Create a Financial Model for Your BusinessAndrew Blackman03 May 2022
- How to Manage Cash Flow More EfficientlyAndrew Blackman01 Apr 2022
5. Not Enough Time for Your Personal Commitments
Finding the right work-life balance can also be a difficult problem for small business owners. According to a survey of small business owners, 36 percent of small business owners have no differentiation between their business and personal lives, while 35 percent state that they don't have much personal time.
This could be more challenging for side business owners. As you’re juggling your responsibilities to your employer, business, and to yourself, you also need to be available for other people in your life who depend on you.
Watch Out For Problematic Signs
While most friends and family may be happy to support you in your journey to entrepreneurship, they might be concerned if they see you struggling or burned out. Look out for the following signs:
- You’re feeling guilty about not being present or attentive enough for your friends and family.
- Multiple people in your life have expressed concern or frustration about the obligations, tasks, or commitments you were unable to meet.
- You regret missing important milestones in the lives of the people you love.
If you’re worried about your side business demanding too much time and attention from your personal relationships, start fixing it by redrawing your boundaries:
- In what circumstances would you be willing to shirk off some business tasks so you could meet your personal commitments better?
- Are there ways for you to cut back on non-essential tasks and free up more time for yourself and others?
Work With Those Closest to You
It can also help to talk to your friends and family. Ask them about their expectations of you, especially the non-negotiables they don’t want you to miss out on. Then let them know which of these expectations you can meet and those you’re unlikely to follow through on.
Regardless of which stage your business is in, keep open channels of communication with your loved ones. That way they have a clearer understanding of what you’re going through.
Share with them both your setbacks and success. Not only will they feel invested in the success of your business, they can also prove to be excellent sounding boards and providers of support, which can only strengthen your relationships despite your increased commitment.
For further guidance, check out these detailed tutorials on how you can regain balance between your personal and entrepreneurial commitments:
- How to Improve Work-Life Balance in Your Small BusinessMarc Schenker07 Jan 2021
- Why Most Productivity Tips Fail (And How to Overcome That)Andrew Blackman15 Jan 2021
- How to Reduce Busy Work as a Small Business OwnerLaura Spencer30 Jul 2020
6. Your Professional Life Suffers
It wouldn’t be surprising if running a business on the side means that there will be some negative consequences to your full-time job. This is a common problem with running a small business on the side.
Even if both parts of your life are successful, there will inevitably be some concessions. For example, working overtime means those are hours you can’t devote to your side business. On the other hand, spending all your free time on your side business might mean you won’t look for additional training or more responsibilities in your full-time job. While both scenarios could still be sustainable, watch out for the following warning signs:
- The quality of your work is slipping and your colleagues and supervisors have noticed.
- You’ve been thinking of your side business too much at work, making it a distraction.
- There are delays in meeting professional milestone, goals, or deadlines.
- You feel tired at work.
Running a side business always requires some sacrifice. The question is, which sacrifices are you willing to make and why? If you have a clear answer to this question, you’ll know the right boundaries between your job and your business. Your answers to this question and the compromises you’re willing to set will also change along the way, so don’t be afraid to make adjustments.
Make Adjustments to Achieve the Right Balance
It may also help to revisit your schedule and spot the areas where you’re overexerting. If you can’t meet the demands of your job, but are highly engaged in your business during work hours, it’s going to be unfair to your employer.
Unless you’re ready to leave your job and go full-time on your business, it’s best to continue meeting your professional responsibilities and perform all the tasks expected of you.
If, however, struggling in your professional life feels like a sign that you should let go of it, consider your options:
- Is your side business profitable enough that devoting more time on it can only improve your sales?
- Will your employer be open to a part-time arrangement or a more flexible schedule?
Find the route that won’t totally compromise your ability to make a living, but won’t have you so torn between your commitments that you’re unable to focus on any of them.
7. Difficulty Providing Customer Support
Communicating directly with customers is part of any business. Whether you’re responding to questions, trying to close a sale, or handling complaints, you need to be fast and clear in your responses. But this can be a challenge for side business owners who don’t have the same level of accessibility as full-time business owners. Here are some of the common small business customer problems you might run into:
- You often get customer emails or calls during your work hours or personal time. You’re either missing these communications completely or answer them when you’re supposed to be doing something else.
- Customers show disappointment or frustration with your response time.
- Customers drop their transactions or choose other businesses to buy from because you didn’t respond fast enough.
Set Realistic Expectations With Your Customers
The best way to address these small business problems is to prevent them altogether. Set your customer expectations early. On your website, social media accounts, and initial conversations with clients, be upfront that you are a solo entrepreneur who can’t provide 24/7 support—at least right now. Give them an estimate of how fast you can respond to emails as well as the best hours and venues to contact you.
It will also be helpful to have a Frequently Asked Questions page that provides answers to the basic, common questions that your customers tend to have. If their questions are addressed here, there’s no need for them to contact you.
Also, if you’re getting an overwhelming amount of emails or phone calls and you can afford to hire someone, get a subcontractor or an online assistant to help you out.
Avoid These Common Problems to Run a Successful Side Business
When you run into setbacks, don’t see it as a sign that your business has failed. Even the most successful businesses have their own problems. What matters is that you work through them and make the necessary changes to remedy the situation.
Once you’ve overcome problems like low sales, low profitability, or being torn between your many different duties, you won’t just be a fledgling side business owner anymore—you would have turned into a proven entrepreneur.