My least favorite things as a small business owner


This is our twentieth year in business! Owning my business, Country Fried Creative, has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done, but it’s also been one of the hardest. When times are good, everyone is your friend. When times are tough, friends are scarce. I’ve been asked many times what are the things I don’t like about running a small business. Although I’m not a negative person, I am human, and there are things that test my patience. In no particular order, here’s my top 10 list of least favorite things I deal with as a small business owner.

  1. Taxes: Taxes are a headache. It’s one thing to handle taxes as an employee, which are deducted from your paycheck. Most people don’t know what it’s like being the employer and having to manage taxes and payroll. Big companies get tax credits, small companies get audits. Big companies know the tax code better than the government, small companies don’t. Navigating the intricacies of tax laws, unemployment insurance, and other payroll compliance is time-consuming and overwhelming. Fortunately, I have great advisors. Small businesses should have a reduced paperwork and tax burden. I don’t mind paying my fair share, but gee whiz.
  2. Government Red Tape: I’m not anti-government. We need a government to maintain social order, provide public services, and support public safety. On the other hand, the amount of bureaucratic red tape for a small business owner is overwhelming. The complex web of regulations, permits, licenses, and paperwork is daunting and time-consuming. Bureaucracy hinders productivity and diverts attention away from core business operations. I applaud efforts to move some of the paperwork burden online, yet some of it still requires paper – like real paperwork that has to be notarized. Really? It’s 2023 and I can open a bank account without a notary, but I can’t submit certain forms without it. Makes no sense. There should be a streamlined set of regulations and filings for small businesses.
  3. People Who Don’t Want to Be Bothered with Details, Until They Do: Interacting with individuals who show disinterest in details until a problem arises is very frustrating. Whether it’s suppliers, employees, or clients, encountering those who neglect important details is a big challenge. No one wants to drown in details, yet details matter. My client contracts are two pages long, yet I still have some people who won’t read the contract. Those same people will take exception when a contractual issue arises. They will tell me with a straight face, “I didn’t read it because I didn’t want to be bothered with details. But now that I’ve read it, I disagree with it.” Huh?
  4. Clients Who Abandon Projects: One of the most disheartening aspects of being a small business owner of a service company is when clients abandon projects midway. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen more than it should. Usually, it’s not an overt abandonment; a client simply disappears. Despite investing time, effort, and resources, some clients may abruptly become non-responsive, effectively abandoning a project. This leaves us with unfinished work and reduced revenue. I know many businesses deal with this – unclaimed merchandise, cars, property, etc. If someone needs to “take a pause,” then say so.  Don’t just disappear.
  5. Cash Flow Management: Managing cash flow is not something taught in business school. Just because you do work and invoice it doesn’t mean it’ll get paid promptly. Employees expect to get paid on payday, but clients don’t always treat small business vendors the same way. Late payments from clients, unexpected expenses, holidays, and seasonal fluctuations disrupt cash flow and hinder day-to-day operations. Over the years, I’ve become pretty good at managing cash flow, but those early years were tough. If you have a vendor who’s a small business, please know that your payment to them might be their next mortgage payment – have a heart.
  6. Dealing with Complaints: Handling customer complaints is emotionally taxing. I dare say that most business owners take pride in their craft and genuinely want their customers to be happy. When customers aren’t happy, we’re not happy. While striving to provide excellent customer service, encountering dissatisfied customers is inevitable. Most people are reasonable. I’d say that 95% of all customer complaints we’ve ever had were resolved in a positive manner that made the customer relationship even stronger. Occasionally, we’ll run into someone who just doesn’t want to be happy – that’s frustrating. We try not to take those people on as clients, but sometimes organizations change leaders, causing us to adapt to a new leader. We have fired unreasonable clients, and it’s important that my employees know I have their back.
  7. Making Do with Limited Resources: We small business owners face the challenge of accomplishing big goals with limited resources. When someone asks me to join an organization, donate to a cause, or sponsor something – that money is coming out of my own pocket, not some big company bank account. Limited resources don’t just mean money; it also means staff, technology, and other resources. We have to be both efficient and effective to make the most of our limited resources. It’s amazing what we can do with our small, but mighty team.  On the other hand, just because I have fifteen team members doesn’t mean that I can afford to put all of them on your project – someone has to “mind the store.”
  8. Being Needed During Tough Times, But Abandoned During Good Times: During COVID, we became a lifeline for several local organizations (who’ll remain nameless). As people sheltered in place, digital marketing (the service we provide) became essential. Our clients needed us to help them communicate with their own customers electronically. Everyone was at home glued to a computer. It gave us a renewed sense of purpose to be the go-to company during those challenging times. In fact, we lowered our rates and gave very favorable terms to many of our customers who were struggling financially. As the pandemic died down, we were proud of having helped more than one business “survive and thrive.” Yet, some of those same organizations we helped save decided to change agencies away from us to non-local companies after their fortunes improved. When asked why, they told us they simply wanted to go a new direction. I guess our good favors weren’t really appreciated. It’s hard not to take something like that personally. Nothing lasts forever, but it hurts when you help someone and then they walk away.
  9. Accounts Receivable: I’ve written previously about managing accounts receivable. Late or unpaid invoices negatively impact cash flow, creating additional financial stress. Bills, taxes, and payroll come in with startling regularity. Income does not. I’ll work with anyone who is willing to work with us on terms. We’re a small enough business that I personally contact clients who are late paying their invoices. I don’t like doing it, and I’ve tried delegating it to other people, yet it always comes back to me. For those of my clients who are reading this and do pay on time and/or are on auto-payment plans – thank you, it means more to me than you might know!
  10. People Who Don’t Follow-Up: Every week, I get “urgent” requests for quotes and meetings for “special projects.” I try to be friendly, but I’ve learned over the years that the supposedly urgent “how fast can you build a website” requests almost always mean the exact opposite. I’m not sure if people are that way because they’ve been burned by other people or if society as a whole is really that impatient. Sometimes the urgent requests come from clients who ask us something and then disappear when we need to follow-up with them about it. It’s frustrating. We deal with it.
Looking a little shell shocked, the author gives the thumbs up that everything is going to be okay. Photo/Joe Domaleski
Looking a little shell shocked, the author gives the thumbs up that everything is going to be okay. Photo/Joe Domaleski

So there you have it, my top ten list of least favorite things as a small business owner. You might have noticed a trend that most of the items listed are related to money and people. Although each of those items are frustrating and demanding, they also provide opportunities for growth, learning, resilience, and improvement as a small business owner. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from President Theodore Roosevelt:

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life.

In next week’s column, I’m going to share my top ten list of my most favorite things as a small business owner. Obviously, the good outweighs the bad or else I wouldn’t still be in business. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Keep fighting the good fight leaders.

[Joe Domaleski, a Fayette County resident for 25 years, is the owner of Country Fried Creative – an award-winning digital marketing agency located in Peachtree City. His company was the Fayette Chamber’s 2021 Small Business of the Year.  Joe is a husband, father of three grown children, and proud Army veteran.  He has an MBA from Georgia State University and enjoys sharing his perspectives drawing from thirty years of business leadership experience. ]