Business Advice

We asked SMEs what keeps them up at night: Here’s the most common response

Emma Koehn /

Companies in the Smart50 class of 2016 have grown between 35% and 1074% over the past three years. While almost a fifth are regularly thinking about cashflow and how to keep it steady, one quarter of the 50 companies on this year’s Smart50 spend their nights worrying about people associated with their business.

Expansion plans are also among the top worries for 20% of the group, while one lucky business says “nothing” keeps them up at night—we take it the folks at Booktopia are very well rested given that answer.

Read more: Retailers and fintechs dominate the Smart50 class of 2016

Beyond one word answers, here are four key areas that the leaders of the companies on this year’s list spend their time thinking about.

The Smart50 class in 2016 told SmartCompany about their number one business concerns.

The Smart50 class in 2016 told SmartCompany about their number one business concerns.

How to put others priorities before your own

A business isn’t simply answerable to its founders, and the number one challenge that these fast-growing businesses experience is balancing the sanity and welfare of the leaders, with the motivation and support for all other people in the business.

“I have a team of experienced, knowledgeable and capable staff members that work tirelessly behind the scenes, and it’s my job to ensure they have the right resources to carry out their job,” says Beginning Boutique founder Sarah Timmerman.

“As I want the best for the team and obviously our customers. I would say I definitely put them both first before myself, as I am ultimately responsible for their happiness!”

S1T2 co-founder Tash Tan understands that both the successes and failures of the digital agency affect more than just the management—and with a young staff of up-and-coming designers, this is never far from the founders’s minds.

“Nothing scares me more than the fear of failure,” she says of what keeps her awake at night. “Knowing that failure could lead to repercussions on the ones we love and care about is part of what drives us.”

For Smart50 winner Prospa, the challenge is how to best help their team stay motivated to grow the business.

“I think about our team, hiring great people and building a culture they are proud to be part of,” says co-founder Beau Bertoli.

“My co-founder and I have very big goals – we want to change the way small businesses experience finance – and that means thinking years down the road, not hours … I also spend a lot of time pondering how to further develop our people.”

Speeding up expansion

The big growth figures on offer can sometimes mean bigger challenges, and Smart50 founders tell SmartCompany they spend their nights working out how to speed up the transition towards their final goals, while also maintaining that attention on their staff.

“I think about how can I take my business further and how to achieve my business vision sooner … [not only in Australia] but overseas as well,” says SponsoredLinx co-founder Ben Bradshaw, whose business ranks 42 on this year’s Smart50 after booking a three-year growth rate of 64%.

As new opportunities come up, the challenge is to match these to the long-term good of the company and its staff, says Bradshaw.

“There are countless opportunities out there which I could invest in, or bring on-board with the SponsoredLinX management services and ethos, but I have to believe in it and be able to see the long-term benefits it can bring the company,” he says.

Dealing with people problems 

Finding quality people to bring into the business is one challenge, but for all the support company founders try to give, one of their top worries is resolving people problems and dealing with under-performance.

“Financial challenges, technical issues, or other non-human issues seem comparatively easy to nut out and solve, when compared to challenges related to people,” say the co-founders of online retailer Mountain Bikes Direct.

Facing these issues can be all the more stressful because SME teams are often tight-knit and can spill into other parts of life. This clash is something that regularly pops up as a key concern among managers.

“It could be a person who is underperforming, or a delicate situation that needs handling – but the interface between business and the people in that business that make things happen can be a really challenging one to navigate,” says Mountain Bikes direct co-founder Jen Geale.

Keeping the offer enticing

It turns out that having an established business with a strong track record isn’t enough to keep worries at bay; in fact, it was the Smart50 businesses with some of the longest histories that had the most intense concerns about the quality of their product slipping.

This group of company founders put a strong focus on reviewing and maintaining the quality of their customers’ experiences, particularly as the businesses have changed and expanded.

“When we have a disappointed customer, it stays in my head for days. I hate disappointing people,” says Yellow Octopus co-founder Derek Sheen.

For this year’s Top Digital Innovator Award winner, Hipages, there’s a similar drive to meet customer’s expectations, especially as the platform changes.

“Whether they are tradies or homeowners, we want to make sure they keep finding value in everything we do, including the digital innovations we develop,” say co-founders Roby Sharon-Zipser and David Vitek.

“We want customers to love us.”

Find the full list of 2016’s Smart50 award winners here. 

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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  • Kateena Mills

    I think being mindful of your team and their needs is an amazing attribute of any leader, particularly a business owner; but you don’t want it keeping you up at night! I love being able to assist managers at all levels with the tools to lead and support their teams so everyone can get a good night sleep! @wattsnexthr #wattsnexthr