Business psychology

The one thing all small biz struggles with—and how to fix it

- June 4, 2024 3 MIN READ
hiking: person wearing hiking boots looking at a mountainous vista


Finding hiking later in life changed not just my world but how I do business. When a girlfriend asked if I’d hike the Larapinta Trail back in 2022, I was unfit and unprepared. But I researched it, trained hard, did it—and what I found along the way is business is a lot like hiking, writes Katrina McCarter.

You have to be prepared for random things you can’t see around the corner. You have to take the lead and take risks. The downs inevitably lead to ups. Standing on ledges looking for creative solutions is a powerful thing.

And research is the absolute key if you want to stay standing and smash goals.

In life and work, I’m data informed. On everything from buying a house to buying steak. I always have a business strategy even when not doing business because my goal in doing homework is always to make the complex simple.

If things are chunked down, they become clearer and easier to interpret and action. Which is why I believe any business which truly gets to know its customer is miles ahead of the curve.

Because I’m a research geek at heart, I travel whenever I can. I love seeing first-hand the data come alive in the shape of business ideas and trends around the globe. Checking out sneaker collaborations in New York or the unusual secrets behind LA’s most popular family hotel gives me a strong global perspective on marketing.

While I’m away I deep dive into marketing efforts by local businesses because it uncovers interesting, contemporary ideas to action in my own businesses and share with clients.

The interesting thing is that whenever I do find a gem—or something that’s a good product or service but just isn’t getting traction—I talk to the business owner. And wherever I am and whatever it is that’s being sold, I find small business owners experience the same problems.

They really struggle with working out the best ways to grow their business.

They find marketing overwhelming and don’t know how to stop that overwhelm.

They’re not sure who their customer is (although they often think they are!)

They’re not sure how to reach those customers, how to keep them, how to keep up with technology and AI, how to deal with rising costs.

Seeing those same problems pop up in unconnected places and industries had me wondering about what the golden thread between all the challenges are. Or more, if there’s one solution that could be the business equivalent of a Savlon cream that can be used to treat different woes.

And I reckon the answer is that everyone needs a business strategy. Sounds basic, right? Yet not enough small biz owners have one. I see it so much that I’m not surprised anymore by the lack of a strategy, but what does still surprise me is that people who have the energy and vision to start a business that will fund their family and eventual retirement don’t bother to do their homework about marketing.

One of the major findings of Australia’s first The BIG Small Business Survey in 2022 was 86 per cent of small biz owners have little or no marketing plan. Huge! If we flip that, only 14 per cent of them do have one. What’s the old saying? Failure to plan is planning to fail.

If I could tell business owners just one thing right now it would be to find an expert marketing strategist who can use the key pillars of research, strategy and accountability to do a deep dive into the biz.

Research who the customers actually are, where they play, what keeps them coming back, what puts them off. You can’t market to people you don’t understand. Then they can create a bespoke blueprint with you—one that doesn’t take rocket science to action—so you can market successfully to those customers.

Yes, that will take time and money. But you’ll waste more of both in the long term floundering around without a plan.

Look at it this way: you wouldn’t take out your own appendix if you didn’t understand surgery. So if marketing is something you’re not expert in, why would you tackle it yourself? The patient here is your business. It needs good timely care from someone who knows what they’re doing.

Declaration: yes, I have a horse in this race—seeing the same mistakes over and over prompted me to start my eponymous Business Program earlier this year—but my job here is to give advice to small biz owners and this time that is very strongly to have a business strategy.

Research is no longer just an option for small biz owners to consider. In a world where there are reams of competitors with shiny social platforms and reach, a research-informed strategy is essential to be successful.

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"