Here are some of our favourite pieces of advice from a panel session at last week's XeroCon conference.
According to David Koch of Pinstripe Media, successful small business owners are 'glass half full' people. "If your business is doing it tough, it's not because of the economy," it's likely to be you, so think about what you should have done differently or better, then take responsibility and keep re-engineering your business.
The old adage that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' no longer works, he warned, because everything breaks eventually, and these days it happens more quickly.
Jo Burston, CEO of Job Capital, pointed out that there are two million small businesses, and only 10 percent of them have five or more employees. So really small businesses are a big potential market for each other.
"You've got to change the perception that you're at the bottom of the food chain" and talk to each other about what you need.
She agreed with Koch's advice to find a good bookkeeper, saying "a great bookkeeper is gold." Apart from freeing up the owner's time for more constructive work, such a bookkeeper is a useful source of advice and alerts when things don't look quite right (eg, a sudden spike in a particular expense category, or an adverse change in debtors ageing).
That advice was moderated by Aussie Commerce managing director Adam Schwab, who pointed out the the value depends both on the bookkeeper and whether the client is able to listen to, understand, and act upon the advice given. The implication appeared to be that small business owners need to open their ears and minds as well as their books.
Helen Souness, managing director of Etsy Australia (an online marketplace aimed at creative sole traders) put in a good word for accountants. "It's no longer once-a-year accounts," and there is enormous potential for accountants to see what is driving a particular business and give specific advice.
Koch also recommended that even small businesses benefit from the discipline that comes from having a monthly board meeting and the appointment of an honorary external director.
Burson is a fan of cloud systems: "My whole business is cloud based," using a list of services that includes Xero (naturally!), Dropbox, Google Apps, Asana (collaboration) and Basecamp (project management). She also makes a point of looking at new cloud services as they appear - there's almost always a free trial period - to see if they could be useful for the business.