Small Business

The 7 questions small business owners always ask me — and the 1 question I wish they would

May 8, 2024 | By Ginger Siegel

I’ve been in the small business space my entire career, from my first job as a pharmaceutical rep calling on doctors to my work leading small business units, first at a bank, then as a consultant, and now at Mastercard. But it’s really been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I was raised on stories of my grandfather, who started a business out of the trunk of his car and grew it into a national wholesale drug company, for which I later worked and saw the fruits of his labor firsthand.

For me, it’s always been about underdogs. I admire their ambition and understand their struggles, and I appreciate how their collective entrepreneurial spirit powers communities and fuels the economy. That’s why I work hard — both in my role leading Mastercard’s small business efforts and as a mentor to hundreds of entrepreneurs over the years — to put the wind at their backs.

In that spirit, and as we celebrate the resilience and innovation of the millions of American entrepreneurs during Small Business Month, here are some of the most common questions I’ve fielded over the years about starting, growing and sustaining small businesses.

“I just don’t know what to do. There is so much to be done and I don’t have enough resources. Where do I begin?” 

One of the hardest things about running a small business is you don’t have your own chief marketing officer, chief financial officer, or chief technology officer. (Or you do, and they’re all you!) Surround yourself with organizations and people — an attorney, an accountant, other small business owners, etc. — who can help serve those purposes and provide their expertise and guidance. You can also look at other businesses in the ecosystem for additional resources, like the Mastercard Digital Doors program, which provides an array of tools, resources and education you wouldn’t get elsewhere, to help you enhance your business operations and become digitally enabled. It is important to get the right digital tools, like customer management or digital payroll, to operate efficiently and help enhance your productivity.  

“I am behind the times with digital innovation. The pandemic taught me if I don’t have a digital presence, I am going to lose customers. Where do I start?” 

When COVID-19 hit, a third of small businesses in the U.S. did not have a digital presence,  and they saw very quickly how it impacted their ability to reach customers. Fast-forward to today and many consumers now expect brick-and-mortar businesses to be fully digital as well. It's important for small businesses to reach their customers where they are, which includes both physical and digital spaces — if you just focus and show up in one of those spaces you'll stall your business. If you do both you get the multiplier effect.

There are plenty of tools for setting up websites and digital marketing campaigns and software for making your business run more efficiently. Digital increases your reach and provides you with a means to get things done requiring fewer people. Digital Doors brings all of that together and offers a free digital business assessment to help evaluate your digital operations with customized recommendation on the next steps to becoming more digital.

“How do I represent my business so I can gain access to capital?”

One of the biggest mistakes small business owners make is they mix up their business and personal financial life. When representing yourself to a bank or any entity from which you’re seeking funding, it is important to show your business as a business, by keeping your personal life separate, including a business checking account and separate consumer and small business credit cards. You want to truly represent yourself as a small business owner in totality. For example, it makes it difficult for banks and other entities to get an accurate picture of your finances and credit worthiness if you are comingling your money. Don’t make it difficult for them to lend you money!

"What do we do to manage through inflation? I am finding it difficult to compete with other businesses and the different benefits they provide.”

It depends on your business. If you hold inventory, then obviously inventory management is important. You don’t want to sit on inventory, which costs money. Don’t put out more money than you have to buy things that cost you a lot but sit in your back room. Make sure you have a good handle on cash flow to understand the money you have coming in and what is going out. With inflation, very often more money is going out than coming in, so it's important to think about how you can improve your front-end operations (otherwise known as the client-facing side of the business) as well as the back end of your business. How can you leverage social media or marketing to help promote and scale your business (tip: check out the Mastercard Marketing Hub) or better manage the money you are spending on goods and services that help you manufacture or sell?  

"I am doing really well with the current products I sell. How do I know when it is OK to expand and add other things on?"

This is a tough one. The inclination is to say if my business is doing well, I'll do more and add on. I believe when you are doing well, you stick to that path for a while, and if you see consistency, that’s the moment where you have the power to expand. A lot of people feel once they see a little success they want to change the world. But if you wait and get a good amount of success under your belt, you will change the world. 

“There are so many credit card offers out there for small business owners. What should I be looking for?”  

Many credit cards are generic in what they offer. You have to make sure the benefits on the card are going to directly help you run your business. Cashback is helpful in that it provides money to put back into the business, but also look for built-in benefits that provide certain tools that your business needs, discounts that you use a lot, and education/resources that will benefit you as a business owner and your business growth. What benefits would be most meaningful for you and your business? Check out Mastercard’s small business benefits and products to see what could best fit your needs.  

“I feel alone in this small business journey. Where is the best place for me to get help? 

There are so many organizations that were built to help small businesses. In your community, you probably have a local chamber of commerce, a small business development center brought to you by the Small Business Administration, or a women’s business development center specifically to help women , an underserved segment. Organizations like Mastercard have specific groups focused on putting the wind at the back of small business owners. For example, Mastercard’s Small Business Community provides small businesses a platform to learn, grow and connect with Mastercard and its network of partners.    

And finally, here’s one question that small business owners don’t typically ask, but I wish they would. "How important is cybersecurity?"

Never think you’re too small to be a target for cybercriminals. Maintaining a strong cybersecurity posture is critical — the cost of a single data breach can devastate a business. A Hiscox 2023 survey of U.S. small business professionals found the median cost of cyberattacks for one business in a year was $8,300, and half of ransomware victims never recovered all their data and had to rebuild their systems. And even if you can financially survive a breach or ransomware attack, the trust your customers have in you could be lost for good. Take advantage of free resources like the Mastercard Trust Center to access cybersecurity education, resources and tools to help improve the security of your business.

Photo of Ginger Siegel
Ginger Siegel, North America Small Business Lead at Mastercard