Being a business owner means being on the battlefield everyday day. Right? In battle there is a lot to be learned from the people who have been there before. It makes a lot of sense to take these lessons instead of getting taught them the hard way.
In this post, I’m going to share a curated list of 15 battle tested and hardened lessons from business owners who have been there and done that before. Lessons you can take and immediately start using in your business.
Lesson 1: Don’t Make it a Job
If you can’t leave your business for a month and be confident that operations will run smoothly, you don’t have a business. You have a job. Many of the best business books repeat this message. Both The E-Myth Revisited and The Pumpkin Plan carry it clearly.
Too many entrepreneurs build businesses that depend entirely on them. Besides increasing the chances that you will be miserable, it doesn’t scale. Revenue and profits that require you showing up every single day are not the sign of a business, they are the sign of a job.
Practical advice: Build processes, create systems and hire people to make your business run without you, otherwise you’re not running a business at all.
Lesson 2: It’s Lonely at the Top
Being the owner is a lonely job. Experienced business owners are “friendly” with their employees, but are not peers and certainly not “friends" in a classic sense.
You’re their boss. Sometimes you have to make hard calls. Sometimes you have to make them do things they don’t want to. Sometimes you have to disappoint people. Yes, the job is lonely.
Practical advice: Find support outside your business by building a rich life outside work and joining business groups or meetups to discuss business.
Lesson 3: Choose Your Market Wisely
Okay, here’s the truth. Being in a good market matters way more than how hard you work. Average business owners and managers in great industries will beat great business owners and managers in average industries. Every single time.
I’ve seen lazy owners make millions in great markets. Then I’ve watched as great owners get murdered by hard businesses.
Practical advice: The market you choose to compete in is the biggest decision you’ll make so focus on markets with clear value propositions, lots of customers and healthy profit margins.
Lesson 4: Separate Business and Family
Your business is not a "family." Stop calling it that. It’s fake and employees see through it. They have a family at home. Work colleagues play a different role.
Practical advice: Treat your company like an all star team. Everyone is there because it's the best possible fit for both the employee and the employer.
Lesson 5: Be a Caring Boss
Loyal employees are like gold. They genuinely care about your business, will serve customers better and will save you lots of heartache trawling through job applications.
Yes, business owners that attract employees like a magnet and then hold on to them will always excel over time. The way to do this is to treat employees with respect and genuine care. Don’t be the hard-to-work-for boss. Owners that employees love win in the long-term.
Practical advice: Don’t think too hard about this one, simply be someone people want to work for. You’ll know what that means in your industry.
Lesson 6: Build a Owner-Operator Mindset
Employees with “skin in the game” will outperform. This is innate. When employees feel ownership they take ownership. They buy into the mission of your business, treat customers like an owner would and put more care and attention into everything they do.
Having employees think and act like owners really adds up to big results for your business. As a business owner, you must do everything to get your employees into this mindset.
Practical advice: Depending on your business, design and implement ways to give employees a sense of ownership, it can be bonus schemes, profit sharing, equity grants, extra responsibility, or ability to make decisions. It can make a huge difference.
Lesson 7: Moving on is Compassionate
I’ve never heard a small business owner say that they regretted moving on from a bad employee. They all say they waited too long.
The crazy thing? By the time you do something about a poor employee fit, every one of your other employees will think “what took them so long?” and the employee who moves on will think “thank goodness for that!”
Practical advice: It is compassionate to be honest with employees who aren’t working out and help them move on to a better job for them. Everyone wins. Pull off the Band-Aid.
Lesson 8: Assume You’ll Know Last
With some information, the owner is always the last to know. Here’s a simple rule of thumb: by the time you hear a rumor, you can assume the entire business knows about it already.
This is freeing because you can worry less about who knows what. All your employees know already. The rumor mill in a small business is that strong.
Practical advice: Tap your trusted employees and give them a free pass on sharing any information they have. Don’t use it against anyone, just collect it and use it to make improvements.
Lesson 9: Skip the News
Reading the news is usually a waste of time for business owners and entrepreneurs. It's pure noise. There is nothing actionable you can take from it. The media won’t help you keep employees happy, make payroll or win another customer.
It’s what you know about your business, your customers and your community that matters. Focus on building your experience, domain knowledge and market intelligence.
Practical advice: Find sources of information that will help you make sustainable long-term improvements to your business. I'm biased, but Anaeo Pro is one.
Lesson 10: You are Head of Sales
You might be the owner and hire salespeople but that doesn’t change the fact that you are still the Head of Sales. I’ll go further, it’s your main role as a small business owner. If you are not out there banging the drum, being your own best seller, who else will be?
Practical advice: There is an old movie called Glengarry Glen Ross with a famous line, “Always Be Closing”. As a small business owner you need to make your mantra “Always Be Selling”. If you ever have any spare time at work, use it to find new customers.
Lesson 11: Your Job Always Changes
Except for the Head of Sales role, the rest of your job will always change. Even within a single day. Depending on the demands of your market, customers and employees, what your business needs from you changes all the time.
Practical advice: Stay alert to what your business needs at any point in time, and keep your schedule and expectations flexible enough so that you can manage your time and effort. Then channel it towards what needs to be completed, when it needs to be done.
Lesson 12: Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
Admit it, your employees are going to make things harder than they need to be. So you need to keep jobs simple. So simple anyone could do them. Simple is beautiful. Simple wins.
Business owners are in a never-ending battle against complexity. But complexity means more time spent on each task, less efficient customer service and more costs for you as an owner. Constantly look out for ways to simplify your business. It will pay big and never ending dividends.
Practical advice: Map out all the activities required to make your business work, then go through each and think of ways it could be made more simple.
Lesson 13: Systems Improve Results
If you don’t have a thought-out system for any repetitive business task, you still have a system. It’s just a bad system. High-performing businesses have systems for everything from hiring to planning, inventory buying, customer service and finance.
Practical advice: If you do something repeatedly in the course of running your business, build a system to make sure it is completed efficiently and consistently.
Lesson 14: Remember Your Personal Development
Most small business owners don’t invest in personal development. There is no class called “business owner” job in high school, university or college.
But running a business requires you to be on top of your game. You must be growing and evolving as a business owner and the best way to do this is to actively invest in your own personal development.
Practical advice: Read books, subscribe to blogs, listen to podcasts, sign-up for online courses and seek in-person learning opportunities.
Lesson 15: Love the Process
Most people expect business to be about big moves, when it’s about grinding out 0.5% improvements every day. This is the opposite of what we’re told.
It’s easy to be like: “ What’s the big strategic move we need to make today?” Turns out that’s getting in there and following the process. The only way you can do this year after year and maintain your sanity is by learning to love the process. Fall in love with the little things that make your business tick, let the process energize you.
Practical advice: Small business is about showing up every time and doing the small things well so that they can grow into big things. Business life is better when you learn to love the process.
We all know that small business is about doing the little things right.
The little optimisations, the high-impact tweaks and the 1% gains you can make to your business to make it a little better, a little more profitable and even a little bit more pleasant to run.
I have interviewed 500+ business owners, surveyed thousands more, and I am always probing for their best tips, tricks and hacks to improve their business. There are three that stand out above the rest and I want to share them with you.
Join my email list for free and I’ll send them to you right now.