10 top small business lessons from the first 5 years

My 5th business birthday snuck up on me. I knew it was on the horizon because my copywriting business and son were birthed in the same year and my son is now 5. But it wasn’t until searching for my ABN online to complete a form that I realised my 5-year business anniversary was the following day. And while Melbourne’s 5.0 COVID-19 pandemic lockdown isn’t exactly the ideal celebration scenario, I can’t let it pass by without reflecting on my 10 top small business lessons (and raising a glass of bubbles!).

Here are 10 valuable small business lessons I’ve gathered from the past 5 years

Lesson #1 Be curious

Learning is one of my personal and business values and one of my top strengths, so I can’t help but invite curiosity in which brings all kinds of rewards. Asking questions has helped me to streamline my client enquiry and briefing process, to better understand the outcomes business owners are seeking and how I can support that. The desire to improve my skills – and better serve my clients – has seen me undertake comprehensive SEO training (watch out for an SEO-basics themed blog coming soon), plus courses on topics like the psychology of copywriting and extensive business coaching. Podcasts have been a long-time favourite as a wonderful way to learn while I walk my local streets, or to quickly upskill on a particular topic.

Lesson #2 Stay true to you

You’ve probably heard it before. Stay in your lane. Do your own thing. There’s a reason this is an oft-repeated mantra in small business circles and on your Instagram feed. But it may not be what you think. In my opinion, staying true to you is less about resisting the urge to copy others (which is generally a bad idea) but more about taking the time to understand what YOU really want. Whenever I’ve tried to work counter-intuitively or in a way that doesn’t align with my strengths or interests, it hasn’t felt great. My advice is to listen to your inner voice, observe what you enjoy, listen to feedback and acknowledge your strengths. One way I got clear on what I wanted to offer was to think about what makes a great copywriter from the perspective of my clients.

Lesson #3 Systems and processes make sense

It may not be sexy, but it’s smart – and putting systems and processes in place will save you time in the long run. The right kinds of systems will mean less double-handling and get you set up to offload some of your workload by subcontracting or hiring someone. This year I started working with an excellent OBM (online business manager), who has taken ownership of some of the big projects I’ve had on my to-do list for years and is project managing them. This has really freed up some brain space for me, to start developing more of my thought leadership, particularly around content repurposing and working smarter, not harder when it comes to content creation.

Lesson #4 Good productivity habits trump hustle

Of course there are challenging and busy times, with the occasional late night. But the frenetic hustle rhythm of the early years is long gone. I want my business to be sustainable in the long term, so these days it’s all about good productivity habits and boundaries. This includes lots of Pomodoro sessions (25-minute work sprints followed by a 5-minute break) and regular breaks with sunshine (where possible!) or exercise scheduled. While it may seem counter-intuitive to walk away from the desk, it actually supports better work habits. It’s also really useful to work out what time of day you do your best deep work and block it out for yourself. If you don’t protect your space and what’s important, it’s likely other commitments will creep on in.

Lesson #5 Be kind

There are so many reasons to be kind in business – kind to others and kind to yourself. By taking time to listen with an open heart and mind to others, you can help them in a more useful and genuine way. Whether this is clients, collaborators or business besties, it’s worth remembering that you don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes for people. Think family issues, business insecurity, lockdown fatigue…the list goes on. This year, a wider definition of kindness has been on my radar and that’s to do with accessibility and diversity. While I’m developing my awareness and working to do better, I’ve used some tools and taken various steps. I’ve used image captions on Instagram, done a diversity audit of my clients and contributed to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation to help make the impact I truly wish to.

Lesson #6 Make time for health, family, friends and creativity

Business can be all-consuming if you let it. While I don’t necessarily advocate for or aspire to work/life balance (I’m more into work/life integration), I’m trying to follow my energy more often. I spend time sharing great conversations with friends and family, enjoying lunchtime yoga classes and at the theatre and cinema.

Lesson #7 Embrace and invest in your growth and evolution

You will change through your small business journey – and that’s a good thing. To sit still is not to evolve. But change can be scary, especially if you’re not sure of the direction you’re headed. I found developing a vision for the future of my business helpful. Around three years in I realised I was on the client work treadmill with no idea where I was headed. By investing in a fabulously clever business coach, I got crystal clear on both my business values and also my future direction. Now, when a client enquiry lands in my inbox, I have a framework to assess a project’s suitability based on my bigger goals and strategic map. I’ve also not been afraid to invest in learning that has supported me to level up as I clock each subsequent year.

Lesson #8 People need people

From business buds to a coach, mentors, accountant, yoga teacher and OBM, to name a few – the people you surround yourself with matters. Small business networking and business groups have the potential to be so much more than just places to ‘network’. They provide community, accountability and friendship. I’ve made the most of virtual coworking, a shared office with seven other female business owners and all kinds of collaboration.

Lesson #9 Always ask for social proof

My advice is to build feedback gathering into your processes from the get-go. Testimonials are instrumental in helping you to market your products or services effectively using the actual words – data – from your customers.. By framing it as feedback gathering, you have the chance to get valuable intel on what is and is not working. This will in turn help you improve your processes.

Lesson #10 Celebrate the small – and big – wins

When you finish a project, it can be so easy to get started with the next thing straight away. Make sure you take time to acknowledge all your wins, however small. So, tonight I’ll be raising a glass and thanking my family for their support in helping make this small business dream a reality.

A final note

The last 18 months have been rough going at times for small business owners. Those of us based in Melbourne have serious lockdown fatigue. While work has flowed steadily – and for that, I’m so grateful – the uncertainty (and home schooling) has been super challenging in my household and for the business owners I know. Thankfully we’re a determined and resilient bunch. So, here’s to many more years in business and more small business lessons to learn.

Over to you

Which small business lessons resonated with you? Let me know.

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