What can you learn from 12 years in business?

Bigger Brighter Bolder hit its 12th birthday this year. Throughout all the highs and lows, we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to run a small service-based business. From successfully running our own over the past 12 years, to supporting all those other businesses to reach and surpass their goals.

Over the year, we’ve seen it all: the celebrations and the tears. We have had the honour of helping some brilliant businesses grow and scale, from taking on their first employee to achieving a turnover they didn’t think possible.

Our own journey is one of growth that has taken us in unexpected directions at times but always towards our goals. So, I thought I’d share a tip for each year we’ve been in business. See this as a checklist to make sure you’re doing these in your business, if you’re not already. Or as a gentle reminder if you’ve let some of this slip (it’s easy to do because running a business isn’t easy as tip one will confirm).

Each of these tips will help you avoid some common mistakes that small service-based business owners can make and should put you in a good place for the coming years.

1. Running a business is harder than you think

From the outside, running a business might look easy. We’re all guilty of only sharing the highlights online but it is harder than you think. Get help and support as early as you can. My best advice is to be very discerning about who you ask for help. We spent years implementing some well-meaning but ultimately nonsense advice in the early years. If we’d got the right advice early on, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and money.

You also need a good community. The kind of like-minded people who will hold you up, cheer you on and allow you to be open and vulnerable about the realities of running a business. This is crucial to staying the course when the going gets difficult.

2. Sales first

It’s too easy to hide behind marketing and tell yourself that this is selling. Not many of us go into business to become a salesperson so you need to learn the skills of selling as soon as possible. Yes, you’ll need a marketing strategy as you grow but first you need to sell.

Sales is important to growth and it’s a skill that you can use across every aspect of running a business. Having a “sales first” mindset is one of the best things you can do for your business.

3. Build your business around your skills

It may seem obvious, but we’ve seen plenty of business owners who’ve quit their jobs to start a business in an area they have no experience or training in. Your business should combine what you love with what you’re good at so it’s essential you build your business around your skills.

That said, you also need to push yourself out of your comfort zone if you want to grow your business. It’s not about trying to be someone you’re not, but to be constantly improving. You might also want to check out tip 11.

4.  Know your weaknesses

None of us are brilliant at everything. You might be highly creative but struggle with organising your time. Or you are an excellent project manager but struggle to sell yourself on social media. Whatever your weaknesses, make sure you have self-awareness.

You’ll need to either fill in the gaps yourself or bring in people who can fill them in for you. As your business grows, you’ll have more opportunities to bring in people with the skills you lack or do the jobs you don’t like. The first step is knowing where you need the support.

5.  Know your numbers

A business without cashflow is a business that won’t last long. You need to know your numbers and keep on top of them on a regular basis. Start with running a cashflow forecast as early as you can.

Get the best accountant you can afford and leverage them to learn how to read the numbers and plan.

We’ve seen many great businesses struggle because they haven’t got their head into the numbers. This includes making sure you get paid on time, every time. 

6. Have a vision

You need to have a vision for your business and the big “why” behind you so that you can keep moving forward even when it gets challenging. It doesn’t matter how big or small your vision is as long as it inspires you.

Your vision might be to build a legacy, give your family a better lifestyle or make a difference in the world. Whatever your vision is, it needs to be so important to you that you’ll keep working towards it no matter what happens.

7. A business will magnify all your shit

If you’ve got past trauma, insecurities or low self-esteem, running a business will magnify all of it. The good news is that it’s also an amazing opportunity to grow and heal. Personal development is so important as a small business owner. Embrace all of it and work on it.

Also be aware that, despite what you LinkedIn feed might tell you, every other business owner has the same shit going on. You’re not alone and it’s why you need to be part of a community to know this (see tip no. 1).

8. You need drive to keep going

 We all get those highly motivated periods where we feel like everything is great. You’re an ambitious business owner, you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t. But we can’t rely on motivation every day.

You’ll have bad days. Your motivation will naturally wax and wane. During these times, you need discipline and focus to keep going even when you don’t feel like it.

The truth is every single business owner out there has had the thought: “it’d be easier to get a job”. The ones who don’t are the ones who have the drive to keep going. Re-read tip six if you need a reminder on how to find that drive.

9. Goal setting needs to be done well

You need to set goals for your service-based business to grow. Except, goal setting is so underrated and rarely done properly. Even when you set a goal, it’s not a given that you’ll achieve it:

What’s important is that you set out clearly what you want to achieve, and you have that “big why” behind it (see tip six). You then need to break it down into chunks and make sure you align your actions with achieving that goal.

10. Build partnerships

Partnerships are brilliant for small serviced-based businesses. Find good people who share your values and start building long-term relationships with them. Your partnerships should be mutually beneficial and grow over time.

Businesses can often under-value how important partnerships are but when you start finding the right ones, you’ll soon see the benefits.

11. Don’t ever think you know it all

While you might be an expert in your field, you’ll never stop learning. The business owner who thinks they know it all and doesn’t need any help, is the one who won’t be in business for the long-term.

Every event, conversation, and milestone are an opportunity to learn. Constantly educate yourself to improve as a business owner. Working on your personal development is as important, and consistently improving your practical skills and knowledge.

12. Take good care of yourself

You are your greatest asset and are best when you’re firing on all cylinders.  Make exercise, rest and play as important as working hard. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t perform to the best of your abilities when running your business. Even if you have a team, the whole business will suffer.

Taking time to take care of yourself is important for the longevity and growth of your business. You’ll do a better job, serve your clients better, and be in the right mindset to take the best actions.

What can you learn from your time in business?

However long you’ve been in business, you’ll never stop learning just like you’ll never stop having challenges to overcome. The important thing is how you act on these opportunities. You can keep reflecting on how far you’ve come and what you need to do to hit the next milestone. Or you can put on blinkers and think you’ve got it all sorted.

All businesses have problems, and all businesses need constant support to grow. Take a moment to think about what you’ve learned over however long you’ve been in business. It might just surprise you. 


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