What I’ve Learned From 20 Years as a Small Business Owner


What I’ve Learned From 20 Years as a Small Business Owner

Our consultancy business turned 20 at the end of May 2017. That’s a bit of a milestone for us. In some ways, it seems like an eternity, and in other ways, it seems the time has flown by. When we started the business, the ‘office’ was a bench at the end of the kitchen. We had returned to Australia after living overseas for some years and had to start a new life.

So, what have I learned from 20 years of starting, growing and managing a Small Business?

1. Be adaptable.

This is the most important lesson I have learned. Be highly tuned to your external environment and be prepared to change with it. Our company has had to constantly refresh, and even re-invent itself as the market changed around us. Regional economies often feel an exaggerated effect of economic ups and downs, and that has certainly been the case for us. Being prepared to change has taken us through several booms and busts – learning new skills and changing our target market.

Don’t just bet on one horse and stick with it.

2. Never stop learning.

Be an enthusiastic lifelong learner – both in business and personally. You will need all those new skills to keep changing with your business and to be the best person you can be. I once had someone say to me that ‘they had learnt everything they need to know’.  I’ve never forgotten my horror at hearing that sentence. Stay curious.

3. Surround yourself with good people.

As Richard Branson suggests, employ people who know more than you, and let them get on with their job. You are the business owner, but you will never be the font of all knowledge, and your team needs your leadership qualities. In both your business and personal life, hang out with people who will lift you up, not drag you down. Don’t associate with those who are fully paid up members of the ‘Miserable Bastards Club’.

4. Take a break.

This one took me a very long time to learn, and eventually, I was forced to take a break because my blood pressure was doing yo-yos. It’s not a badge of honour to work 12 – 14 hours (or more) a day, 365 days a year. I know that there is always more work to be done, but if you’re dead or in a hospital, you sure can’t do it then.

5. Love what you do.

Love what you do, and identify what it is inside you that drives you to do it. Our company’s mission is to help our clients obtain production from our natural resources with the least environmental disruption possible, and that’s what gets us out of bed every day. If you love what you do, and know why you do it, you will be able to withstand the rotten times when you want to quit. It sounds trite, but it’s true.

6. Do good stuff.

Your mission in business must be more than to ‘make a profit’. Wherever you go, and whatever you do, leave some good behind. It doesn’t have to be grand – helping out at the local P&C when you’re a cash-strapped startup counts just as much as a millionaire philanthropist donating a new library at the University. Your business reputation is a valuable asset. Don’t blow it by doing bad work or being a lousy corporate citizen.

7. A business/life partnership works.

Ian and I have been business and life partners for 26 years. Personally, I can’t imagine having it any other way. Both our parents were also husband and wife business teams, so I guess it was just normal for us. I know it’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly worked for us and our business. I’ve been in partnership with my best friend for the entire journey.

When the majority of businesses don’t make it past the five-year mark, I am extremely proud of what we have achieved in our 20 years in business. I’m also very proud of the service we have provided to our clients and the community over those years.

Now for the next 20…

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