I’m 50 this week. That’s me, off to my first proper birthday party.
An accidental business co-owner – running a business was never part of my life plan – but like the rest of life, I’ve been picking it up as I go along. Building Valuable Content with Sonja has turned out to be my best working experience, and she’s become one of my very best friends
Running a business is an adventure in ways I wasn’t expecting. You never know what’s coming next. It’s roughly nine parts great to one part awful, and that’s a pretty good way to spend your time. And at the risk of sounding like a fridge magnet, there are no straight lines to success. You’ve just got to enjoy the ups and downs.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way.
50 business lessons from a new fifty-something
- You get to choose what success looks and feels like. Define success your way.
- You’re building a life, not just a business. Your business will take up a big chunk of your time. Don’t fritter it away on something that doesn’t make you feel good.
- Put happiness at the top.
- Understand what makes you tick. Be self aware.
- Put your own oxygen mask on first. In a small business your own physical, emotional and mental well being really matters.
- Look after each other. Prioritise the health and well being of the people you work with. Are you okay? is a good question to ask.
- Get to grips with the finances. Understand balance sheets. Get over your spread-sheet-aphobia. (Yes, that’s a real thing.)
- Work out how much money you need and build your offer around that. If the numbers don’t add up, change your business or do something else entirely.
- Know what you need to do to keep the lights on. Do that.
- Understand that building a business that prioritises financial profit might not lead to fulfillment. Our most profitable year, with the biggest clients and contracts, was not a happy one.
- Make your own rules for your working week. If going to Pilates makes you feel good, make time to do it. If being there for your kids after school makes life better all round, don’t take on lots of projects that mean you’ll still be standing on an overcrowded train at Paddington at 7.30 pm.
- Get the right support where you need it – we’ve invested in great strategic advice from Chris Thurling and accountant Jon Gaunt at FD Works.
- Get the foundations of your business structure right. Sort all the legalities properly. Get legal advice.
- If it’s a two person business, make the ownership 50/50. The amount of time and attention you can each give to the business will vary from day to day and month to month, so a symbolic ‘we’re in this equally together’ will keep you grounded.
- Be flexible with yourself and each other. Life will throw things at you that you can’t prepare for, and these will have to come first.
- In a partnership, respect your differences and play to your strengths.
- Have a strategy so you know you’re heading in the direction you want to go. It’s so easy to get pulled off track, so keep checking in with your goals.
- Make the direction you’re heading feel real. We’re heading west, and that means figuratively – more independence, more working with people doing great stuff that breaks the mould, purpose led, not profit led and literally – more time in the sea in Cornwall for Sonja and on the coast paths of Pembrokeshire for me.
- Uncover your purpose – understand your ‘why?’ Watch Simon Sinek’s Start with the Why
- Build your business around the people who believe what you believe.
- Find your people and grow your community. Your people are everything.
- Listen to your customers. Do more of what they appreciate.
- Admit it when you’re worried – ask for help.
- You don’t have to go to Breakfast Networking Meetings if you don’t want to – find your own way of connecting with the right new clients and spreading the word.
- Writing a book is the best business card ever, and it makes exciting things happen in your life and business.
- Stay curious. It makes life more interesting and fun, and it opens doors.
“Much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.” Steve Jobs
- Be brave – stand for something, make a difference.
- Help the people in front of you.
- Take proper holidays. (That means no checking emails. Time away is really important.)
- When it comes to people, trust your instincts. If something feels wrong early on, it almost certainly will go wrong later.
- Find your sweet spot and focus on it. When you’re doing what you’re best at it doesn’t even feel like work. It is joyful to be working on projects that fire your imagination and use your best skills. Find those ones.
- Eat lunch.
- Support your support network. Small businesses are built on a network of other great small businesses. Big up the designers, administrators, web builders, tech supporters, advisors, cafes, baristas, pubs, taxi companies, hairdressers that keep your show on the road.
- Learn how to manage your time (I am still not great at this.)
- Turn the notifications off on your phone.
- Get enough sleep, everything is easier when you’ve had enough sleep.
- Recognise the bad client signs and walk away.
- No meeting should last longer than 2 hours.
- Keep learning, and do things that scare you.
- Write your way to clarity – share your ideas in a blog and the right people will find you
- Be generous. Share other people’s ideas, say thank you. Be kind.
- Ideas are powerful. Feed your imagination and your soul so you stay creative.
- Referrals are the best route to new business. Delight your customers, so they can’t help talking about you.
- Laugh often.
- Back up your computer.
- Walking is good for everything. Do more of it.
- Accept that however much time you spend working on your strategy that it will never be truly finished – your business is always a prototype.
- Change takes longer than you think.
- Enjoy yourself, celebrate your successes.
- Everyone is making it up as they go along.