50 surprising things I’ve learnt about running a business by 50

Sharon Tanton

Running your own business is an adventure. Here are 50 things accidental business owner Sharon Tanton has learned by the age of 50.

Sharon and birthday presentI’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

  1. You get to choose what success looks and feels like. Define success your way.
  2. 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.
  3. Put happiness at the top.

    Sharon smiling on mum's shoulders

    Put happiness at the top of your list.

  4. Understand what makes you tick. Be self aware.
  5. Put your own oxygen mask on first. In a small business your own physical, emotional and mental well being really matters.
  6. 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.
  7. Get to grips with the finances. Understand balance sheets. Get over your spread-sheet-aphobia. (Yes, that’s a real thing.)
  8. 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.
  9. Know what you need to do to keep the lights on. Do that.
  10. 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. 

    Sharon outside office block

    If big business is not for you, walk away.

  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Get the foundations of your business structure right. Sort all the legalities properly. Get legal advice.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. In a partnership, respect your differences and play to your strengths.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. Uncover your purpose – understand your ‘why?’ Watch Simon Sinek’s Start with the Why
  20. Build your business around the people who believe what you believe.
  21. Find your people and grow your community. Your people are everything.
  22. Listen to your customers. Do more of what they appreciate.
  23. Admit it when you’re worried – ask for help.
  24. 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.

    Sharon on stairs

    Avoid breakfast networking. No one can make you go.

  25. Writing a book is the best business card ever, and it makes exciting things happen in your life and business.
  26. 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

  27. Be brave – stand for something, make a difference.
  28. Help the people in front of you.
  29. Take proper holidays. (That means no checking emails. Time away is really important.)

    Take time off to stare at the waves.

  30. When it comes to people, trust your instincts. If something feels wrong early on, it almost certainly will go wrong later.
  31. 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.
  32. Eat lunch.

    Sharon in high chair

    Don’t miss lunch.

  33. 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.
  34. Learn how to manage your time (I am still not great at this.)
  35. Turn the notifications off on your phone.
  36. Get enough sleep, everything is easier when you’ve had enough sleep.
  37. Recognise the bad client signs and walk away.
  38. No meeting should last longer than 2 hours.
  39. Keep learning, and do things that scare you.
  40. Write your way to clarity – share your ideas in a blog and the right people will find you
  41. Be generous. Share other people’s ideas, say thank you. Be kind.
  42. Ideas are powerful. Feed your imagination and your soul so you stay creative.
  43. Referrals are the best route to new business. Delight your customers, so they can’t help talking about you.
  44. Laugh often.

    Make each other laugh

  45. Back up your computer.
  46. Walking is good for everything. Do more of it.
  47. Accept that however much time you spend working on your strategy that it will never be truly finished – your business is always a prototype.
  48. Change takes longer than you think.
  49. Enjoy yourself, celebrate your successes.
  50. Everyone is making it up as they go along.

    Learn to expect the unexpected and keep smiling.

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  1. VC

    Great lessons – for business and for life. Happy birthday partner!

    Going into business with you was one of the best decisions I ever made. Valuable Content wouldn’t be half as instinctively happy or as interesting without you and there’s a lot more fun (and learning!) to be had.

    Here’s to the next chapter.

    Sonja x

  2. Sharon Tanton

    Thanks Sonja. Yes, here’s to loving the next fifty years of Valuable Content!

  3. Avatar

    Excellent advice from a wise person, well done Sharon.

    • Sharon Tanton

      Thanks Jonathan – I like wise. It sounds better than old!

  4. Avatar

    All 50 of these are such great advice, but specifically no’s 3, 21 & 22 (thanks for your current help on that one Valuable Content). I SO need to do more of number 37 before get miserably too deep into terrible work I keep saying ‘yes’ to for some reason. Happy Birthday, keep doing all 50 – especially the walking.

    • Sharon Tanton

      Cheers Christian. Definitely more walking needed, and more of the right, lovely clients.

  5. Avatar

    Lovely blog Sharon-really made me smile and inspired me!I am just starting up as a Sole Trader for my End of Life Services so I took it all in-well done you!

    • Sharon Tanton

      Thanks Julia, I really appreciate that. And good luck with the new venture. Sounds amazing. xx

  6. Avatar

    Lovely blog Sharon, full of wit and wisdom as always. Lyn and I are working hard, perhaps too hard, to evolve as a business and working you both this year helped in so many unexpected ways. So thanks for that. Have a wonderful birthday and keep walking ……

    • Sharon Tanton

      Thank you! We loved working with you too. Two women businesses rock!

  7. Avatar

    Happy Birthday, Your article really made me smile because you think like me. I have written the book, it’s called Founded after 40: how to start a business when you haven’t got time to waste and it is one of the most exciting things I’ve done in 25 years of my business. I’ll share your blog with its Facebook group, I’m sure it will resonate with most of the members.

    • Sharon Tanton

      Thanks Glenda – the book sounds great! Really glad the blog resonated with you, and thanks for sharing it.

  8. Avatar

    Welcome to the 50 Club Sharon and thanks for helping an old dog learn new tricks.

  9. Avatar

    Loved the blog Sharon, you have so made my morning. Totally agree on No. 24, hate networking breakfasts. Have a fabulous birthday and keep on walking.

    • VC

      Thanks Lyn – I’m really glad about that. I’m looking forward to my party tonight. What a great day for a birthday!

  10. Avatar

    Happy birthday Sharon! I think 31 and 32 are amongst my favourites. And 48. Love all your wisdom – have a wonderful day and may the best still be yet to come.

    Loads of love xxx

    • Sharon

      Thanks Lizzie – looking forward to seeing you later! xxx

  11. Avatar

    Great stuff. Thanks for sharing and Happy Birthday!

    Big up point 33! #shoplocal

  12. Avatar

    That’s a stonking list, Sharon!
    When I saw that there were 50 things I wondered whether I would get through them all. Now I’m wondering at how so many apply to me. So nice to read some real, genuinely human and selfless thoughts. Thank you.

    • Sharon

      Thanks very much Adam, really glad you liked it!

    • Sharon

      Cheers Marc – that’s lovely to hear! Thank you.

  13. Avatar

    Inspiring list Sharon- and I LOVE the 1960s and 70s photos!

    Hope you have a fab party and look forward to learning lots more from you and Sonja xx

    • Sharon

      Thanks Helen. Really glad you liked it. (And I was very happy to get my old baby pictures in there!) See you at Pub Club soon.

  14. Avatar

    Thank you, Sharon, for always inspiring and motivating me.
    Hope you had a great party, always looking forward to the next blog x

    • Sharon

      Thanks so much Anneliese. I had a lovely party! Hope to see you soon.

  15. Avatar

    Thank you Sharon – massively helpful and relevant to not-for-profit organisations too! x

    • Sharon Tanton

      Cheers Alice, thanks very much for commenting. I’m glad it works for you too.

  16. Avatar

    Brilliant! Very insightful and so true!
    Thank you for sharing this.

    • Sharon Tanton

      Thanks Clare, really glad you liked it! What you’re doing with Find, Get, Grow looks really interesting – best of luck with it.

  17. Avatar

    I refer back to this from time to time, as it resonates so much with me. Thanks for writing it 🙂

    • VC

      Thanks David! That one was definitely my most read blog this year, and the one that was most written from the heart. I think there’s a lesson in there for me! Really glad you like it.



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