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10 Lessons from small business owners that can’t be learnt in class

There is a lot of value in learning from the experience of your peers. The members of the Facebook group, I’m a small business owner in Western Australia, recently shared the valuable lessons they’ve learnt along the way when a member asked the following question:

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about running a business that you did NOT learn from a course/degree?

The post generated a vibrant discussion with more than 60 responses. Here are some of the learnings the members shared about their small business experience.

1. Being great at your profession does not guarantee a successful business.

Many people go into business with years of experience in their trade or profession to draw on, which makes them great at being ‘on the tools’. However, business owners need a range of addition skills including business planning, financial literacy, sales and marketing skills, people management and more to run a successful business.

Luckily, there are many resources out there to help you go from being great at what you do, to be great at running a business. A good starting point is our practical and affordable small business workshops and free building your knowledge guides.

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Getting advice from others in the same situation is also useful. Our Facebook group of Western Australian small business owners has over 10,000 members ready to share their advice with you!

2. You can’t do it all. No matter how good your time management is.

Running a small business places many demands on your time. Sometimes the ‘hustle’ culture can lead you to feel like you should always be doing more. However, trying to do it all, particularly in a solo business, is a recipe for burnout.

Help manage your energy by differentiating between important tasks that will move your business forward, and ones that simply keep you busy. If you can afford to outsource to someone who can do a task more efficiently than you can, it can be a good investment. Otherwise, look at what you can automate to save time that you could be spending on more important things.

Remember, being too busy all the time stops you from working on your business rather than in it – a key to progress.

3. If you go into partnership with ANYONE, including family or friends, ensure everything is done legally.

Whether you are thinking of working with family or partnering with someone else, it is absolutely essential that you spend time evaluating your potential business partner to see if you have shared goals and can complement what you are bringing to the business.

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Once you have found your perfect match, don’t skip finalising your partnership agreement with the help of a lawyer.

4. Set boundaries with yourself for a healthy work-life balance. Set them with friends, especially those who think they’re entitled to mate’s rates but give you nothing in return. Set them with staff, suppliers and customers.

Setting boundaries can feel awkward to some, especially those who like to keep everyone (especially customers) happy. But being clear about your limits and sticking to them can be an important part of staying mentally healthy and managing stress.

5. Learn from your mistakes. If they cost you money call it the cost of the course you just did in what not to do.

While we all hope to avoid costly mistakes in our business, sometimes they can provide the best lesson in what not to do.

Remember, if you are not sure about a business decision you are making you can always turn to our experienced business advisers to provide a sounding board. This includes specialist commercial tenancy advice, which is well worth seeking before entering into a commercial lease.

6. You are your most important investment. Look after yourself first so you can look after everyone and everything else.

Managing your wellbeing as a business owner is essential, particularly in disrupted times. It’s important to keep an eye on your physical and mental health before it becomes a problem.

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While your GP is an important first port of call if you are feeling unwell in mind or body, there are also many other resources including the Ahead for Business website, which offers a range of free tools to help you take action to manage your health and wellbeing, and the My Business Health portal, which offers mental health support designed especially for small business owners.

7. My university degree gave me zero education in running a business…

While a tertiary education is very useful and can give you the tools you need to work in your profession, practical and up-to-date business skills are often not taught at university or in other traditional educational institutions.

The SBDC is a State Government agency that is dedicated to giving small business owners the skills and support they need to start strong, survive and thrive in their business as well as their profession. Our small business workshops have been designed to give business owners from all educational backgrounds the practical skills they need for running a business.

8. Keep a full-time source of income on the sidelines until the business proves to be profitable and reliable

A business doesn’t have to be full time to be a real business, and testing the marketing while keeping another source of income to meet your living costs is a wise idea if you are unsure whether your business idea will succeed.

In today’s ‘gig economy’, starting a side gig in addition to your regular job is a valid choice that can give you a financial – but make sure you understand the difference between a hobby and a business to avoid tax and legal implications.

9. A business will never outgrow its owner. The level of a business’s growth and development is a mirror image of my own personal growth and development.

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growth mindset and investing in ongoing self-development can help you grow both personally and professionally, bringing benefits to both you and your business.

10. Cash is king, focus on getting paid on time and also paying on time.

While there are many reasons that people start their own business, at the end of the day you need to be paid for the work you do, for your business dream to be viable. While getting paid on time can be a challenge for many businesses, staying on top of your cash flow is essential — even if you have to have an awkward conversation with a customer, send a letter of demand to a debtor, or tighten up your terms and conditions of trade.

Paying your own suppliers on time also helps ensure your business has a great reputation and credit history. After all – money makes the world go around!


This article is republished from the Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC) website. The SBDC is a WA State Government agency that supports small business. Please read the disclaimer before relying on this information, which has been developed primarily with Western Australian businesses in mind.


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