21 years and 21 business lessons

Aside from the social media suggestions that you can make a fortune by working two hours a day from a sunny beach in Sunnyland, I wanted to share a few hard learnt lessons from 21 years in business. 

Alongside my day job, Jaluch, I’ve worked with many business owners around the world, seeing what they do and how they do it, so here are my 21 lessons… each followed by a question for you to self assess.
Grab yourself something to write with so you can jot down your score as you move through. How high will your cumulative score be? A total 210 points to aim for. Give yourself a 1 if it needs improvement and a 10 if you’re doing great.

1. Know what you want as a business owner – what does success look like and mean to you? Without being clear on what you want your business won’t have a rudder. (note: it doesn’t have to be all about the money and it could be different things at different stages of your business – keep reflecting and keep adjusting) – Simon Sinek is a great source of advice on this topic – Start with Why.

Question: How crystal clear are you and your entire team …..as a business owner or department head, team leader….. on the why?

2. A sale is never a sale until they have signed the contract or booking form. Never celebrate too early or assume too much.

Question: Does every person in your team understand the value of every sale that is made, or do some think that money grows on trees? 

3. Even charities and not for profits need to be in profit ie in the black not in the red. Don’t give so much away that you undermine your own ability to stay in business. Don’t be kind to the point of killing your own organisation. I have seen people do that too often. If someone asks for a 10% discount, by all means give that or offer 5% instead, but ask for something in return eg a testimonial.

Question: How often do you prioritise a desire to be kind or be liked over a sensible business decision 

4. Be respectful to your clients/ customers and view them as long term relationships, no sharp practises. A tarnished reputation is hard to overcome and business is generally a long game – except for those who fail early.

Question: What score would those around you give if asked to rate your reputation as a business role model 

5. Don’t forget to network outside of your sector, outside of your region and outside of your profession. Other views, other experiences, other ideas are what will make your business stand out from the crowd. Don’t play it safe.

Question: How often you step outside your business sector or professional skill set to learn?

6. Never use letters as your business name, as I have yet to come across anyone who finds letters easy to remember – CBL Ltd, GNH Plc, FDT Ltd inc. etc, all so instantly forgettable. Help your customers remember you by using a name they have at least a chance of remembering.

Question: How memorable your business name is?

7. Don’t get too reliant on the new coffee or gift shop down the road, or be in awe of all those tech start ups on the local business park. Most new businesses don’t even survive a year – many fail to plan, employ too many, overspend on ‘the shiny stuff’ and then go bust. Don’t be one of them!

Question: Do you take the time to peer into other peoples business in order to assess what they’re doing right, or not so right?

8. Decision making using too much collaboration tends to result in both slow and poor decision making. I call myself an autocratic collaborator, i.e. I ask for and then listen to views and then I step back and make the necessary decisions.

Question: How would you score the speed of problem solving and decision making in your business?

9. If you can’t implement a new project/new technology etc in less than 4 months, already your business has become a slow moving tanker that can take forever to change direction. What needs to change for you to become a nimble speed boat?

Question: Score 10 if you could implement a new phone system in less than 4 months. Score 5 if it would take 6 months. Score 2 if it would take 8 months. Score 0 if every innovation in your business feels like pulling teeth.

10. Be wary of those who join your company saying they love your culture but then do nothing but take from it, giving nothing back. To assess competence and/or organisational fit, heed actions not words.

Question: How engaged and enthusiastic are your staff? Look around you to see who may be disengaged, uninterested, or even toxic.

11. Make decisions with your head not your ego. If someone is really pushing your buttons, walk away for an hour, a day or a week, better that than say something or do you will regret.

Question: How would you score your self-control, impulse and emotion management. 

12. People who don’t adapt and don’t want to learn don’t just hold your business back, they damage your business.

Question: Score 10 if every single person in your team loves to learn . Score 5 if 80% of your team do. Score 2 if 50% of your team do score 0 if less than 50% love to learn

13. Processes should be there to both protect and help you manage your business. If you have any processes that just slow things down with no clear value, get rid of them. Be wary of people who set up processes like its a hobby – many are a waste of time and energy

Question: Do you have just the right number of policies on the right topics? Score lower if you have too many or if your policies are outdated. 

14. No business can be successful without the work and efforts of your non customer/client facing team, so value them and treat them with respect. Equally, don’t let others treat them with disrespect.

Question: How much does your external facing and senior team genuinely value the behind the scenes team members?

15. The people who tell you can’t do it or that you are doing a bad job are typically those who could never ‘do it’ themselves or who would never step up into a position of responsibility. Its easy to heckle from the sidelines, so ignore the hecklers

Question: How resilient are you to ignore the hecklers?

16. Spend a substantial portion of your training budget and time on your CEO and senior team. If anyone is going to lead a transformation or new project it is someone senior, so keep them trained up and never get complacent about the value of learning, even for those with decades of experience. Never let senior people wriggle out of training saying they don’t have time. They need to make the time and set an example for the rest of the team.

Question: Score your senior team learning. Score 0 if they say they want to attend training but never actually make the time for it.

17. If you’ve tried and failed with five new initiatives, that’s okay. Each time you will have learned, so get rid of those who call you a failure and keep on going, surrounded by those who understand the importance and value of learning the hard way. Every time you bounce back you are more resilient and resilience is a key strength, so value it.

Question: Score out of 10 for how much tough learning you’ve had across your career. Score 0 if you haven’t really learnt from things that have gone wrong or if you just berate yourself about the failures.

18. Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, but above all you need to manage the cash to keep your business running, so your priority should always be on how to manage the cash.

Question: How would you score your focus on cash and management of cash?

19. Beware of those who tell you at interview that your business will be lucky to have them. They can be great but they are seldom loyal and often pursue their own priorities, not yours. Recruit team players. And watch Margaret Heffernan’s TED talk on superchickens!

Question: How would you score the quality of your staff?

20. Regularly celebrate what you have learnt and achieved as a business owner – give yourself a good pat on the back, remind yourself of what you have done that others that others thought you could not do. Take time to celebrate.

Question: Score 10 if you celebrate, score 5 if you acknowledge success but don’t really celebrate it. Score 0 if you never take the time to acknowledge or celebrate.

21. Prioritise the tech. Keep your own tech skills up to date, your team’s stech kills and confidence up to date, keep learning about what tech is available to support your business practises, keep someone close who is a tech geek with the ability to speak plain English who can keep your business flying high when it comes to using tech.

Question: How would you score the tech competence and confidence of your entire team?

There is so much more I could say, but these 21 lessons have played a crucial role in helping me stay in and grow my business. If there are any areas where you’ve scored yourself 5 or less, make a note of these, as these could well be activities or areas for focus for you going forwards to ensure you achieve your goals. 

From Jaluch

Practical, pragmatic, real world training for staff, managers and leaders – team building, wellbeing, diversity, culture, management, resilience, psychological safety, emotional intelligence, managing absence. Check out all of our training here.

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Disclaimer: The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.



Helen Jamieson

Jaluch MD

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