Opinion, Workflows & Processes

10 Things I’ve Learned by Running My Own Small Business


Running your own small business is extremely rewarding, but it can also be very challenging. Even if you do plenty of research beforehand and get advice from other small business owners, nothing quite prepares you for taking the leap and setting up on your own.

I’ve been running my own small marketing business since 2010, but I’m still learning new things all the time. Being self-employed isn’t always easy, but I absolutely love it and it has taught me so much.

Here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the years while running a small business.

1. Taking a holiday is important

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When you run your own business, there’s nobody to tell you when you should take your holidays. In theory that sounds great as you can take holidays whenever you want! But in reality, it probably means you won’t take any holidays at all. It’s easy to think that time off = no earnings, so you’re tempted to work as much as possible.

But by doing that, you get burnt out quickly. I’ve learned that it’s really important to take regular holidays to keep you feeling sane, happy and motivated. It helps if you ‘book’ your time off at the start of the year, and mark the dates in your calendar. If you already have these dates set aside for holidays, you can avoid booking any meetings or important client work during this time.

Things do sometimes crop up last minute though, so it’s important to still be flexible. I have a rule that I can’t delete holidays once they’re in the calendar, but I can move them by a week or two if I need to.

I have written a whole post on how I balance work and life as a small business owner here!

2. Planning is key to productivity

If you’re doing work without making any plans, you’re at risk of feeling like you’re working all the time but not seeing any progress. You’ll end up feeling disorganised and overwhelmed, and you might end up working long hours to get tasks done.

I have found that planning my to-do list and managing my time has been vital for keeping my productivity levels up. Set daily, weekly or monthly to-dos to keep you on track. Make sure you keep things realistic, especially with daily tasks – what can you reasonably get done in one working day? This makes it easier to break down big projects into more manageable individual tasks.

Plus, if you have a realistic daily to-do list, you’ll feel accomplished when you tick it all off by the end of the day and you won’t feel guilty about leaving your desk.

3. You’re learning constantly

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The thing I love most about running my own small business is that there’s always an opportunity to keep learning. Even if you’re an expert in your field, there’s always a chance to learn more. In business, there are constantly new things to try out, new research to read up on and new courses to take.

Within your own business, keep an eye out for processes that can be optimised or things that can be updated. When it comes to clients, make sure you’re giving them up to date information and using the latest strategies. With so many new challenges cropping up all the time, it makes running a business fun – and it never gets boring!

Check out my post on the best online learning platforms for small business owners for more on this!

4. Have an office space

When you first become self-employed, it can be tempting to work from the sofa in your pyjamas. As great as that sounds, it’s not very good for productivity and keeping your work-life balance in check.

Whether you work from home, hire an office or use a co-working space, make sure you have a work area that’s separate from your living area. This makes it so much easier to switch off from work at the end of the day. You can close the door on your office, forget about work and go back to having a life.

Read more about the pros and cons of home office vs rented office.

5. You have to be motivated

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When it’s just you behind the business, you have to be motivated to make it work. You are your company’s best champion, so you need to really believe in what you’re doing and make sure you’re working hard to achieve it. If you don’t care about the business, who will?

That’s not to say you should be working yourself to the bone (see the holiday point above!), but you should be passionate about what you do. Tell people why your company is amazing. Put in the extra effort to make it as good as you can. Be motivated to take on new challenges and improve your small business.

And don’t be afraid to change things once you feel that the business as it is is no longer working for you. It’s your business and you’re calling the shots – make sure that your work helps you to not just achieve your business goals but also your personal ones.

6. Keep up with changes

Things are constantly changing, and you need to be prepared for this. Your competition might launch a new product, your clients might have new requirements, a new piece of technology might be released, new marketing strategies might become popular and even new laws can come into force which affect your business.

I’ve learned that it’s important not to be afraid of change. It can actually be a great thing to help you shake up your business and reevaluate your strategies. It’s okay to change or adapt your business whenever you need to (or want to).

Just because your business started out in one niche, that doesn’t mean it has to stay there forever. As mentioned above, if you feel like your priorities have changed or you want to focus on something else, go for it.

7. You do a lot of jobs

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When you’re self-employed, you do a lot of different jobs. Yes, I’m a marketing consultant. But I’m also an accountant, an administrator, a sales manager, a social media manager… the list goes on! As a small business owner, you’re responsible for all aspects of the business – from being the face of the company all the way to filing receipts.

But I’ve learned that you don’t have to do all these jobs alone. It’s okay to ask for help, particularly with tasks you’re not good at or don’t have time for. Spending a little bit of money hiring an accountant, virtual assistant or marketing professional is a great investment. It’ll free up a lot of your time, so instead of worrying about little tasks, you’ll be able to concentrate on doing the projects you love. That’s why you started your own business, after all.

Find out more about the different jobs you can get help with in my 12 Design and Marketing Job Definitions post!

8. You can do it your own way

Just because everyone else is doing something, it doesn’t mean that you have to do it, too. What works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. And the beauty of running your own small business is that you can do things exactly how you want.

I think it’s important to find out what works for you. When are you most productive? What type of work do you enjoy the most and what can you offer that’s valuable? Ask yourself what’s important to you – both in work and in life? Although your business is a hugely important part of your life, you don’t want it to take over completely. So plan your business around achievable goals and make it fit in well with the rest of your life.

9. It can get lonely

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Working for yourself – and by yourself – can get lonely pretty quickly. If you work from home, you could easily go a whole day without talking to anyone. Sometimes that’s great when you need to get in the zone and be really productive, but other times it can feel quite lonely.

I’ve learned that it’s really important to have a great network around you. Spark up friendships with other small business owners on LinkedIn, meet new people at networking events or consider joining a co-working space so you’re surrounded by ‘colleagues’. Having people you can talk to about your business is vital because it allows you to come up with new ideas, overcome problems and share your successes.

10. It’s really, really fun

Above all, having your own small business is really fun! It’s definitely the best decision I’ve ever made. Yes, there are lots of challenges, but the rewards are huge.

Working for yourself gives you the opportunity to do what you love, be creative and try something new. This has completely turned my working day upside down, and it doesn’t even feel like work anymore.

If you can find something that you love, you’re good at and which makes you enough money… you’re on to a winner!


To read more about this topic, have a look at these:
Home Office vs Rented Office: Which is Best for Your Small Business?
10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years of Small Business Blogging
What Does Success Mean to You and Your Small Business?
Lessons I’ve Learned in 5 Years of Business Networking

Denise Strohsahl brand and marketing consultant for small businesses

Hello, I’m Denise from sandstonecastles, a brand & marketing consultancy based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I help small business owners like yourself to find the right marketing that’s in line with your brand and values.