Six successful entrepreneurs look back with the benefit of hindsight and offer their business advice.
Mistakes are inevitable when you lack knowledge and experience, especially when starting your own business, which involves having to deal with a wide range of challenges and tasks. Hindsight really is a wonderful thing. So, we asked six successful entrepreneurs what they wish they had known when they started their business, as they offer their small business advice.
Allie Astell – founder of Manage My Website, web design and development agency that specialises in Squarespace websites.
“I wish I’d realised the value of keeping a close eye on my accounts. I should have updated them regularly, and budgeted and forecasted, but it took me years to realise what a difference it makes.
“Having to play catch up every few months created a ‘drowning-in-receipts-and-invoices’ nightmare and it didn’t allow me to spot persistent late payers. Doing my books more regularly could also have helped me to identify customers I could have sold more to, as well as months when I needed to win more customers.
“I now keep my accounts updated regularly and life’s so much easier. I have a firm grip on where we are financially and can therefore make better-informed decisions when running the business.”
David Strang, founder and managing director of London-based innovative toy company, Wicked, which exports to 40 countries.
“When I was starting up I wish I’d known how much free information and support was available, from government organisations and others, online and face-to-face. It can enable you to make better decisions and help your business get off to a better start.
“After starting my business, I received free advice on new product development and exporting, and it was a real ‘game-changer’. Having a presence at international trade shows has also helped to raise our profile and make many excellent contacts. I wish I’d known how valuable international trade shows were when I started.
“I’d advise people starting up or running a newer small business to find what free support and advice is available. It could help you to overcome what can seem like major barriers during those crucial first few years.”
Emma Warren, founder and managing director of Somerset-based Portfolio Directors, provider of business coaching, mentoring and advice.
“I wish I’d have been bolder when I started my business, more confident in my abilities and bolder in the sense of telling people how I can help. I also wish I’d known about the benefits of focusing on one key area, rather than trying to put be all things to everyone.
“In the early days, I thought that taking a broad approach would increase my chances of attracting clients. But now I know that being more focused and clearer about who you are and what you do means you’re more likely to reach those you need to reach. Being focused attracts the right business.”
Santiago Navarro, co-founder of Garçon Wines, inventor of the world’s first full-sized postable wine bottle (pictured with cofounder Joe Revell).
“The one thing I wish I’d known when starting Garçon Wines was the importance of getting samples produced. If your business plans to sell novel products, you need something you can show to others. Your business idea might be well developed and you might understand it, but that doesn’t mean others will.
“Producing prototypes of our bottles was game-changing. Previously, when we were just explaining or showing sketches, few people really understood our idea, while some were skeptical. But the moment we had actual postable bottles produced, which they could see and touch, people could understand immediately, and the business started moving forward much quicker.”
Adelle Frejus, founder and managing director of BKD, London-based children’s baking kit maker.
“I wish I’d known the benefits of focusing on what you do best, rather than trying to do everything yourself. I started my business because I have a huge passion for baking and children, but most of my time is spent managing my business, providing creative direction and product design, rather than rolling up my sleeves and getting my rolling pin out.
“Running a business, isn’t just about the product, there’s a lot that goes into day-to-day operations and often you have to be prepared to hand over the reins to others. If you can allocate a budget for support in the early days with tasks such as accounting, PR, marketing, HR and IT and they’re not what you want to do, you’ll be able to concentrate more on the things you love and are best at.”
Daniel Prendergast – founder and managing director of Manchester-based retail business, The Rug Seller.
“The one thing that I wish I’d known from the start was the importance of having systems that enable you to grow in a controlled way, rather than slow you down or prevent growth. Whether it’s your IT, accounting, HR or just general admin systems, they should be able to grow with your business.
“When you start up, naturally you want to limit costs, either to reduce risk or because you have limited budget. But going with the cheapest option can be a false economy. Investing in the right systems can make tasks far simpler. Not only does that save you time, but also money. As a small-business owner, finding ways to save money and time should always be a top priority.”