Nine valuable lessons from nine years in business

Despite the economic backdrop, there were over 3.8 million new business applications filed in the first three quarters of 2022, making us Brits keen for entrepreneurial action.

But starting a business has its challenges, with almost 1 in 5 new businesses failing each year. 

As consumer interests change and attitudes to workplace culture develop, it’s understandable that many businesses are under pressure to keep up with the ever-evolving dynamics of the world. But as Illustrate Digital turns nine years old, it’s a good time to reflect on the lessons learnt and pass the wisdom on to those who might need it.

1. Don’t be proud, ask for help!

There’s no harm in calling in some favours from friends before you’ve got real customers. A crucial part of every business owner’s journey is asking for help. Whether you are proud to be self-sufficient or simply used to working on your own, having friends or expert advice could completely change your perspective on the way you run a business.

At the end of the day, no one knows exactly how to run every element of a business - for example, you might have the most incredible product or service, but if it doesn't have a strong website, people in this day and age may not find you.

2. New business is driven by activity

A big wakeup call for me was realising that new business is a result of ‘activity’. It’s not a single action or a particular marketing channel. It’s all the relationships, conversations, events, blogs, articles, social media posts and more, that keep you front of mind when people buy or recommend your products. So, get out there and experience the many ways you can meet people and spread the word about your incredible product or service.

3. Cash is oxygen

Without cash, and a healthy cash flow, your business can’t breathe. Build-in favourable payment terms with your clients/customers from day one. It’s important to make the best use of your finances as it is a key part of business planning. Ignoring this could be the one thing that kills your business.

4. Set yourself some impossible goals.

As daunting as it may seem, it’s important to set yourself a few goals that are nearly impossible to achieve. A big goal will build your capacity, expand your appetite for growth and point you in the right direction, as well as provide some room for failure, too. It will truly push and challenge you to achieve great things.

5. Keep replacing yourself

One of the easiest ways to stunt your growth is to keep control of everything yourself. When I began intentionally replacing myself, and handing some of the reigns to others, we grew much faster. After moving away from a position that you are comfortable with, there is room for new ideas and insights, which can in turn boost your business and its reputation. Plus, when you make yourself replaceable, you are finally available to focus on those other tasks that need your attention or create another role that you’ve wanted take charge of.

6. Communicate your expectations

Setting your expectations helps others to know what you are looking for. It’s not very useful to be disappointed in colleagues, customers, or team members when you have not explained what you need from them fully. There should never be confusion in anyone's mind about what you are asking. Set the ground rules early and communicate them positively.

7. It’s all about relationships

Great relationships are better than great delivery. While relationships take time to develop, when you have strong connections, your mistakes may be more easily forgiven. Like anything you invest in, it will only strengthen over time. To be successful, we should all establish positive relationships that could be taken forward across different job roles, business ideas and even generations.

8.’s okay to say goodbye

You and your business should outgrow some relationships. Heck, some ambitions might even outgrow you! But don’t be afraid to let go - businesses thrive on those decisive and difficult decisions every day.

9. Specialisms make success simpler

Finally, you can’t be the best at everything. If you can specialise, or choose a niche, you have got a good chance of becoming the best in your field. Making yourself memorable can lead to more work, higher demand for your services and ‘expert’ status.

BONUS: Experiences really do matter.

Whether it’s your team culture, how you treat your clients, or the brilliant product or service you deliver, the experience matters. People don’t stay in jobs they hate. They don’t buy from people they don’t like. And they don’t stick around on websites with a confusing journey. Create the best experience you can, in as many ways as you can. At the end of the day, its all about people.