20 Lessons from 20 Years in Business

Celebrating milestones in life is always a special occasion. In June I celebrated a business milestone – my 20th business birthday.

Of course, there have been ups and downs, successes and failures, but through it all, I’ve gathered a wealth of knowledge and experience. As I reflect on all that led me to this point, I can’t help but feel a sense gratitude for opportunity to work the way I do and for the lessons I have learned along the way.

So, to celebrate my 20th business birthday, I’m sharing 20 lessons, tips, and insights I’ve gathered over my time in business. They have shaped my journey and continue to guide me.

They’re not in any order of importance although you may think one or two are more important than others. I hope you may find them useful.

1. Trust is essential in any business relationship.

Always be ethical and operate with integrity… Always.

2. Live and work using your values to guide you.

The importance of staying true to your purpose and beliefs is second to none. Be ethical and honest in all business dealings. Honesty and integrity are important values that help build trust with clients and colleagues.

3. Embrace change.

Change is inevitable, and being able to embrace it and adapt can lead to greater success. The necessity of embracing change and adapting to new technologies is so important for long-term success.

4. Customer satisfaction is paramount.

You don’t maintain a profitable business for 20 years without keeping your customers happy and satisfied with the work you do. This is not only crucial for maintaining long-term successful relationships but also for client referrals and recommendations which are worth their weight in gold.

5. Success often requires perseverance

And the ability to keep going even when things get tough, as well as the resilience to bounce back when knocked back. In 20 years, I’ve had times when things didn’t seem to be going my way but I’ve always found a successful way through. Remember perseverance doesn’t mean burning yourself out; The need for a healthy work-life balance is a constant in good times and bad.

6. Communication is the lifeblood of all businesses.

My aim has always been to build mutually beneficial, long-term relationships with clients, associates, and suppliers/contractors and that’s impossible without great communication. I’m still happily working with some people who I started working with in 2003!

7. There is real power in teamwork and collaboration.

Just because I prefer to stay a solopreneur, doesn’t mean I don’t have a team of people I work with. Whether it’s my fabulous virtual team of finance, IT, website, and social media experts, or the fantastic, trusted associates that bring in different expertise and energy when it’s needed, collaboration with them all is priceless. And that’s not to mention collaboration with clients which is a given.

8. Be willing to make mistakes and learn from them.

Mistakes are hard to make when you’re doing your utmost to deliver high-quality services for your clients. But sometimes you need to be brave as that pushes your clients to be braver too. The mistakes I’ve made have taught me lasting lessons that have made me a better coach, facilitator, mediator, and writer.

9. Good time management is essential.

Managing your time effectively might seem obvious or basic, but it is essential for achieving your goals and staying productive. I’ve always been well-organised and a good time manager but procrastination does raise its ugly head at times and it needs to be shown the door!

10. Adaptability is essential.

The world of work today is not the same as it was 20 years ago. Being able to adapt to changing circumstances and pivot when necessary is essential for success. The 2008/9 financial crash hit my business hard, as did Covid. It required different thinking, new ways of working, and even seeking out new types of work and clients that hadn’t been on my radar previously.


11. Networking is essential.

Building a strong network of contacts can help you discover new opportunities and expand your reach. The value of networking and building relationships with other professionals can’t be overstated. Network and build relationships with others in your industry and with potential clients. I might not do as much in-person networking as I used to but I do stay in touch with people and value everyone I am connected with.

12. Make sure you have a clear vision and mission for your business.

What’s driving you? What do you want to be known for? What is your passion? This is what will guide your decision-making day in, day out. Review this at least once a year. Are you clear about it? Is it the same as it was or has it changed? Refocusing on my vision/mission regularly keeps my work aligned with my values and keeps me enthusiastic about how I’m spending my time.

13. Planning and preparation are important.

Taking the time to plan and prepare can help you avoid mistakes and achieve your goals more efficiently. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, it’s a good idea to use some tools and techniques to help – or of course, delegate it to someone else who can help you better plan and prepare.

14. Be adaptable and flexible in your approach.

To accommodate constantly changing business environments and expectations you need to be willing to be adaptable and flex your approach. Remember, that is not the same as compromising on your values or your worth.

15. Go ahead and take calculated risks.

Taking risks can lead to greater rewards: ‘those who dare win’ as they say. But never take more of a risk than you’re comfortable with and always have a backup plan. I often ask myself “What’s the worst that can happen” and if I can live with that, I go for it!

16. Focus on your strengths.

Identifying and focusing on your strengths can help you excel in your field. The power of positive thinking and a growth mindset also can’t be overstated.

17. Invest in yourself and your personal development.

Always be open to learning and trying out new things. In the last 20 years, I’ve qualified as a master’s level leadership coach, got support from various coaches, mentors, and coaching supervisors, become DISC accredited, and this year have completed a BSc (Hons) Psychology, not to mention all the short courses and experiential learning along the way. It doesn’t have to be qualifications but investing in yourself and your personal development is also an investment in your business and it helps you serve your clients better too. Invest in yourself and everyone’s a winner.

18. Take care of your health.

Maintaining good physical and mental health is crucial for running your own business well. I manage my mental health very well and in the last few years especially, I’ve got work-life balance cracked (I hope!) Physical health is a lesson I continue to learn. I’ve been guilty of putting work first and my physical health second (in other words, I don’t get enough daily exercise). And having 3 unrelated surgeries in 3 years is a lesson in taking care of my health too. I’m still working on it…

19. Enjoy the journey.

Running a business can be a challenging but rewarding experience. Have fun with it. Make friends. One thing I’ve learned is it’s absolutely ok to mix business with pleasure (with appropriate boundaries obviously). I’ve made friends with associates and clients, and I’ve even gone on holiday and attended their weddings. Not a requirement of working with me I promise, but it’s lovely when great friendships develop from working relationships.

20. Celebrate success!

Celebrating your successes, no matter how small, can help you stay motivated and maintain a positive attitude. Celebrate the big wins, the little wins and everything in between I say!

I hope these 20 lessons from my 20 years in business have been useful. They may have sparked inspiration, provoked thought, or provided you with an insight you can apply to your own business journey. Remember, the road to success is rarely smooth, and setbacks are inevitable. Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, learn from your experiences, and always stay true to your vision and values.

Here’s to more successful years of growth and learning in the world of business.

Cheers to that!


Want to know more?

Sarah Harvey is Founding Director of Savvy Conversations Ltd and author of the highly acclaimed book “Savvy Conversations: A practical framework for effective workplace relationships.”

Website: https://savvyconversations.co.uk

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/savvysarah
Twitter: @SarahSavvySarah
Instagram: savvysarah


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