Business Advice

There’s always something to learn in small business: Nine entrepreneurs share their lessons

- December 11, 2023 8 MIN READ


Another year, done and dusted. We’ve witnessed economies taking a big hit, the rising cost of living smashing our wallets and businesses, the massive impact of AI on how we do business, supply chain disruptions, inflationary pressures, and evolving consumer behaviours. Yet, resilience has prevailed, as many in the small business space hang on by their fingertips and grow their business ventures. Nine Aussie entrepreneurs share how they’ve kept their business on track despite 2023’s upheavals.

Small businesses continue to be the backbone of our economy. The creative, innovative problem solvers who have survived are the ones who took the lessons from the challenges they faced this year to adapt and change for survival and growth.

While social media makes it look like it’s all sunshine and rainbows, and everything is smooth sailing, there are many small business owners and entrepreneurs who have had to learn some business growth lessons the hard way.

Nine entrepreneurs share the business lessons from 2023

Lauren Clenett headshot

Lauren Clemett, Audacious Agency

Rapid business growth

Lauren Clemett, The Audacious Agency’s managing director, said. “We learnt this year that while growth is exciting, if you are not expecting it, it can create chaos and confusion in a business,” she said. “We experienced massive growth this year, which had us on the hop. While we have joked that we were building the plane while flying it, the reality is unexpected growth can have the opposite effect on a business.

“There were times when we lost clients because we didn’t have the systems or processes in place or the right team to support us to deliver the work we do. There were long hours of frustration and pain as we learned new tools to support our growth. Many times, we wanted to quit and get a job.”

From this pain came clarity and focus. “It took over eight months for us to get our backend sorted and we are ready for anything now. The biggest lesson is to plan ahead. Even if you doubt you will ever have a bigger business or more clients, start the way you want to finish. Work on your systems and processes now, so when you have to hand over to a team, you save so much time and are way more productive,” Lauren said.

Adam Nobel headshot

Adam Nobel property expert

Don’t overlook what already works

Adam Nobel, from Hugo Alexander Property Group, has had a massive year. Driven to find a solution for the rental crisis, Adam has thrown himself into developing rooming houses. He learned that as much as he wants to grow his business, it shouldn’t come at the expense of things that already work. “I want to grow by taking on more salespeople and removing or replacing myself from the business, but this shouldn’t come at the cost of not doing the productive things today. There needs to be a balance between doing what needs to be done for today and tomorrow,” he said. “It’s a gradual process, with often changing parts to replace myself, rather than a straight line.”

Dr Stacey Ashley

Dr Stacey Ashley leadership expert

Be in the right room

Leadership speaker and CEO confidante Dr Stacey Ashley said the key lesson for her was the importance of being in the ‘right room’. “I have encountered some ‘wrong rooms’ this year. When I’m not in the ‘right room’ I feel like I don’t belong, I’m not valued or recognised, and I may even feel invisible… despite all I create, accomplish, and contribute. The impact can be harsh to my energy and self-belief,” she said.

“Being in the ‘right room’ is profoundly different. When I’m in the right room, anything is possible. I learn and grow, I’m challenged and stretched, and I become capable of even more.  I’m seen, I feel connected and valued. My focus rises, my energy increases, and my self-belief is strong.

“This year has been a great reminder to surround myself with the people who lift me up, inspire me, and bring out my best.”

Taminda Polle headshot, blonde woman in a black dress stands in front of a fig tree.

Taminda Polle, founder CyberIS

Work with the right people

Hands up those who have lamented not listening to their gut when onboarding a new client. Taminda Pollé, founder of Cyber IS, said her biggest lesson was around client choice. “Do not ignore your gut when you feel there is a misalignment in values,” she said. “Aligning with clients who share our values is not a luxury but a strategic necessity. This realisation is significant for start-ups. There is urgency when you are in the early stages of business to take on any and all clients.  The drive to get cash flow flowing is real.

“But this can backfire on you and costs money and time when you realise you are not working with your ideal client. Client selection must be thoughtful, and it will reward you with a client base of nurturing meaningful, value-driven partnerships.”

Tracy Sheen, founder The Digtal Guide and KBB tech expert

AI for President

Innovations in technology touch every facet of our lives. For small businesses, the biggest game changers were AI-created content, advancements in automation, and the proliferation of digital currencies. Tracy Sheen, AI and digital tools specialist, said “Sundar Pichai’s words resonate deeply with me: ‘Artificial intelligence is more profound than fire, electricity, or the internet… It can make humans more productive than we ever imagined,” she said. “At present, it’s like discovering fire. We’ve stumbled upon something remarkable by banging a few rocks together. But understanding its full potential and how to harness it remains a puzzle we’re yet to solve.”

Tracy suggests small businesses must stay vigilant about the trade-off between convenience and our data. “Though few enjoy delving into terms and conditions, as automation and integration grow, so does the ease of our lives. Recognising the value of our data is crucial—it’s the prized commodity coveted by every tech entity,” she said.

“For most small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the entry point into the AI realm often involves crafting marketing content—writing social media posts or creating blogs. The subsequent phase involves grasping its potential for heightened productivity and leveraging it to foster leads and relationships.”

Tracy’s intuition suggests AI will swiftly blend into the background. “Its omnipresence in our daily business operations will reach a point where we won’t even consciously acknowledge our heavy reliance on it,” she said.

“The thriving SMEs will be those adept at posing insightful questions. AI fundamentally hinges on recognising patterns. Therefore, the quality of the inquiry directly influences the calibre of the results. It’s imperative that we elevate our critical thinking and refine our questioning skills to unearth substantial insights.”

Jules Brooke

Jules Brooke founder She’s the Boss

Power of community and collaboration

While it seems we are all being pitted against each other in this great race for profit and increasing revenue, the founder of She’s The Boss, Jules Brooke, has discovereed that the spirit of community and collaboration has been far more beneficial for business growth than competition. “When small businesses join forces, form networks, and support each other, it lifts everyone,” she said.  “Collaborative initiatives, shared resources, and collective problem-solving benefit everyone. When we come together and make meaningful connections and partnerships, our small business ecosystem thrives.

Lisa Cox

Lisa Cox, award-winning writer, author, motivational speaker, consultant, and disability activist.

Inclusion is not a tick-box for business

Building inclusive environments is not just a societal responsibility but as a strategic imperative. More businesses learned this year that creating spaces that celebrate diverse voices, backgrounds, and perspectives benefits all. Lisa Cox, TEDx speaker and award-winning inclusive communications consultant, said businesses are willing to learn about disability inclusion. “I have seen a genuine desire to want disability representation as part of their business practices and content. We’ve definitely made progress, but there is still a long way to go. I’m looking forward to being part of this ever-evolving conversation in the year ahead,” she said.

Marlie Jolanda

We are a package

Marlie Jolanda is a marketing coach and consultant working with entrepreneurs on a mission. This year, she faced life-changing personal challenges. “What happens in your personal life impacts your professional one much more than many care to admit. I’ve been going through a difficult time involving deep trauma-healing and very little support from family and friends, as they simply don’t understand or didn’t know what to say or do,” she said.

“In business, we often find solutions for things that have been frustrating and painful for us. This experience has helped me understand my clients’ personal challenges much better and how this impacts their professional ability to perform. They aren’t ‘lazy’; they need someone to understand them and truly see/hear them for them to process and move on.

“It is so worth it to come out on the other end, to break cycles of intergenerational trauma, as we do not want to pass this on to our children. Despite days I didn’t feel at my best, I still showed up.”

The outcome of this hard year for Marlie: “I will use the powerful lesson of honouring personal challenges and ‘doing the work’ into 2024, as I’m now a trauma-informed coach/trainer and feel much more comfortable helping clients with any challenge they have,” she said.

“Stand up and speak up is more important than ever. It allows us to flourish and take responsibility for one’s happiness. It’s the best gift you can give yourself.”

melissa chalk headshot brown haired woman sits at desk smiles at camera

Melissa Chalk, founder CaRelief

You are not your business

Melissa Chalk, founder of CaRelief, has found that getting consumed by your business can lead to a slippery slope of ignoring your own health and that of those around you. “When you are a business owner, it can consume you. It’s your baby, so you nurture and look after it,” she said.

“Like many parents, we often forget to look after ourselves. Our identity gets caught up in the business, and we neglect our health, personal relationships and wellbeing.  We end up last on the list of things to do.”

Melissa’s biggest lesson this year was giving time for her. “This year, I was more productive and had better relationships and conversations because I wasn’t exhausted. Despite all the things that needed to be done in our growing business, I set aside time for myself, and I was so much happier,” she said.

The right people doing the right jobs

For a business to grow and become truly sustainable, you must not only have the systems and processes in place to enable it to survive but also have the right people in the right roles, with a focus on making every person in the organisation totally replaceable.

Lauren said many business owners and entrepreneurs build organisations around themselves, and their specific talents, expertise or approach fail to work on the principle that their business needs to operate without them to become successful. “With an ageing population and further squeezes on the economy, many firms will shut their doors as times get tough, and people don’t want to work that hard into and past retirement,” she said. “Unfortunately, many will not have businesses they can sell or pass on to others because they haven’t set them up for sale. They have not considered replacing themselves.

“Develop a business model that sustains itself, without the usual SME approach of the owners involved in every aspect of the business, holding it back from what it can achieve. It will be a year of consolidation and steady growth that’s sustainable.”

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