8 things I wish I’d known before starting a business

Now a few of you reading this I’m sure will know me, or my main business Greyheart (we’re a digital marketing agency and I’d like to think a good one). Some of you will be thinking that I must’ve known about some of the points in this list. And I did, but perhaps not to the scale that the issues would occur on. Some of the issues were almost certainly my own fault.

I should also point out that founding Greyheart was a fantastic decision and I certainly would recommend running a business to anyone who has the knowhow to do so (when I’m not moaning about what a pain it is after a long week).

Nobody Pays On Time EVER!

This is probably the most moaned about thing that you’ll hear from anyone in any service sector or any small business owner in general. It’s just a fact of life, you’re often at the bottom of the bill paying pecking order. It doesn’t matter how much money you’re making for your clients or how good a job you’re doing. You will be near the bottom. Unfortunately, if you want to keep the client you’ll often have to let this slide. So be prepared for it. It certainly caught me off guard a couple of times and now we pretty much just assume that anything and at some points everything could be up to 3 months behind their due payment dates.

You Will Get Complacent And It WILL Almost Destroy You

You will hit a point when everything’s going great, everyone’s happy, your staff are great, you’re king of the world. But, we all know that in true tragic fashion life doesn’t like to play ball. Things will drop, maybe a major client goes bust taking that big account with them, a couple of staff members are sick, either way you need to constantly be looking for growth because coasting is only one step from crashing.

Recovering the business from a nose dive is doable, but it’s a whole lot harder than it would’ve been if you kept growing at a steady paced (yes make sure you can service growth, otherwise you’ll have the same problem). Maybe this one doesn’t happen to everyone, but I know enough people who have told me a story similar to mine in this regard so it’s making the list.

The main piece of advice here is try to see it coming, you’ll know when you’re being complacent.

Everything Comes When You Don’t Want It To

It’s almost an inevitable sods law of business that you’ll be waiting all year for 3 big contracts to sign off and by the time they’re all ready it will all be at once and you’re in for a bumpy month if you’re anything like us. New clients take extra time. It’s just how things work, there’s an inherent set up time with intro meetings, paperwork etc that just isn’t there in following months. In many cases it’s not like you can simply postpone the work. You just have to hope your team is ready for the overtime. Learn from it and try and have things in place for next time. But, this isn’t something you can always be prepared for.

You’re Staff Aren’t Always Going To Do What You Expect

Now, just because your staff are well looked after and happy and generally go that extra mile to make sure things get done doesn’t mean it will always be that way. And sometimes when they don’t this is going to bite you in the arse.

That doesn’t mean it’s something you should get angry about. If a staff member delivers excellence every day and is just good for a week being mad would only show you take them for granted. But, you have to keep in mind that you can’t trust people implicitly. That isn’t to say you should micromanage, it just means be aware of what’s going on around you at all times. That doesn’t mean you should ask for hourly updates and hound your staff. That won’t help, but making sure you’re kept in the loop especially if people are having an off week isn’t a bad thing. Just remember to be diplomatic and make sure you team feels appreciated. As they should be.

If you don’t appreciate what an employee’s done you probably shouldn’t have hired them.

You’re Going To Loose A LOT Of Sleep

This doesn’t necessarily mean stress. It does however mean deadlines. You will inevitably forget about an important meeting or report and you will end up putting things together at the last minute. It doesn’t matter how organised you are. It’s almost a certainty that you will have that “oh Sh*t” moment one night at half ten and then crack open the red bull (or coffee whatever’s your preferred sleep preventer) and get ready for a late night. Unfortunately I’m not the most organised man in the world and this happens more than I’d like to admit.

You’ll Mess Up Your Accounts And Regret It Later

This was a big one for us, and speaking to our accountant, it is for a lot of people. With it being your business you will end up paying for things yourself or perhaps you had a freelance client that you kept but he still pays into your account by mistake occasionally not the companies. Things like this soon add up into a steaming mess when it comes time to do your taxes. Trust me I know. The only advice I can give on this is listen to everyone who tells you to get an accountant in right at the start. Don’t try and do it yourself, at least if you’re anything like me.

Not All That Glitters Is Gold

You’re going to have your time wasted. A lot. People think new company = cheap or small or desperate. They will try and get things for free, or a pittance and generally just waste your time with lots of trips for meetings and such with time you really don’t have to be wasting. Quite often there’s an overly large carrot that will appear later for work that needs doing now.

Personally I can’t say I’ve fallen victim to a lot of this. But, every now and then even the best of us will lose a day to something that turns out to be shadier than a palm tree on a cloudy day.

Half Of All Jobs Never Even Start

Just because all the details of a job are agreed doesn’t mean it will start. Hell even if the contracts signed doesn’t mean it will start. But, you have a contract you say. Well if we went chasing everyone that signed a contract and postponed before starting maybe we’d win something, but I doubt we’d get much more than a damaged reputation. There are legitimate reasons things don’t start and sometimes not. Perhaps somebody doesn’t have the money. Perhaps they changed their mind. Either way don’t trust anything until that 1st cheque is in the bank. And OK I knew this happened, but I do get the feeling it happens a lot more with a new business.


I should say that I’ve been grateful on the whole for 2 great years running Greyheart. It’s been fun, the teams great. And for the most part the clients are fantastic to work with and we’ve had a lot of success. Looking to the future there’s a lot of exciting stuff on the cards, but it would’ve been a lot less painful getting here if I’d have been aware of a few more of these before getting started.

Anyone else had any similar experiences in their 1st 2 years? Something that they wish they’d known about? Please leave a comment. 


About the Author

Mike Litson is Managing Director of Greyheart Media Ltd, a Leeds based digital marketing firm. If you’d like to get in touch, feel free to contact at mike@greyheart.co.uk


This entry was posted in Industry Related Rant, Mike Litson. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>