20 Things I’ve Learned About Running A Small Business

20 Things I’ve Learned About Running A Small Business

  • October 2, 2012

In March of 2011, I made the hard choice to leave the security of a job in the agency world to start a new and independent adventure. I have had great, but also toxic, experiences with past employers, and I was nervous about getting into another situation where I’d be dealing with a superior who didn’t value practicing with integrity or honesty. So, the only option I could see for myself was being my own boss, and taking on the responsibility of putting in place the business philosophies that I stand for.

Harper PR started with the love and support of my family and friends, absolutely no identify or website, one pro-bono client, one paying client, zero investors, a modest bank balance, and all my fingers and toes tightly crossed.

I put the word on the street that I was now an independent PR consultant, and within two months had a few clients on board. The bills were getting paid, I was doing what I love, and I was practicing with integrity and honesty. To me, that was all that mattered, and I was happy.

I was also learning a great deal about running a small business, and I thought I would share some learnings with you as we start to approach Small Business Week in Edmonton, and recognizing those who work hard to run a small business.

Here’s what I’ve learned (so far):

  1. Stress sucks.
  2. Getting sued by a former employer that wants to put you out of business costs a lot of money, and creates a lot of stress.
  3. Lawyers rule.
  4. I should have gone to law school.
  5. I suck at self-promotion. In trying to promote myself I’ve often wondered how I managed to get my PR degree.
  6. Wine is my new best friend.
  7. I have a love/hate relationship with networking events, but they are critical to business growth.
  8. There are a lot of people who expect something for nothing. I can’t tell you how many times someone has been interested in my services…until I tell them I charge for those services.
  9. Business development is a mega time suck, and having meetings with, or sending proposals to, people who don’t intend to pay for your services is a giant waste of time.
  10. Pro bono work keeps me inspired.
  11. Pro bono work doesn’t pay the bills.
  12. A lot of people believe they are PR experts. I wonder if the same people try and give their surgeon advice on how to operate before they go under the knife.
  13. A good graphic designer and web developer are hard to find, but when you find them…keep them.
  14. Doing your own books is a bitch. There is a reason I nearly failed accounting in business school and made the switch to PR school. Hire someone…stat.
  15. Keep, organize and file your receipts.
  16. Have a kick-ass insurance provider and business banker.
  17. It’s important to focus on the wins, not the losses. That said, it’s okay to question if you can continue doing this. It’s okay to feel like a failure sometimes. Keep encouraged. No matter what shit gets slung at you, perseverance is pivotal to staying sane and seeing the successes.
  18. It’s okay to cry. There may not be crying in baseball, but there is crying in business. Just try to do when you’re not in front of clients – preferably home alone after a bottle of wine, and after reading Brett Wilson’s Twitter feed wishing you could be in his business and philanthropic position.
  19. Ask for help. If you need advice, mentorship, a loan, or a hug – it’s okay to lean on others to help you get over a hurdle.
  20. It’s worth it. Yes, the stress and trying times and self-promotion attempts may all suck, but being your own boss, playing by your own (ethical) rules, and getting to work with the people and companies you want to help is the most rewarding feeling you will have.

Times can get tough for a new small business owner. I have had my fair share of challenges, but chalk them all up to a learning experience that will make me a great entrepreneur, and a better PR practitioner in time. I’ve got lots of kinks to work out still, but I’m up for the challenge and I keep focused on a few things:

  1. Do what you love and the money will come.
  2. You define your own success.
  3. Good things come to those who work hard and play nice.

So, if you are a small business owner or entrepreneur, I commend you on your hard work and effort. I’d also love to know if you have some additional lessons you would like to contribute. Comment on the post to share your learnings or advice to others.

If you are not a small business owner, but would like to become one, please get in touch if you’d like to hear more about my experiences. I’d love to help you get your start.

If you are not a small business owner, and don’t plan to be one. Make sure you high five a small business owner you know. It’s not all roses and unicorns out there in the business world, and I’m sure they can use a little appreciation now and again.

Natalie Harper



PS –  I’d like to thank my mom and dad and all my friends for their support and encouragement. A special shout out to my friend Graeme Bell, who is often a daily business advisor to me, and always lends an ear and great advice. And to Dean Heuman of Focus Communications for steering me onward and upward.