Five lessons I’ve learned from starting a business

The first 18 months of running IrvineMedia have been a mixed bag. There have been more positives than negatives… I think. Regardless, I’ve come across many valuable lessons along the way. Entrepreneurship is a complex beast, and the answers can’t always be found in a book or on a website. Hence, the reason for this blog post.

The results will help shape the future of IrvineMedia throughout 2024 and beyond. It will save valuable time, resources and my sanity. I’m actually very excited about the plans we have coming up.

Below is a raw, stream-of-consciousness list of the five lessons I’ve learned from starting a business. I’ve tried to keep them general instead of industry-specific so that any start-up or fledgling company will benefit from them. Let’s go…

Don’t expect anything

A grim one to start with, sure, but keep your expectations of clients and customers low. They won’t always act exactly how you want. It’s a rule for life, really – if you don’t expect too much from people, you won’t be upset if they let you down. The same goes for business. In the corporate world, you’ll come across slick operators who will promise you all types of riches, exciting projects and long-term retainers, only to renege on them. In the early days, I was gullible enough to take these at face value, only for the rug to be pulled from underneath me. It left me desperately trying to chase work as I’d relied on their now-lost income for the month. Set the bar lower than a snake’s belly and enjoy anything above it. *See bonus tips below for more on this.

Celebrate the small victories

Won a new client? Celebrate. Expanded your network? Celebrate. Finished that piece of work that’s been haunting your dreams? Cele… you get the picture. Every step along the way is progress for what you want your business or brand to become. This was a mind shift that didn’t come easily for me. But it’s important to enjoy each success, no matter how small. Heck, if you’ve managed to escape a toxic client, don’t forget to celebrate this, too.

Build out your team ASAP

If you have the means, hire someone part-time or on a project basis to sweat the small stuff. Admin, finances, emails, custom/client liaisons or even social media can burden a lean start-up. Doing everything at the start might feel OK, but you need to take a holistic approach as an owner. It’s what separates you from being a freelancer or a business.

Start saving

I’m terrible with money, but thankfully, my better half is not. Unless it’s written down, I have a hard time tracking the financial incomings and outgoings. I’ve since enlisted the help of FreshBooks – an all-in-one invoicing and accounting platform. It’s really easy to use. If I can use it, then so can you. The most important thing I’ve learned from doing this is keeping an eye on my savings. You never know when your business will go through a barren patch, and making sure you have funds to fall back on is essentially for keeping you a) sane and b) free from bankruptcy.

Hold on to great clients

OK, this is targeted to those providing client services. A good friend of mine told me this, and I didn’t know what he meant until we found a great client. We have numerous ones now – they’re the ones that are clear with their communication, pay on time and provide updates in a timely manner. You don’t have to worry about after-hours calls or emails asking you to tidy up the mess you could see happening a mile away. They’re professional. So, going above and beyond for these clients is exactly where you want to be. Hold them close.


Bonus lessons

  • Never turn down the offer of work because you’re too busy. You’re not, and you never know when that decision may come back to haunt you.
  • Keep your current customers and clients sweet, but always be on the lookout for more opportunities. Again, you never know when you might need them.
  • Be ready to evolve because what you start out doing now might not be what you do in the future. I started writing about video games, but I can draft a white paper on the future of KYC/KYB perfectly. This applies to services, too. Inflexible businesses will be left behind.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others – especially on social media. Everything is carefully curated on Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. Keep doing your thing.