12 inspirational business leaders share their essential lessons

Remember the early months of your first business? You might recall those “if only I knew this when I started” moments. Wisdom often comes from experience – but it doesn’t always have to come from your experience. So we’ve asked 12 of Australia’s top entrepreneurs what advice they’d give small business owners. Here, they share lessons they’ve found valuable, using the expertise they’ve gained through putting in the work.

1. Don’t be scared of debt-collecting.
- Maria Bellissimo-Magrin, CEO of Belgrin creative marketing agency

“Be firm on collecting money by due dates and stop working if the client is overdue on settling their account. This may seem scary at first because you don't want to lose them, but if you're working for free, it's not worth it. If they're a good client, they'll understand and generally pay quickly. No matter how daunting it seems, always review your numbers. Cash flow will improve when your financial situation is clearly visible.”

RELATED: Everything you need to know on small business finances

2. Learn to rely on yourself.
- Rony Chiha, Managing Director and founder of Adcreators

“When in doubt, go with your gut – you don't need to seek approval from others. Learn to rely on yourself, your own determination, and your own hard work to succeed. No one else is going to do it for you. You need to be resilient and when delivering results to a client, make sure you exceed all their expectations.”

3.Use social media (but never to sell).
- Catriona Pollard, CEO of CP Communications

“Many small businesses think they need to be across all platforms, but they don’t have the time or the skill to make it work. Remember that it’s about conversations, not selling. Don’t try to sell. Share important stories and interesting things about your business. When small businesses tell their stories, it builds rapport with people and really levels the playing field. Don’t be afraid to get personal – have stories that show your humanity. It builds trust and people want to do business with people they trust. That’s an advantage a small business has over bigger corporate brands. The more stories you tell, the more powerful it becomes for your business.”

RELATED: The three Ps of telling powerful stories about your business

4. Pick your peers wisely.
- Andrew Griffiths, entrepreneur, best-selling small business author and consultant

“The single most important piece of advice I can offer to any aspiring SME owner? Work really hard to build an extraordinary peer group around you. They need to challenge you, support you, and make you think. They need to demand that you constantly grow and get better at everything – and you need to do the same for them.”

“Peer groups like this don’t happen by accident, you have to hunt them down and find people who don’t just talk a big game, but actually do it day in day out. Have a peer group of successful people, and participate in this group with an attitude of what you can contribute, not what you can take. That is one of the fundamental values of truly successful people.”

5.Embrace failure.
- Christopher Sales, Director of Finance Warehouse

“Wanting to succeed in business and being afraid of failure often go hand in hand, but it’s possible to have one without the other. When we fear failure, we tend to safeguard ourselves, reducing the number of risks we’re willing to take. This can be detrimental to our ability to succeed, especially with a new venture. Don’t be afraid of failing. Instead, know that you have to push past the fear in your drive to succeed.”

RELATED: Three small business founders who turned failure into success.

Christopher Sales, Director of Finance Warehouse

6.Learn to get by with no money.
- Tina Clark, founder of Sagitine premium wardrobe storage

“I came from the world of finance where everything was big budget and no expense spared. I went into my business doing everything the best, and often the most expensive, way possible. When starting out, learn ways to operate with less money. I don’t regret paying for a beautiful website, but now I know I could have done it for a fraction of the price.

“Inventory and cash flow problems can kill a small business very quickly. If your business carries stock, it doesn’t always make sense to order larger numbers to get a cheaper price. In hindsight, you might be better off paying slightly more per unit and paying less in warehousing costs. Always work out what solution is best for your financial situation.”

RELATED: How to achieve big marketing results with a small budget.

Tina Clark, founder of Sagitine

7.Work on winning clients before you work on that new website.
- Matt Rose, Managing Director/Partner, ZOO Group

“We’ve all heard we should place the important over the urgent. In my experience, the difference between the two is often external versus internal. That means things like winning a pitch, getting new clients, finishing a presentation take precedence. Things like redesigning your website, or looking for a new office can wait.

“If you focus primarily on the internal, your business will suffer. I can trace a few mistakes back to the times where I placed internal matters over external matters, often because they are easier. External things – like finding new clients, pitching, and writing tenders – are hard, but they are the things that grow the bottom line. If it’s internal, it can wait.”

Matt Rose, Managing Director / partner, ZOO Group

8.Hire slow, fire fast.
- Justin Dry, co-founder Vinomofo

"You need a great team. It’s impossible to build a super successful business without them. At the beginning, this was way more complicated than I ever imagined, especially when we were scaling fast. You need to hire quickly enough to not hamper growth but slow enough to get the best people possible. We would work out exactly what we needed in terms of the role and exactly what we wanted in terms of the person.

“We’d make them work for it, test and retest, get credible references. Then we’d have a great induction processes, set expectations for the role and act quickly if it wasn’t working out. We want people who are as passionate about our business as we are, and we’ll do just about anything to get them."

9.Join a business group.
- Gillian Nathan, founder of Simple Solution Accounting

“When I started, the hardest thing for me was not having a sounding board – someone honest and objective to bounce ideas off. When your business is in its early stages, you need to watch every dollar, trying to juggle multiple balls and wear multiple hats. In all the busy-ness, you need someone to point out any obvious blind spots. Joining a business group was a life saver for me. In running a small business, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel – you need the opinion of others who are on a similar journey.”

RELATED: How to find the right business mentor.

10. Invest in your staff.
- Anthony Kittel, Managing Director, Redarc Electronics

“People are the number one asset of any business. To be a competitive business based in Australia, you need a team of skilled employees. You can have the best equipment and facilities, but it’s no good without a quality team.

“Invest in staff and staff development. We work hard on creating a learning environment where all employees are trained. Business owners sometimes ask me: ‘what if we train staff and they leave?’, and I quickly respond with, ‘what if we don’t train them and they stay?’”

RELATED: How small businesses can benefit from “Intrapreneurship".

11. Be prepared to learn – a lot.
- Aodhan MacCathmhaoil, Managing Director and founder of Waster.com.au

“Running a business is a steep learning curve. When we launched Waster, there were several areas of business where I had no real prior knowledge. Things like getting the required insurance, learning about GST, accounting, Google AdWords (which takes a while to get hits), and getting your website to appear on the first page of Google search results. Then there’s balancing your work and family life. These are all things you need to learn quickly. Keep talking to people, read as much as possible, and learn as quickly as you can.”

RELATED: Things to learn when starting a business.

12. Choose to see the positive - Finn Kelly, co-founder Wealth Enhancers

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so you need to stay positive. Positive people have more successes in their professional career and relationships and more satisfaction in their life. Being positive doesn’t mean you need to feel only positive emotions all the time. It just means that you choose to see the positive in a situation over the negative.”

RELATED: Small steps to protecting your biggest asset – your mind.