The 15 rules you need to know about running a small business, before starting your own.

Small business owners have seen and experienced it all. 

For so many, it's a baptism of fire - learning on the job, rolling with the highs and lows and figuring it all out along the way. And there's something to be said for the growth and development that comes from this stage of a business's early days.

But it can also be an incredibly overwhelming and lonely time. Not to mention the stress of juggling all the plates - finances, customers, employees, scaling up and marketing. It's a lot.

That's why is great to learn from those who've done it all before, so you know exactly what to prepare for when starting a new business venture, side hustle or passion project.

With this in mind, we asked our Mamamia community - consisting of small business owners, successful leaders and Lady Startup graduates - for their best tips and tricks.

Here are the 15 rules you need to know about running a small business - before starting your own.

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1. There must be demand for your product.

"My one rule that trumps everything else is that there must be demand for your product or service before you start. It doesn't matter how good you are at making something or sourcing something - if people aren't willing to spend money to acquire it, you don't have a validated business idea. Too many people start because they're passionate about something. But the trick is to find that magic space where passion and consumer demand intersects."


- Anaita Sarkar, CEO and Co-Founder of Hero Packaging and host of Mamamia's Lady Startup podcast

2. Accounting is hard.

"There's no way to sugarcoat this - it is absolutely the worst part of owning your own business. I hate numbers. I hate having to make smart, financial decisions and the onus weighing on my shoulders. And accounting sucks. Enough said."

- A small business owner in publishing. 

3. Only a few people will make a lot of money.

"I have had my small business - in branding and design - for two years now and what I think many people don't realise before starting their own hustle is that it takes a lot of work to do well - and not everyone will make gazillions. My work partner and I have been fairly successful which is amazing, but it can sometimes be slightly demoralising to see other businesses doing astronomically well. I think having a more reasonable and balanced perspective on future success is important."

- Katie Stow, Co-Founder of Studio Wednesday.

4. Get comfortable with change.

"My number one piece of advice would be to get comfortable with change. Things will never go exactly to plan in business, and much of being a business owner is problem-solving and adapting. Start by managing what you can with the resources you already have! Retrospectively, we hired too many people too early. In the early stages of a business when you're not yet profitable, hiring too many people too quickly can make it a struggle. Lastly, I'd say that there's always a way in business. Persistence and creativity are paramount. After a year working on our brand and products, we had our only juice bottler turn around and say they couldn't do it, so we got in a car, drove up and said, 'You have to do it'. As a business owner, it's up to you to make it happen."


- Emma Welsh, Co-Founder of Emma & Toms, and an Entrepreneurs' Organization member.

5. Build a community from the get-go.

"One rule people need to know before starting a business is to get everyone in your life to come on the journey with you. They can then share it with their networks, and that way you begin to create a community. With community comes the vision that your business can aspire towards. Be unique and continue to share who you are through your business because that will create a connection with those who engage with you and your business."

- Madison Connors, First Nations artist, illustrator and designer who owns Yarli Creative.

6. Never forget about self-care.

"Self-care and work/life balance is a really difficult task when you run your own business. Rather than abandoning self-care altogether, it's essential to work on creative solutions that give you the space you need to look after yourself. Scheduling the time in your calendar like you would any other meeting can help. Leave your office or home office so you're not tempted to do just a little bit more (which then blows out into two hours!). Remember, you can't pour from an empty cup - it's essential to take care of yourself so your business has longevity."


- Amber Rules, Founder and Director at affordable counselling service Rough Patch.

7. Don't rush into branding and logos - think on it.

"You need to consider how your logo is going to work on everything. Seriously... everything. If you have a physical product, you need to think about how it's going to work on that product, on labels, on the packaging, on stickers. That same logo needs to work on a variety of digital formats including your website and social media. And the logo needs to work well when blown up on posters, banners and signs. What looks right on a business card or in a small format isn't the same as what looks good on a flyer. Pay someone to create your logo who really understands branding - it's worth it."

- Esha Thaper, a small business owner for Khush Mountain.

8. Get your finances sorted from the start.

"As a small business owner, the best thing I did was organise my finances right from the start. I would recommend doing these things: 1) Open two bank accounts: one for general income and expenses and another to save for tax. 2) Find an accounting system: you can use a paid subscription or cut costs by using an invoice template and spreadsheet. 3) Know your expenses: income when self-employed can be sporadic, so create a budget and put away a percentage of each invoice for tax, super, bills, savings and spending. Having set up all these elements early on, I save so much time and avoid the surprise of an unexpected tax bill."

- Felicity Lessing, Founder of graphic design business Studio Fliss.

9. Get to know your customer base well. 

"My one rule/tip for small businesses to do before starting a business is speak to potential customers: hundreds of them. Get their advice on if there is a market for the product, what they would pay, how they want it to look, where they shop, what they like, what they don't like. Ask, ask, ask and build based on feedback!"

- Emily Pask, Founder and CEO of Modest Mermaid, and a Lady Startup.

10. Don't be completely against lending.

"This varies from business to business, but my advice would be not to be too afraid of lending. I was of the belief early on that I had to cover it all myself and it stifled growth more than any other challenge I faced. If you have a strong business case, there's growth and/or you have demonstrated there's a market that wants what you have to offer, consider taking the funds."


- Sarah Greenaway, founder of Lava Tribe Girls Activewear and a Lady Startup.

11. You're only as good as the people you work with.

"I have learned something incredibly important since the early days of my business. And that is: only when you surround yourself with people who are better at many things than you are, will you experience significant growth, fulfilling work, and results that make an exponential difference in people's lives. The key is to diversify the strengths and passion across your team. I love that my team members are better than me at some tasks. While I am 'the boss', it would be arrogant and a missed opportunity for me to assume that I am the best in every area. My team complement me, and I complement them. This ensures the business is always bigger than me, and I am not limiting its growth and longevity."


- Phoebe Netto, Founder and Managing Director of Pure Public Relations.

12. In the beginning, always keep a watchful eye.

"I have been in business for over ten years and have had many ups and downs! Don't listen to the old saying 'work on the business not in the business'. When you first start out you need to do everything - you need to be able to answer the phone, do your own BAS report, make the coffee for clients. Because unless you are incredibly lucky, the money does not flow in straight away and you need to be across all aspects of your business to make sure clients are receiving the service you want and you need to know when and how the money is coming in."

- Kerri-Ann Hooper, small business owner for Carnelian Projects.

13. Stay away from comparison culture.

"Heaps of my clients are establishing and running successful businesses, and as a business owner myself, one of the things I see derailing their efforts all the time is 'comparisonitis'! This refers to them comparing themselves to others and losing sight of their unique offering and long-term goals. So my tip is to stay focused on what you're doing, what you're bringing and not to get distracted by all the noise out there."


- Alex Kingsmill, the Director of Upstairs.

14. If your business is your entire passion, be aware the spark may dim.

"I used to have a small business where I sold second-hand clothes online. I love fashion and I love shopping vintage - it was a real passion that I turned into a side hustle while at university. But making my only passion into a business made me realise that the passion does wane from time to time - and that was upsetting at first. You get bogged down in the logistics. This feeling can be quite common, and new business owners should be aware of it creeping up."

- A small business owner in clothing merchandise. 

15. Be kind to yourself.

"Be happy and relish in your mistakes. Have a cry. Pick yourself back up and move on to a higher, stronger you. Failures are a sign of stepping outside your comfort zone and this is where magic happens, and most do not want to do. If you're too snuggly you're not growing. To get to the next level you must up your game or your knowledge. Congratulate yourself and celebrate small and big wins. But mostly keep going and digging."

- Carly Woods, Founder and CEO of Get My Refund.

Are you a small business owner and have a tip? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature Image: Getty.