This week marks the 24th anniversary since I founded Barrett and, over the summer break, I had some time to reflect upon myself, my business’ journey and the many, many lessons learned over the last 24 years.

We often get our ‘business lessons’ from big corporates about how to do this or that; however, I have found that many of these corporate lessons do not always translate well into small (few than 20 employees) to medium sized businesses which make up over 90% of all business in Australia.

So given that I fall into that 90+% category and have managed to stay in business for 24 years thus far, and that 60% of businesses fail within the first 3 years, I thought I would share 24 big lessons I have learned in the hope they may help you on your journey in business and in life, whether you be a business owner, start-up, entrepreneur, team member or supporter of people in business. 

So let’s begin. Overall, the journey has been mainly an evolution with the occasional revolution filled with many joys and challenges along the way. Some of these lessons came to me personally, some from my team through the years, others from clients, partners, competitors and the market. From all and each of them I have learned and evolved. And for that I am grateful because they made Barrett and me what we are today.

24 Big Lessons

  1. I found the essential element to a business is its vision and purpose. A business with vision and purpose is a business with soul. Every time we have to make a strategic decision our vision and purpose act as a true north or plumb-line and guides us. For instance, Barrett’s vision is where everybody is practising ethical, human-centred selling for a fair, sustainable & prosperous world. Our purpose is helping people and businesses sell better.
  2. Values define what we stand for. Values have helped me determine what is acceptable in our organisation and what is not. Values guide our work habits, our charter and our selection process during recruitment of staff and selection of clients.
  3. Having a clear vision and purpose doesn’t guarantee business success. How we take our vision and purpose to market is crucial. Strategy needs to be part of a business’ DNA. The best thing we can do to assure the successful execution of our strategy is getting everyone involved in its development and planning. Plan from top to bottom and back up again. When people are involved and understand where they fit into the strategy and how they are relevant, they are more likely to get on-board and deliver.
  4. Value propositions need to be defined in a language that current and potential clients understand. Even if we have the best products or solutions available in the market, if we cannot define and communicate the value we deliver to others and how they will benefit by working with us then it makes our sales life very difficult indeed.
  5. Passion and focus are crucial to business success. Without passion we just won’t have enough energy or desire to make business success happen. Staying focused is crucial. Setting well-articulated goals and action plans, then ‘seeing’ ourselves achieving them is really important.
  6. For a business to be successful, we need to prioritise our health and wellbeing and that of those around us. This includes exercising, keeping a healthy diet, resting and taking time off. It also means prioritising mental health and mental health practices within our team and families. Leading and running a business that centres on respect and human decency is key to our collective and individual health.
  7. Reading outside our area of expertise is a fantastic approach to continue creating and innovating, staying up-to-date, seeing trends and developing new opportunities.
  8. An annual business health check is a great way to keep our business fit. It allows us to flag and address any areas that need remedial work or reinvention.
  9. I found the best system to keep our business in good shape is to run it as if it is always up for sale: this means keeping up-to-date financials and current sales strategy and business plan, an accurate and full pipeline, then working on the work.
  10. Selecting good mentors and advisers make business life better. I look for mentors and advisors who can help me boost my knowledge and experience, especially in areas I may be weak in. They come in all shapes and sizes and do not have to be older men in blue suits.
  11. Walk away from mergers that don’t feel right; if their values and mine don’t align, the businesses never will.
  12. A good lawyer(s) on our side is a smart investment. It helps protect our business, ourselves and our IP.
  13. New business development is a daily process. Regular and consistent prospecting for work is an essential, unavoidable part of the process. It means identifying and overcoming any fears about prospecting and picking up the phone to promote ourselves to the people that need to know about us.
  14. Share good news stories, ideas, trends and innovations. We like to involve clients and partners in good news stories – let everyone know when good things happen. Word of mouth referrals provide unbeatable credibility and value that can’t be overestimated.
  15. Having the right people in the right roles makes for business happiness. Knowing what work functions our company requires to operate successfully is key; we review these on a regular basis as our markets and business change; we have current job and person profiles which support selection and performance management practices. And we recruit in diversity: gender, nationalities, age, abilities, and so on. It makes for a much richer, more rewarding and worldly work environment.
  16. There are so many theories about what are the best workplace environments and policies: always in the office, always remote, flexible, agile, hot desking, open plan, etc. I have found there is no one work policy or environment that works for all businesses. We encourage people to find the right balance for them. For us, it is having a flexible work situation where everyone can work around their family and work commitments. Some prefer to work regular hours and ‘forget’ the office when they are at home, others have less strict boundaries and work from home even after hours or weekends and also ‘home from work’ whenever they need to. Having a family and running a business is never easy so creating flexible work practices that allow people to have a fulfilling career and a fulfilling personal life creates an environment of health and prosperity that works for us.
  17. I have found that for the most part issues get worse when ignored. It’s better to confront and resolve them straight away with a considered and evidenced based approach. Which means no reacting or flying off the handle. But it also means that we cannot be afraid to take risks. If we fail at things, we always try to learn from our mistakes and how to do things better and this has led to innovations and new opportunities. We never see ourselves as ‘failures’. And when we feel things are getting tough we look to our achievements versus our mistakes – weigh them up and take a realistic view, not an “overachiever’s” idealistic or perfectionist view.
  18. Trust, faith and courage are our best companions. Trusting in our vision and purpose, having faith in ourselves and others, and having the courage to take calculated risks and having courage in the face of adversity.
  19. Not all clients are good clients. Sometimes, we need to walk away from a deal, a project or a client because it is not good for us, our wellbeing, our values, our reputation, our bottom line in the long run, and it’s ok.
  20. There’s nothing like having a team that has your back.
  21. Being grateful and celebrating milestones and successes are good for the soul and team bonding.
  22. Optimism is indispensable to running a business.
  23. A drop of scepticism is a healthy dose.
  24. Always be open to creating and receiving opportunities.

I trust this may shed some light on what has helped me and my team carry on in business for the last 24 years and continue to propel us forward and wake up every morning grateful for the opportunity to be doing what we do.

Here’s to good business and selling better.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.
Author: Sue Barrett, 

The 10th edition of our Barrett 12 Sales Trends Report is out: 12 Sales Trends for 2019 – Trust me, I’m in sales. You can download it here.