10 lessons from 10 years as a solo business owner

- February 1, 2021 5 MIN READ

I’m celebrating a milestone in 2021—ten years in business. Wow, even saying that makes me feel … surprised. Grateful. Experienced. Even maybe a tiny bit old.

As a marketing and partnerships strategist and coach who has successfully launched multiple brands I’ve seen and done a lot. Some of it quite unexpected! I’ve had some great successes and some … well, let’s say not everything has gone to plan. 

So, with my first decade in the rear vision mirror, here’s 10 major lessons I’ll absolutely be using in my next 10 years.

#1: It’s all about the customer

I’ve learned that to be successful all parts of the customer journey are critical. If just one falls over it can damage the entire customer relationship.

This really became apparent to me a few years ago when I was speaking in the US and did what every good Mum does—took the kids with me to do Disneyland. We arrived with great excitement and headed straight to the merchandise shop to buy our Mickey Mouse ears ready for some fun.  By Day 2 my excitement had turned to pure agony. I wasn’t enjoying myself at all. Despite the welcoming staff, spotless grounds and great rides, the long wait times and crowds really negatively impacted on the overall experience. 

I’ve learned you can’t avoid the deadly Day 2 experience I had if you don’t have the customer at the forefront of every touch point.

#2: Partnerships can transform a business

I love to collaborate. In my first year of business I learned the power of collaborating with other businesses who shared the same ideal audience but weren’t in direct competition. It was an incredible revelation that by working together I could achieve so much more—and often at little cost or investment. This has proven time and again to be the most successful strategy I’ve adopted over the past decade. 

My collaborative approach to growing my businesses has led me to create my third business, Partnership Mastery, where I help other small business owners to nail their partnerships to achieve their business goals, only faster. 

I’ve learned that by negotiating aligned partnerships I can achieve my goals, faster. 

#3: Always be learning

I’ve invested eye-watering amounts in my professional learning. It has been the best decision I’ve made and I only wish I started investing in me much earlier. As a coach, mentor and advisor, keeping up with latest trends and forecasts has developed my expertise. Then I’m better at advising my own clients.  

You need to develop strong self-awareness and work on your personal development to understand your core strengths and what you have to offer the world. 

I can’t overestimate the power that continuous learning has had on my ability to achieve my goals.

I’ve learned that you need to focus on learning how to do things better all the time to stay relevant in the market.

#4: Dream Big

At 14, I got a $3.28 an hour job at KFC and dreamed of saving enough for a trip to New York. I bored friends stupid with my scrapbook of what I’d see and do in the Big Apple. At 16, I was on the New York sidewalks falling in love with that city on a trip I paid for myself. In my personal and professional life, dreaming big is big.

I’ve had the joy of mentoring hundreds of small business owners and often see an alarming trend: women thinking small. They are so used to putting everyone else’s needs in front of their own.  I believe it’s critically important that we encourage women to dream big and create bigger lives for themselves, whatever that might look like. 

If we fail to dream big we can sabotage our success.

I’ve learned we all need to work on overcoming our self-limiting beliefs as these hold us back at work and in life. Often the greatest obstacle to us achieving things is ourselves.  Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way.

#5: It’s okay to be different

This one took a while to learn. I grew up with a very ‘different family’.  We never did the mainstream. I longed to be like everyone else. In Year 3, when I was 9, I made my First Holy Communion. Mum decided I’d look great rejecting Satan in a maroon two piece outfit with a pink and white striped bow tie.  In a sea of white bride dresses, I stood out like nothing else. And I liked that feeling of being different. 

In have learned in business that clients actually choose us for our differences, so we should embrace them. Our differences are what make us special, celebrate them.  

#6: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

I’ve learned nothing changes unless you are prepared to challenge yourself and step out of our comfortable zone. 

Five years ago my mentor, a well-known small business owner who has published more than 14 books in 26 countries, told me it was time I wrote a book. I absolutely felt very uncomfortable. In fact, I felt like a complete imposter.  But I knew magic happens when we are prepared to go outside our comfortable zone, so I wrote that book. It became #1 on Booktopia’s Business bestseller list for four weeks, outselling the likes of Simon Sinek, Timothy Ferriss and Sophia Amoruso. 

This led me to being asked to speak at the world’s leading learning event for people who market to mothers—alongside Google, Johnson & Johnson and Kate Spade. 

I’ve learned time and time again that the magic happens when step outside our comfort zone however scary it might be.

#7: Find your business besties

Finding your people is crucial to your success. I’ve had some great business tribes and some which really didn’t feel like the right fit for one reason or another. In the past three years, I’ve surrounded myself with business people I deeply admire, trust and learn from. They bring a diversity in thinking and hold me accountable if they feel I’m moving away from my values or goals, and I do the same for them. 

I’ve learned it’s vital to surround yourself with people who are positive, supportive and willing to be really honest with you.

#8 Create your own opportunities

I’ve learned that if I want something badly enough I’ll find a way to make it happen, a la the New York trip.

I recently read an amazing book called Catch of the Decade and its co-author Gabby Leibovich introduced me to the concept of the ‘third door’. This is the door to use when the front and back doors have been closed, and it focuses on finding innovative ways to get things done. I totally subscribe to this way of thinking.

I’ve learned by using the challenging ‘third door’ I’ve been able to create some pretty incredible opportunities.

#9 Be Bold

In my first year of business I took bold action, reaching out to the largest player in my industry and inviting them to collaborate with me. They agreed. When I wrote my first book I didn’t have all the money required to fund its production so I reached out and secured sponsorship from a large global brand. When I launched my Marketing to Mums podcast I reached out to the Global CEO of the world’s biggest baby brand and invited them onto the show. They agreed. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of times when I took bold action and I heard nothing, but I learned to play the small probabilitiesl.

I learned that by being bold in our actions we can create incredible opportunities we might have only dreamed about. 

#10: Be Yourself

Be you because no one else can be.

I learned authenticity works. 

Katrina McCarter is a marketing and partnerships strategist. She is founder of Partnership Mastery and Marketing to Mums and works with small business owners and entrepreneurs to accelerate their path to success. Connect with Katrina at 

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