What I learned from starting three small businesses

and what I would do differently

I started and ran two other small businesses before I started MNFL Design in 2015. The first one I founded in 2009 and the second one in 2013. Both businesses I started with a partner before I decided to go solo for MNFL Design.

I have learned a lot along the way with my three businesses and have run into many problems as well. I’ve also watched other start-ups and have seen many ways to go about starting and running a business; I’ve seen the areas they did well in and where they had problems, particulary now through MNFL Design and the work I do in helping other female entrepreneurs start their business.

Therefore I decided to write down 6 key things I learned from starting a small business. These things are totally personal and might be different for you but they might also give you something to think about and help you when you are starting out as an entrepreneur.

What-I-learned-from-starting-3-small-businesses.jpg | MNFL Design

Business plan

With my first two companies we wrote a business plan when we started. We might not have finished them completely and properly but we did spend a lot of time on them. I would NOT do that again. In fact I didn’t do that for MNFL Design and it worked just as well,  maybe even better.  

I think that many business owners get very caught up in writing a business plan. Many of us don’t even know how to write one but think it is necessary. Some people don’t even actually start their business because they get so stuck in writing their business plan…

So my advice would be to concentrate on your amazing business idea first, test it and really get to know your products or services, your audience, your price points, the market and the problems you might run into. Once you have a clearer idea about all of those points you will know what will and won’t be possible, and in which ways you can think big; only then I would sit down and write a business plan!

However having a basic financial plan in place - after you’ve finished your testing phase - is crucial. Because even though we would love to ignore the fact of money, it is essential to run a business.

Download my free cheatsheet here and find out here how I wrote my basic financial plan for my business. It shows exactly which steps I took to calculate what I need to earn :-)

Create a basic financial plan

Knowing what you want to earn, what you need to earn, how high your costs are and subsequently how to price yourself is crucial for running a business. 

Get your FREE example for a basic financial plan here to help you start and run your business. 

    Legal aspects

    Another topic that is probably not a favorite. But is unfortunately essential.

    One part of this legal aspect is the type of business you want to form. This is different in every country so I won’t go into detail here but you need to really know where you are going (and think big) before choosing the right type of legal entity you want to form.

    You also need to have contracts in place. The sound of the word might seem horrible but it not only makes you look more professional,  it also gives you more peace of mind. It is just as beneficial for you as it is for your customers or clients. Contracts or agreements will give you some sort of structure and clarity.

    For example I have a service agreement that both my clients and I sign before I start a project. This includes any points that could arise and possibly  develop into arguments but it also includes a project timeline and the project scope, which helps both sides as well.

    Another one you also need for sure are terms and conditions for your website.

    You can buy very good templates for reasonable prices (in comparison to contacting a lawyer) at some online shops.

    I have bought mine from

    The contract shop

    and I can really recommend them and their service!

    Organize your business

    Organizing a business and putting procedures in place is actually a great help for any business owner and not only when starting out. It really reduces the stress level and the feelings of overwhelm that can arise so often when running a business all by yourself. Plus it saves a lot of time.

    I would always recommend to have processes in place for everything possible in your business.

    This starts with preparing email templates for emails that you need to write often (like enquiries), and goes on to automating some parts of your business, for example social media.

    Trello (www.trello.com) is a very good tool to organize your processes. You can write down every step of all your sales or design scenarios (or any other processes you might want to put in place). I have, for example, written down my whole design process in one trello board. Every step is documented with the time I need for my tasks, any email template I might need, any links I might need and additional notes that are helpful.  

    You also really need to think about tasks that might not be necessary at all in order to not waste time and money.

    There are things that you are not an expert in that you can delegate to someone else. A great example is your bookkeeping. It will save you a lot of time and headache and I assure you the money will be wisely spent freeing up time for things that are more important to grow your business.

    I always recommend goinng through the process of deciding on what can be eliminated, delegated or automated. This will save you a lot of time and the earlier you start the easier it is to keep it up in the long run.

    Stick to your rules

    Another topic that I learned the hard way.

    And yes, this can be intimidating and scary sometimes. However I now always recommend decideing on some rules for your business and sticking to them no matter what.

    For example the topic that always comes up - discounts:  If you don’t want to give discounts, don’t do it.

    Don’t give discounts to friends, don’t give discounts to family.

    Or,  decide on a certain percentage off you will give only to family members. You could also do one month a year where you will give discounts to family members and friends. There are many different options but I really recommend that you decide on one strategy and then really stick to it.

    Another hot topic is trading products or services. Decide how you want to deal with it and then stick to that rule. If you don’t feel comfortable in trading products or services, don’t do it.

    I can assure you it will save a lot of headache and time thinking about whether to do something or not when you have a rule in place and always stick to it. When someone doesn’t accept this or is particularly insistent about something, I would say quite frankly, that this person is not the right customer or partner anyway.

    Having a business partner

    Ok, so I have done it twice,  -I founded businesses together with a partner. The first time it went super well and my then partner is now one of my best friends and the godmother of my first son. The second time it went terribly wrong and caused a lot of stress, tears and headaches (plus the loss of a lot of money).

    So my personal advice: think carefully before you decide to start a business with someone else. The benefits can be huge but it can also cause of a lot of trouble. If I had to do it again, I would actually sit down and write a pros and cons list of why I can’t start my business alone. I would really listen to myself and try to understand why I want to partner up with someone.

    Also you need to make sure to really get to know your potential partner before you start something together. You don’t need to be friends, in fact that can also cause a lot of problems, but you need to make sure you understand your partner and his or her desires,their way of working, ambitions (or opposite) and that you are really on the same page.

    You also need to have a contract and clear guidelines in place!! This contract needs to include responsibilities, what happens when the business fails, what happens when one person wants to get out of the business, what happens during sickness, maternity leave etc. I was very blue eyed and didn’t have that for my two businesses and it was a huge mistake.  

    Personally I am super happy now that I am running my business alone and have chosen close friends as my ‘advisors’; plus, I have accountability partners and networks of designers and like minded people who are all a great support system. I outsource or seek help with things I can’t do; this has reduced the stress factor (and yessometimes also the fun factor) and it makes me completely independent, which I love.

    Think and act big

    And finally: believe in yourself and think and act big!

    I really had to learn this part! Before starting my own business, I worked for a big corporation and always had that power and confidence behind me. So when we started our design business in 2009, I was not very confident when talking about it or selling us and our products. Although I was thinking big and had big dreams, I did not have this security of a known and proven product as my backbone. I have also never been a good sales person - which is actually crucial when running your own business.

    That’s why I had to learn to really think AND act big. If you do too, you will become very confident about your business. This will automatically reflect to the outside world - and essentially make you a great sales advocate of your own business.

    I wrote a whole blog post about why you need to think big for your small business which you can find here because I really think this is crucial if you want to actually grow a business. You need to allow yourself to have a big vision, to dream big and to think in bigger dimensions. Otherwise you will limit yourself, once you are ready, you need to actually act big as well.

    Here are some points that I would love for you to think about:

    • Believe in yourself, believe in your business idea, believe in your execution.

    • Invest into your business

    • Own it: speak about your business confidently

    • Act as if you had a big organization behind you


    I hope this slightly more personal post was helpful for you!

    And as usual please leave any comments you might have in the comments box and let me know if you have any questions!

    Have a great day

    x Emilia

    This post contains affiliate links. I only recommend products I am using myself and can really recommend

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