Sue Nelson (2nd from left) was named Kent Business Woman of the Year 2017

Just over a year after setting up Breakthrough Funding in 2015, my company hit the £1million turnover mark. I was delighted, of course, but I do believe that it wasn’t down to luck. I’ve learned many important lessons during my career and here is some of the best advice I can pass on to anyone starting up a business…

  1. Don’t fall in love with your product.

While it’s great to feel passionate about your business, it can be a mistake to believe that just because you love your product or service, so will everyone else. You’ll always hear ‘experts’ telling people “do what you love and success will follow” but that’s nonsense. Don’t stake your house on an idea without testing it out first – it’s not enough for customers to like it, they need to be willing to take out their bank card and pay for it.

  1. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s in a fast-growing sector.

You might love making chutneys, but is there potential for growth in that market? If not, you need to think about where you can make an impact. Hitch a ride in a growing market, then focus on creating a high-performing business culture that will deliver results.

  1. Your people are everything.

When you’re ready to recruit, pay attention to personalities, values and attitudes, not qualifications. Recruiting people by using standard forms and ticked boxes is lazy, and a total lottery. Make sure your staff share your ethos and get rid of prima donnas! If the culture of your business is important to you, you need to protect and nurture it.

  1. The customer comes first.

When you’re setting up your business processes, it’s tempting to work in a way that’s convenient to you. But everything about your company, from the customer service to the marketing, should be client-centric.

  1. Learn to have difficult conversations.

Think you can be a business owner and never need to have tricky conversations with clients, suppliers or staff? Think again. If you learn to tackle problems head on, with kindness but persistence, you’ll find it easier in the long run.

  1. Hire the best advisors you can afford – then shut up and listen.

There’s absolutely no point paying for someone’s expert advice, then thinking you know better. Whether it’s an accountant or an IT whizz, get the best help you can, take in what they say and act on it!

  1. Be selfish with your time.

Starting a business requires a huge amount of time and energy and sometimes you will have to say “no” to requests for your attention. Using my “no, but” technique can help – for example, if someone asks you to get involved in a project you don’t have time for, say “no, but I can point you to this source of help” or “no, but I can give you a few hours’ mentoring instead.”

  1. Get off the social and focus on sales.

Generating a buzz on social media feels great, but there’s only one thing that really matters in the end – and that’s sales. If a marketing channel is attracting followers but not converting to sales, drop it and focus on the platforms that ARE working.

  1. Think about your potential to innovate.

Innovation takes many different forms and we often find that people don’t realise that what they’re doing is research and development. If you’re creating something new that solves a problem, that’s R&D! The Government offers support for innovation through its R&D tax relief scheme, so there are incentives if you want to try new ideas, break new ground and push the boundaries in your industry.