Running a business is a wild ride, isn’t it? It feels like every day is a school day. It is a never-ending cycle of continuous learning, mistakes, course corrections, seeking help and skills development.

The best business owners are relentlessly curious, unafraid to stumble, and willing to throw themselves into the deep end. Lessons arrive with little to no warning, and often, they come at you at the expense of your pride. It can really hurt sometimes.

It’s easy to think that once you reach a certain level of success, like becoming a CEO, Managing Director, or business owner, that you don’t have anything left to learn. But that simply isn’t true.

If you have investors, you’ll report to them, but if your business is self-owned, it’s a peculiar and sometimes unsettling feeling knowing there’s nowhere to go regarding job titles. Whether you’re an apprentice, small business owner, or CEO, there’s always going to be something new to learn, no matter how much experience you have.

I know this from personal experience and found this difficult. I’m a lifelong learner and get antsy if I don’t have something new to challenge myself with.

A while back, I wrote about moving from peer to leader, which covers many of these feelings. During that transition, I realised that while I had essentially “completed my career ladder” in PR and marketing, my journey was really just beginning.

Taking over the business was a huge learning experience. I had so many things to learn from scratch during our sudden business handover, and even more that I had to relearn when the world reminded me that I knew very little.

For example, I knew how to manage a small team but didn’t know how to develop and grow my people. I knew how to be a number two, but not the vulnerability and exposure of leading. I knew how to manage my own personal finances, but I didn’t know how to manage the complex financial statements of a business.

This list of continuous learning goes on and on. And it’s not just about the practical skills you need to run a business. There’s a whole personal development side of things too.

Take the commercial side – owning a business during a healthy economy requires a different approach to guiding one through rockier times. Building a 12-month forecast is different from planning one for five years.

The same applies to people. Keeping a client happy differs from keeping clients happy through your team’s contributions. Managing a frustrated client who’s unsure of a piece of marketing content is not the same as navigating a relationship that has become misaligned or, worse, hostile.

And this is just the practical side of continuous learning.

Then, there’s the personal side of development.

You must look inward and hold a mirror up to yourself. All those fears, insecurities, troubles, and traumas come right to the surface at once, whether you want them to or not. You have to learn to acknowledge and accept them before you can start to deal with them.

Early on, through a fortunate dose of self-awareness, I realised this is part of the job.

So how do you stay ahead of the curve as a small business owner, MD, or CEO?

  • Be curious – Always be curious and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something.
  • Embrace challenges – Step outside your comfort zone and take on new challenges. This is a great way to learn and grow.
  • Never stop learning – There are always new things to learn, so make sure you’re always looking for new learning opportunities.

Ultimately, no one is alone in this, and there are lots of ways you can develop yourself and, as a proxy, your business.

  • Coaching – I am fortunate to have found a coach with a style that works for me. They offer a unique blend of compassion, non-judgmental listening, thought-provoking questioning, and kindness. It has contributed to:
    • Regular epiphanies
    • Steps forward (and back)
    • Practical advice on which methodologies and mindsets to use
  • Client Confidants – Find people you can trust and seek their advice. I often bare my soul to a select few to understand better what I need to work on, especially whether this is a ‘Marco problem’ or a ‘business problem’. These sounding boards are critical in knowing how to solve trickier challenges.
  • Partners – A problem shared is a problem halved. We have a powerful community around us, and I always make sure to absorb their experience and knowledge.
  • Your People – Team Bamboo has this remarkable talent for calmly overcoming any situation. It’s the safest pair of hands I know. This no-nonsense approach to marketing, business and life has opened my eyes to what’s possible when you lean on others.
  • Development Plan – Like all our people, I have a You & Bamboo – my Personal Development Plan. I’ve shared it with my team, so they always know what I’m working on. It is a roadmap that outlines:
    • My role and how to develop into it
    • The reward if I achieve my goals
    • Skills I need to grow

All these strategies form the backbone of my development and are crucial for giving me purpose, guardrails, and focus. There are endless business priorities, from cash flow management to conflict resolution, team motivation, and people development.

Putting yourself last is far too easy, but it is one of the worst things you can do. When you get better, those around you do as well, and as a result, they lift you up and propel your business forward.

Every day’s a school day, and perhaps this is the first lesson for me to relearn once again.

Never. Stop. Learning.

P.S. I’m on LinkedIn if you want to chat about this.