20 important lessons you can learn from the real experts...

By: Mark Williams

Date: 22 June 2011

There's no doubt that the best way to learn about business is from the real experts – people who actually run their own successful small firms. Here is a selection of insightful quotes cut from just some of the businesses featured in our case studies…

1. "Carrying out pre-launch market research is essential. Look for firm evidence of demand for what your new business is offering. Crucially, find out whether people will pay your asking prices" Henry Virgin of Green Boar Organic Tea

2. "Get a non-disclosure agreement signed before you reveal your invention to a potential manufacturing partner. Don't register your design until your patent is close to being granted" Cara Sayer of SnoozeShade

3. "Retail buyers are notoriously difficult to reach. I had to email, call and send them samples relentlessly. You must keep going until people just can't ignore you any longer" Matt Horan of Rollasole

4. "Being in full-time employment while setting up or running your business is very challenging. For more than two years, I sacrificed my evenings and weekends to developing my business" Janan Leo of CocoRose

5. "When it comes to borrowing money, I'd advise caution. I've made a conscious decision to put profits back into my business, enabling me to grow it organically, without having to seek a loan or investment elsewhere" Claire Willis of SnugBaby

6. "Don't overstretch yourself – an easy mistake when trying to get a business off the ground. Make lists. I know it sounds stupid but I find I get so much more done if I've made a list" April Browne of Crystal Jewels

7. "Don't let age put you off starting your own business. It's never too late. You probably have a lot of knowledge, experience and skills you can bring to a new venture" Suzy Kilgour of Walking Workouts

8. "Nurture strong relationships with good suppliers and pay your bills on time. With new suppliers, it's a case of working slowly to build up relationships and trust with them" Jane Robson of The Fine Cotton Company

9. "If your personal financial liability is small, becoming a sole trader is easier and cheaper than setting up a limited company. Put money away as you go along, then you won't have to panic when you get your tax bill" Andy Oakley of AO Pro Finish Plastering

10. "When trying to think of a name for your new business, come up with a few choices and ask as many people as you can which they prefer. Find out why they like and don't the names you've shortlisted" Jennie Avramovic of Clevercow

11. "When using Twitter for business, be careful about what you say in your Tweets and what information you link to. Don't lie, bash the competition or say anything that will reflect badly upon your brand – but that doesn't mean be boring" Sean Price of iBox-Security

12. "If we hadn't taken steps to differentiate ourselves, we'd be 'just another sandwich shop', which makes marketing even harder. Being different – if you get it right – has appeal" Griff Holland of Friska

13. "When publicising your business, focus your time and money where it's most likely to have the greatest impact. Use knowledge of your target customers to decide which marketing methods to use" Claudia Kapp of Deadly is the Female

14. "Before they'll buy from you, a supermarket must feel confident that your business is run properly and has the necessary infrastructure and support. If it were just me making bread from my kitchen table, no supermarket would ever have been interested in my products" Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne of Genius

15. "Provide your customers with a friendly and professional service. Listen to them and aim to continually meet their needs" Ross Campbell of the Exercise Club

16. "We've never had any problems with health and safety, because we talked to the relevant organisations before we started the business. We listened to their advice and continue to ensure we fully live up to our legal responsibilities" Natalie Richmond of The Kitchen

17. "You must be tough but fair when negotiating with suppliers. Often you must ask for a better price. Usually, they'll ask you to buy more, but successful negotiation isn't just about gaining ground – sometimes you have to concede it" Adam Ewart of Karacha.com

18. "Start your business with as little money as possible. Only buy things you need. If you can't borrow, buy second-hand or trade-off with other businesses. Be cheeky, too. If you don't ask, you won't get" Kerry Hale of FUSE Bristol

19. "Look at your supplier chain. Does it have too many links? Ask manufacturers if they will sell direct to you rather than via a distributor. We doubled our margins on some products by doing this" Will Starrit and Andrew Taylor of Urban Rider

20. "Take your time when looking for staff. Having good people in all areas of is a must. They are the face of your business" Oliver Trezise of The Yurt restaurant