A decade of entrepreneurship: 10 things I’ve learnt

A decade of entrepreneurship: 10 things I’ve learnt

When I wrote this post five years ago, I didn’t stop to consider whether we’d still be working together in another five years’ time and that Black Mountain would actually reach a decade of existing successfully.


So much has happened in the past five years. A global pandemic. I moved from Joburg to Cape Town, then again to The Netherlands. Catherine moved cities too. We count ourselves extremely lucky that we’ve been able to run our business through this all, especially when you consider that five out of seven new SMMEs in South Africa fail within the first year. We acknowledge the role that privilege has played in this success, especially as it relates to things like our educations and the networks we’ve built up.


But it certainly hasn’t all been plain sailing. I’m married to someone who is also self-employed, and so is Catherine, so we really all live the entrepreneurship experience together. The high highs and the low lows. Here are ten things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. You get more comfortable with risk. ‘Risk taker’ would never have been an attribute I would have used to describe myself in the past. I’ll never bungee jump or sky dive. I’m by nature a cautious person, but as a business owner I’ve learned how to take calculated risks and get more comfortable and confident in doing so.
  2. Never stop listening and learning. It’s only as you start to get better at your craft that you realise how much more there still is to learn. It’s all about iterative improvement.
  3. There is nothing better than owning your time. I was chatting to a self-employed friend recently and she said how lucky she was that she’d been able to take time off to attend the funeral of her best friend’s mother, that she hadn’t had to get permission from anyone else. Of course, this meant she worked until midnight that day to deliver a piece of work for a client, but that was her choice. Nobody else’s.
  4. You need peers. Owning a business can be lonely. Even if you’re the only person in your company, you need someone within the industry, who you trust and respect, who you can bounce ideas off. Working in a vacuum, especially creatively, is highly challenging.
  5. Channel the squirrel. There will often be dryer months (hello Janu-worry). Squirrel away savings in juicier months where you can, so you minimise financial stress when times are a bit tougher.
  6. Loving what you do is a game changer. Coming up with ideas, helping people communicate, tinkering with words and sentences on a daily basis…I still sometimes can’t believe that I get to call this work.
  7. Under promise & over deliver. Satisfaction comes from meeting expectations. Say you’ll deliver that piece of work on Tuesday morning but then deliver it on Monday COB instead. Make it great.
  8. Over communicate. Whether they realise it or not, people love to be kept in the loop, and so do clients. They want to feel in control and informed. Rather communicate too much than too little (you’ll soon see how they prefer to be engaged with).
  9. Make clients look good. It’s not about you, it’s never been about you. It’s about delivering a service that makes your clients look good first and foremost. Remember that.
  10. Rest. Being your own boss can be brutal. You’re always checking emails, taking calls, working to deadlines. But you do this so you can rest when you need to. Book that holiday where you’ll return feeling inspired (like my most recent trip to Lisbon where I took this picture!). Schedule in that weekly yoga class that helps clear your head. Set boundaries for yourself and others that protect your physical body and mental state.


I don’t know where I’ll be in another ten years’ time, or what form my work will take. But I do know that if I’m still doing something I love, getting better at it, and being paid for it, well – then I’m one of the lucky ones.

Black Mountain
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