In Prospa’s ‘I wish someone had told me that’ series, we speak with seasoned small business owners to hear their advice on growing a business and what they wish they were told along the way. Click here to read the rest of the ‘I wish someone had told me that’ series.

When Adam Stewart was in his first graduate role, the owner of the company he worked for identified him as a future entrepreneur, became his mentor and helped set him on the path to where he is now – founder of an established and growing digital marketing company Digital Bond.

“I was working for a machinery company as a digital marketing specialist, in a full-time role, and I was able to build up that company quite a lot – I did really well for the company and the owner of that company,” Adam says.

“He knew I was going to start looking at other positions to build my career, so he offered me a part-time role working three days per week, but still getting paid full-time and trying out my consulting on the side. I started doing cold email marketing and managed to get my first few clients, and then started building my website up in terms of search engine optimisation (SEO), started doing some social media marketing and started to get more clients.”

After six months of building his own business two days a week, Adam was earning more from his consulting work than from his job. He left the machinery company (but not the mentoring relationship) and Digital Bond went from being his side hustle to being his main gig.

“And now, I’m five-and-a-half years into running my own business.”

Here’s what Adam has learned on his journey so far.

Keep working and earning

“Keep working – don’t quit your job until you have enough money coming in from your business. When you’ve got cashflow coming in, you can pay your bills – you can’t really think that well if you’re struggling financially.

“Then when the income from your business can replace your pay packet, make the switch and go all in. I was very lucky that I had someone entrepreneurial, my mentor who owns the machinery business, who gave me that advice.

Understand taxes, cash flow and company structure

“I always did live below my means – even when I started earning more money, I didn’t start spending too much, but that would be easy to do as a sole trader. You can get a lot of money coming in and not realise how much you’re going to get taxed, or that some of that income should be invested back into the business.

“In the beginning I didn’t know what GST was. I’d heard of it, but I didn’t know if I had to charge it or not. I wasn’t making enough money to charge GST, but I used a template to send an invoice and it had GST on it – that client said “Hey, Adam. You’re not registered for GST, but you’re charging us”. It was one of those daily lessons that you’ve got to have.

“At that time I was a sole trader and managing the finances in a spreadsheet, then I started using free invoicing software. That did an alright job, but when I changed from a sole trader structure to a company structure I moved to small business accounting software. Now my accountant has recommended a solution that will integrate with my accounts.

“Being able to see the profit and loss, and calculate projections really builds confidence. It also takes a lot of stress away when you know what the numbers are, what direction you’re going in and what you need to do.

“That closer financial management came from having a new company structure, and I should have changed that structure earlier – by doing so, I could have managed tax more effectively.

“It’s also brought a mindset shift – under the new company structure any income is the business’s money, not mine. I’ve been more inclined to invest that money back into the business, either into marketing or hiring more people.”

Hire people who are better at the job than you are

“Looking at the business structure gave me the confidence to hire a team – it was a big thing for me and I probably did it before I thought I was ready. If I hadn’t separated my personal and business accounts, and gotten a clearer view of the business’s financial position – separate from my own – I would have thought I didn’t have enough money in the bank or profit to hire a team.

“I didn’t really have a plan on what the team was going to do, but I knew the advice that says you need to hire people who will help you get a lot of your time back. I was working way too much and I was at a point where I just wasn’t enjoying the work as much – I needed help alleviating some of the tasks that I wasn’t necessarily good at.

“So I found people better at those tasks than I am, and the team gives me back a lot of time to do what I’m good at.

“Of course in the first month or two, hiring creates more work for you because you need to train the team, but after that, once they learn everything and you can work together well, you get a lot more time back and can help the business grow.”

Learn by doing and from mentors

“One of the best ways to learn is to do the thing instead of just reading. I started a small brand buying gym gear from overseas and selling it here when I was at Uni, and learned how to market on Instagram, how to get influencers, how to create a store. I was entrepreneurial, but I didn’t really think I was going to start my own consulting business.

“The owner of the machinery company who gave me the space to start consulting is an entrepreneurial minded person and still a mentor to me. I definitely wasn’t looking for that mentorship – I was just looking for a full-time job in marketing. I loved marketing but I never pictured myself running a business.

“I think belief is one of the biggest things I’ve learned from him. I’m not materialistic; I’m not someone who likes cars, but I remember he said ‘One day you’ll be driving a really nice car’, and I thought ‘Yeah, right’.

“But I saw the things that he had, and it just created a belief that I could actually build these things. And if someone is from an area where you don’t see that too much, or if you don’t see entrepreneurship in your friendship circle or among their parents, it can be difficult to see that it is possible. So I’m lucky, I had that person that I could look up to.”