Entrepreneurs share 23 priceless business lessons learned in 2020

November 10, 2020

Entrepreneurs share 23 priceless business lessons

The business lessons learned in school can never be as valuable as the business lessons coming from real-life experience. And if there’s a year that taught us all important business lessons, that’s definitely 2020. Faced with unexpected pandemic, lockdowns, furloughs, pivots etc, entrepreneurs learned more about running a business than if they were in college for 10 years.

Jump directly to:

 1. Nothing ever remains the same

 2. Swear by the power of teamwork

 3. Clients’ buying patterns can change

 4. Technology is your best friend

 5. Keep inventory closer to consumers

 6. Make your offers flexible and customisable

 7. Have liquid cash at all times

 8. Diversify your supplier base

 9. Reduce cash burn

 10. Offer superior quality and no less

 11. Omnichannel marketing is undervalued

 12. No bad time for the right market

 13. Things are never as good or as bad

 14. Do it now or never

 15. The safety of your employees is important

 16. Explore new streams of income

 17. Rent rather than buy equipment

 18. Advertising is never redundant

 19. Trust is the most important currency

 20. Chaos is a ladder

 21. Constantly invest in yourself

 22. Your network is your net worth

 23. Exceptional customer experience

 24. Conclusion

23 business lessons to put into practice in 2021

95% of entrepreneurs would jump to say that one of the biggest business lessons they’ve been taught in 2020 was to adapt and be flexible. While this is certainly true it fails to provide much insight. What to adapt? How to adapt? When to adapt? Why to adapt?

The following business lessons were indeed born out of the hurricane 2020 but their significance is timeless.

Nothing ever remains the same

One of the most valuable business lessons I learned in 2020 was the fact that nothing will remain the same whether that be because of the pandemic or just the fact nothing stays the same.

The business that I’m in, is mostly face to face, which meant I had to adapt/innovate my form of communication. My company switched to telesales and Zoom calls. This actually turned out to be a huge blessing because once we halted face to face and started our new process, we actually were able to speak to more people because we no longer had to make the commute to see our clients. Because of the transition we now close 3x times more deals a day since telesales is volume-driven and are able to speak to more people than we were when we were seeing them.

Brittani Guerre, Financial Advisor and Life Insurance Broker at Guerre Insurance

Swear by the power of teamwork

Until this year, I underestimated the power of teamwork and how much it contributes to achieving goals. However, this year brought with itself a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, and many businesses struggled to survive. Generally, I think that this year was a big test for us, but we proved that we could overcome every obstacle if we join forces and work in unison. 

Being open to communication, finding new solutions, and enforcing trust among team members will remain the biggest lesson I’ve learned this year and something I’ll continue to work on in the future. Having a strong network of people going towards the same goal is one sure way to success, especially when faced with uncertainty like we were this year, and it’s something every business owner should work on.

Marvin Magusara, Founder of WhatStorage? 

So many business lessons this wonderful, terrible, trying year has given business owners. Of them all, the most important business lesson I learned is not to take my employees for granted.

How quickly so many of us were left trying to hold up an entire business while everyone was transitioning into their home office, or busy dealing with the chaos that surrounded them. My business doesn’t work without them, and stress was overwhelming when I didn’t have my team to crank the wheel.

James Boatwright, CEO of Code Galaxy

Clients’ buying patterns can change in a heartbeat

This year taught me a lot of business lessons including no matter the industry you operate within, your clients buying patterns can change in a heartbeat. To combat this, you have to design your business to be as flexible as possible, so that when your customer needs/habits change, your business can change with them.

I’ve spent time writing procedures based on variables that could come into play in the coming year and processes to adjust to each one respectively, so that if/when we are forced to adapt to a new, new norm, my business is ready to change quickly, according to the new requirements of the market we target.

Mollie Newton, Editor and Founder of PetMeTwice

Technology is your best friend

The pandemic changed businesses’ dynamics and as a small business owner, I had to come up with ways to sustain our company. With the right tools and devices, I implemented working from home to allow social distancing while continuing business. We adapted to the situation by meeting on Zoom, coordinating on Asana, and communicating on Slack. The effects of the pandemic were unexpected this year, businesses who are not digitally prepared will suffer if something like this comes up again. 

These platforms and technologies were long available, but this situation made me see their real importance and how they’re a primary contributor to business now.

Valentina Lopez, Co-Founder of Happiness Without

Keep stockpiles of inventory closer to consumers

We’ve learned the practice of just-in-time inventory is dead. With the current turbulence in the supply system, companies mustinvest in building stockpiles of inventory much closer to retail consumers. We were caught flat-footed with delays in China, the ports, and even our 3PL partners. Our COVID relief loan (EIDL) went entirely to a large inventory build in the US.

Josh Gilliam, Founding Owner of COLETTI

Make your offers flexible and customisable

Our base wedding photography package offers clients eight hours of coverage for their event, which is typically as much as a couple needs on their wedding day. The COVID-related social distancing regulations, however, have made traditional weddings impossible. 

Couples are opting instead for elopements, micro weddings, minimonies and Zoom weddings. These smaller celebrations do not require nearly so much photography coverage. To deal with this shift in demand, we have had to create new, smaller packages with just a couple of hours of photography. 

The response of the market has been so overwhelmingly positive that we realized that brides and grooms really love flexible packages. As a result, we are going to continue offering more customizable services even after wedding celebrations return to something approaching “normal.

Anji Martin, Owner of Potok’s World Photography

Have liquid cash at all times

The most valuable business lesson I’ve learned in 2020 is the importance of having liquid cash. The most fluid asset a company can own. As we’ve prepared to weather the storm, cash has been invaluable to our business. This is our safety net. 

Fortunately, prior to the pandemic, we have always been big believers in the importance of having a strong cash position to prepare for the unexpected. The unexpected certainly came in 2020! Over the course of the year, despite having grown tremendously, we have continued to build our cash reserves in anticipation of the uncertain economic climate ahead.

Adam Crookes, Founder of Freshly Squeezed 

Before the pandemic, most businesses relied exclusively on the day-to-day earnings to pay staffers. A lot of businesses especially in the service sector had to retrench some of their most experienced workers because the source of income dried up. The brain drain could have been avoided if the business has some cash reserves that they could keep paying the staffers from.

Even if a business had about a 3-month cash reserve, it could have kept its important staff by offering about 50% salary. This is better than not having anything to offer one’s important employees when future unforeseen circumstances come.

John Linden, Interior Designer at Mirror Coop

Diversify your supplier base

I think diversification of supplier base has been one if the biggest business lessons learned from the pandemic. This isn’t anything new however the mindset around it started changing. It isn’t just about a second supplier anymore but about more about where the suppliers are located.

Some companies had already started doing this because of trade wars that were happening globally. This helped them achieve great flexibility in their supply chain while maintaining consistency. Not having to stop or delay production resulted in tremendous cost savings. They had an easier time when Covid-19 hit China first in January and then the rest of the world later on. I know this firsthand because as a company specialized in custom tins in Turkey, we helped them. They will also bounce back much faster when things get back to normal.

Gokhan Aktas, Manager at Teksan Tin House

Reduce cash burn

Our biggest challenge in 2020 was raising our pre-seed round during the pandemic. We started fundraising in January and we were in later stage discussions with interested investors when the COVID-19 became a pandemic. Some investors withdrew while others paused until an unknown date. 

Luckily for us, we were running on a lean model, therefore, we took drastic measures to further reduce cash burn. We adopted the pay-per-task approach where each one of us was paid per specific task completed rather than hours worked. Further, we provided a dozen remote-work internships and built partnerships with other companies on an exchange of services basis. 

Seven months later, we’ve secured pre-seed investment and have maintained our growth rate thanks to the new models of operating. We will adopt this new style going forward and improve on it.

Joseph Rutakangwa, Founder & CEO of Rwazi 

Given the circumstances, just about every business has been tightening the belt this year. If there’s one business lesson we’ve learned, however, is that it’s incredibly easy for costs to rack up without you even realizing it. Countless tool and service subscriptions that we don’t use, poorly optimized systems and workflows and generally a whole lot of inefficiency can really allow costs to spiral if not kept in check.

We are currently doing a full review of these costs and ensuring that our business is airtight. For example, we’ll be reviewing all of our monthly memberships and subscriptions to see if we’re actually using and getting value out of each of them. While a $14 Zoom subscription might not seem like a lot, when we’re now using Google Meet for free instead, why are we still paying? These things quickly rack up and should be the first thing to go!

Mark Webster, Co-Founder of Authority Hacker

Offer superior quality and no less

The quality of the work we deliver is more important than ever before. Businesses are looking for any opportunity to cut their agency spend so proving your worth has never been more important.

Understanding this for current clients meant that if we wanted to get more business, we needed to incentivise like never before. Giving away services for free up front to win new clients was also important at a time when most companies aren’t looking to commit to any new partnerships.

We provide strategies and audits of current marketing efforts for free and then offer our paid services to identify growth opportunities. This has led to tremendous new business opportunities for us which we will continue using into 2021

Brad Fagan, Senior Marketing Insights Expert and Founder of Wunderbar 

Omnichannel marketing deserves more respect

When it comes to online advertising, most businesses usually focus on the big players Google (content and PPC), Facebook and subsidiaries, and also email.

While those channels undoubtedly work, small businesses can also generate sales by trying out some of the less used marketing channels such as Microsoft Ads, Pinterest, Twitter, Yelp, Yahoo Ads or even Quora.

They may not have the same audience scale as Google or Facebook, but they are sizeable in their own right. Squeezing a few more sales from these channels can sometimes make the difference between a money-making or money-losing business

Paul Bonea, Founder of Perfect Data

No bad time for the right market

2020 has taught me that you can fight or flight. When the pandemic initially broke out, many business owners used it as an excuse to not work – saying that it wasn’t a good time for the community to business. 

I was 7 months pregnant with no time for excuses. I put my head down and worked the hardest I ever had in my entire career and what I found was that business is truly what you make of it. If you say that no one wants to do business – then you’re right. If you say that now’s a good time for people to work with me – then you’re right. This has taught me that you just have to find the right market that is ready to work with you during these challenging times. 

As a financial advisor, I have found that more people than ever are really thinking about themselves and their families. They are pressing pause and realizing that they need a plan. I think that’s the silver lining of 2020, really, it has provided many people with the opportunity to slow down and connect with what really matters.

Danielle Barak, Owner of Barak Financial

Things are never as good or as bad as they seem

In the second half of March revenue for all online businesses dropped a lot. People were freaking out and there were many employees that got laid off. We stayed firm and even did a sale for our customers which had the proceeds benefiting the CDC foundation to provide PPE equipment to front line responders to the virus. 

In the next 30 days, online sales doubled for all eCommerce businesses and we were glad we kept our team. Had we been too quick to react and laid off our staff we would not have been able to handle the increase in sales that came next. I know a lot of companies are still struggling but I do think the business lesson of not reacting too quickly still holds.

Alex Keyan, CEO and Founder of goPure Beauty

Do it now or never

The biggest business lesson learned in 2020 is to stop procrastinating and just start. Products or businesses do not have to launch with perfection and it is impossible to predict the future of the market. Perfection is the enemy of good when starting a business. You end up losing a ton of valuable time and by the time you launch, it may be too late to the game. 

It’s important to just start, and iterate along the way. With this year being so unprecedented, I have learned that time is limited and if you want to get in the game you have to jump head in, there is always room for improvement but you will never get the time back if you don’t start now.

Yasser Elshair, Founder & CEO of OliveOil.com

The safety of your employees is important

As an owner of a cleaning services company, my biggest business learning this 2020 is to invest in the safety of my employees. With this pandemic, I have seen how we don’t have a budget or contingency plans with regards to the welfare of our staff. 

Since this has been a high time for our business because people tend to have their house cleaned and sanitized, our company is not prepared with all the necessary precautions we need to continue with the operations. We have to provide PPEs, masks, pay for rapid tests to name a few and honestly, we haven’t allotted any budget for those needs that caused us to panic and revise our plans for this year. 

But we have greatly learned from this situation so I can say that we are now ready to face another year with our heads and hopes up high.

Jacob Martinez, Founder at SwiftClean

Explore new streams of income

As a fashion brand deriving much of its revenue from wholesale, Tuli was hit hard by the closures of boutique stores (both temporary and permanent) this year. While a setback, it was also an opportunity to explore new streams of income. We launched Tuli Studio to offer private label manufacturing to companies who want to switch to ethical, fair trade production, furthering our mission to use fashion for good and proving to be a robust source of income.

Now that our traditional sales channels are rebounding, we have an additional, thriving revenue stream, putting Tuli in a stronger position than ever. In the future, we won’t grow complacent doing only what’s worked in the past: We had this entire, additional source of business available the whole time, and it was a mistake to wait so long to pursue it. Our team now reflects quarterly on new ways to diversity revenue.

Megan Kitt, Founder of Tuli

Rent rather than buy equipment

The most valuable business lesson I have learnt in 2020 is to keep expenses low and rent rather than buy equipment. For a small business, having loans and assets that cost money whether they are working or not is not the best idea going forward. The world is not as stable as it used to be and I get the feeling that we are going to go through tough times more often as the new generations start to fight the establishment. 

It would be a good idea to keep things as slim as possible and make sure you have a year’s expenses put away for times like these to make sure your company gets through lean times. Small businesses can get through if they are run as cost-effectively as possible.

Shaun Taylor, Manager of Moriti Private Safaris

Advertising is never redundant

One of the crucial business lessons in 2020 is advertising. As the global economy has seen a momentary collapse, many companies have started to take tough action to cut their spending. Advertising budgets are cut and companies are advertising less.

This is an opportunity for those who see through difficult times and are ready to act right now. Maintaining or slightly increasing the advertising budget at such times may well increase market share. You can also get advertising space at a lower cost right now and visibility is more valuable when there is less competition in the space. Especially bigger companies are utilizing this, but we think smaller companies should try to take advantage of it also.

This is what we are implementing now as well as we operate in the online business. We are not slowing down, but instead adding markets, increasing our advertising and operations regardless. 

Toni Halonen, CEO of Bojoko

Trust is the most important currency in business

This pandemic has reminded me that trust is the most important currency in business. Before all this happened, it was difficult to comprehend the ROI and the feasibility of remote working mostly because of the entrenched belief that employees are only productive when they physically report to the office. 

Yet, this pandemic has proven that remote employees actually work longer hours and allowing them to be in control of their schedules has a positive impact on their productivity, creativity, job satisfaction, and overall wellbeing. Going forward, we plan to champion true autonomy and to empower employees to be in control of their workflow—they don’t have to make a physical appearance to prove that they are being productive, they just have to show the results from wherever in the world they might choose to work.

Vincent Scaramuzzo, President of Ed-Exec,

Chaos is a ladder

What you need to keep in mind, if 2020 has taught us anything at all, it’s that it is possible to survive and thrive even when the situation seems dire. There is opportunity in chaos, so you have to be prepared and keep your eyes peeled to spot it

For us, it was selling masks and running discounts and sales all summer long, which ended up pushing us over projected sales for the quarter, when a lot of businesses suffered losses. 

Keep that energy for 2021, because it’s not going to be smooth sailing just yet, and we still have potential disruptions ahead, both because of the pandemic and because of the recession. Be ready to act according to what the situation dictates. 

Hosea Chang, CEO of Hayden Los Angeles

Constantly invest in yourself

One of the most valuable lessons I learned this year was to invest in myself and my business. During the height of the pandemic, I took courses, earned a content marketing certification, and targeted my networking efforts. The result? Massive opportunities! From being featured in articles and local media to launching a new brand, I feel like I have made the most of my time. 

In the future, I will continue to implement what I’ve learned and continue to connect with businesses with whom I want to work.

Anne McAuley Lopez, Content Creator and Founder of Agency Content Writer

Your network is your net worth

I spent the last 7 years of my corporate life in the shadows working on projects and staying out of sight, regularly eschewing employee spotlight pieces in the corporate newsletter. When I was let go, I was convinced I was starting over from scratch. 

What I was pleasantly surprised to see was that when I announced I was going out on my own as an independent strategy consultant, people came out of the woodwork to wish me well, and I even got a few offers for work! I think we spend too much time doubting ourselves and our positive impact on others. When people say your network is your net worth, you better believe it! 

You matter to others and your contributions will be remembered. I will continue to nurture my relationships with past colleagues in the hope that I can earn more business and hopefully pay it forward or return the favor someday.

Dana Curtis, Owner of Biztools Strategy Consulting

Exceptional customer experience opens sealed doors

Our company business model is based on bringing in a larger % of organic one time sales. A lot of our marketing efforts were put towards Google SEO so we could generate tight phone call traffic. But because we are the first female run business in our industry we wanted to provide an above and beyond experience so to set ourselves apart from our competitors we focused on providing an exceptional customer experience. I know that goes without saying but in our industry it is not always the case.

We created so many relationships by simply showing up on time and following through on our promises that when the organic sales started to decrease due to government closures the clients that we had formed strong relationships with continued to call and support us. Truthfully they are what carried us through the last 6 months and continue to contribute to our success through client loyalty and referrals.

It has caused us to shift our marketing and business development efforts and we now focus a lot more on retaining business and maintaining strong relationships with our current clients rather than focusing so heavily on bringing in new business.

Lindsay Shaw, Co-Owner of The Bin Rental Chicks


Hristina Nikolovska, Founder of TeamStage, had the perfect words to end this article and sum up the business lessons we learned this year:

With the pandemic’s sudden start, the way of working has changed, and suddenly all that necessary office meetings could be moved to online meetings. The collaboration that seemed impossible to have unless meeting face-to-face suddenly could happen via video calls and remote collaboration tools. Consumer-wise, it’s also been a lesson in how a sudden demand or drop in demand can reshape entire tech niches. 

The business lessons learned from this situation is that it’s essential to operate on light-weight, easy-to-adapt principles, tools and not base the business on the premise that any given factor will stay the same forever. The demand will change because people’s needs will change. Business and work will change because there will always be external circumstances that will shape reality in ways we can’t even fathom. It’s essential to be ready to adapt and forego the old ways without much drama.

More must-read stories from Enterprise League:

  • Find out what is nearshoring and whether is good for your business.

Related Articles