The Best Business Advice I Ever Got?

When approaching a new business venture don't bite off more than you can chew. Take things one small bite at a time.

I’ve been blessed with a diverse career in journalism, publishing, fundraising, marketing and branding and even owned a small business for a period of time.

In the process there have been some magnificent opportunities to be around some great men who were willing to impart wisdom and share their secrets to success. Oftentimes I think a certain fear wells up in us to approach an older, more seasoned veteran of the trade, but my experience has been when I am well prepared, passionate and curious for helpful knowledge some of the greatest businessmen in my area were more than willing to give me a block on their busy schedule … and it has been invaluable to me, whether I took their advice or not because lessons have been learned.

It all got me to thinking about the realm of advice I’d been given, and so I wanted to share a few tidbits of that wisdom and then offer a few personal observations. Here are the Dirty Dozen I can recall:

1. YOU’LL NEVER GET ANYWHERE WITHOUT THE SIGNIFICANT HELP OF SOMEONE ELSE. When I was going into business for myself I sought out some self-made men. Two of them (who happened to be great friends) but were never partners in business told me this identical thing. And I believe it to be true. I can think of no significant thing I’ve ever done when someone didn’t lend me a hand. And I don’t mean a staff or a personal aide. I’m talking about someone more successful that you or me who would help make a connection, or send a deal your way or buy something from you when they really didn’t need it just because. They did it for me, and I certainly hope to do it for others one day.

2. THE ONLY RULE IS THAT THERE ARE NO RULES. Well, I struggle with this one. I have a natural bent toward rule breaking and almost despise rules and doctrine. It was a great newspaper publisher who shared this with me, and in journalism, for the most part, you can get by with it. There’s a fine balance between being really good to employes and allowing them to take advantage of you. In my brief stint as an independent business owner, there were no established guidelines for vacation or time in and time out. Just do your job. Maybe that’s why it went down the tubes. On the other hand, the church I attend most regularly operates from a business model guided by a “constitution and bylaws” which I find disturbing in that particular venue. Seems to me the guidelines are already there in the best-selling book in the history of the world, but I digress.

3. DON’T BURN BRIDGES. It’s a good rule. Things always come back around. I’ve been there, done that. Sometimes, it sure feels good though. Ninety-five percent of the time, burning a bridge is wrong.

4. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. I once worked for a man who had previously served as an agricultural liaison to President Clinton. It was a cush political job, but just because he was the President’s buddy, he carried a pretty big stick. He told me the first few times he walked into an Ag Cabinet meeting, he just sat in the back of the room, wearing a special lanyard and never said a word. They had no idea who he was or what he was doing there, but they were scared to death of him.

5. YOU CAN’T SPEND WHAT YOU DON’T HAVE. I think it’s baloney. Anyone with a vision and drive and passion can find the money for whatever they want to undertake.

6. A PART OF SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN ALL OF NOTHING. I currently work for a local company that employs only around 30 people. Three entrepreneurs founded the company and have developed strategic partnerships all over the world. With those partnerships they prove that pennies multiplied by volumes in the millions adds up to real money. Had I understood this lesson years ago, I might be wealthy myself. Oh, the humanity.

7. YOU MUST HAVE A VISION. Without a vision, the people perish, and so it is in business. And just as a vision carries you forward, you continue to see ahead. I cannot believe how fast the world is changing every single day.

8. KEEP A CLOSE INNER CIRCLE. Right on. Jesus had the 12, but He also had the three. There is no better scenario than having two or three companions with whom you can share your heart, and who will not judge you, no matter your mistakes. The freedom to be transparent is real freedom.

9. TEST & MEASURE. Almost nobody gets this. I’m amazed at how most business people spend advertising dollars having no idea of the amount of revenue that it directly generates. I’ve been blogging for about two weeks now. One of the great things about WordPress is that the ability to test and measure is at my fingertips. If you regularly analyze your hits, it’s a piece of cake. I can tell you exactly what topics will draw what number of readers and the day AND time of day when they are most likely to read my material. Generally, if my work’s not published by 8 a.m. you can forget it. My posts usually go out around 6 a.m. And this post is a test in itself. It will hit around 1 a.m. CST, so it will be interesting to see what happens this go around.

10. CONNECT. And I don’t mean as in FaceBook or Linked In. Connect with real people you can touch and with whom you can shake hands and look at the pictures on their office wall. My rule of thumb is if you don’t make a connection within the first minute of a one-on-one meeting it’s not gonna happen. This is more art than science, more innate than learned. I once coached a small restaurant owner who had previously worked in sales. She had a great story about how difficult it was to get past a gatekeeper to a potentially huge client. A little behind-the-scenes research showed her the guy liked to play cards. Each week for three weeks she sent him an Ace in a simple envelope. First the Ace of Hearts; next the Ace of Clubs; and then the Ace of Diamonds. The fourth week she cold-called the guy and the secretary gatekeeper said no way. She simply replied, “Tell him the Ace of Spades is here,” and she walked in and closed a huge deal. Beautiful.

11. ANSWER THE PHONE NO LATER THAN THE SECOND RING. Yep.

12. FALL ON THE SWORD. I’ve had countless times when I was accosted by an angry client or co-worker and just let them rant and rave as long as they want while I stay quiet. And my typical response will be, “You know, you’re right and I’m sorry.” It’s amazing how you can disarm someone with an apology whether it’s deserved or not. But who wants the hassle of a fight. Not me.

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