Words to Work By: 4 Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Follow

People love to give advice.  Sometimes it can be unwanted and quickly forgotten.  But if you’re lucky, occasionally you’ll be struck with some words that stay with you for a lifetime.  Those pearls of wisdom seem to be the ones that ring in my ears at the most challenging periods of my life.  As The Social Vista navigates the world of growing startups, certain familiar lessons keep coming back to me and should be guiding principles for every entrepreneur.

“Always remember who’s the hoss and who’s the boss.”  

Growing up, my dad concocted a small list of rules to live by.  Some stuck with me because I just could not forget them even if I tried.  “Never stand in the warm spot of a cold pool” would fall into that category.

One in particular, though, still comes back to me in difficult situations: “Always remember who’s the hoss and who’s the boss.”  I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a country girl… but I may have seen my fair share of livestock growing up.  My dad particularly loved this reference when we were horseback riding.  The second the horse I was on decided to go right while I was trying to get him to go left, I’d hear these now famous words.    It was a reminder to take charge.  Every horse was huge and powerful compared to myself – who was a little bit of nothin’.  If he got it into his mind that he was the boss, he could take off running and there really wouldn’t be much I could do about it except hold on for dear life.

With horses, this was a matter of safety, but at its core, it was always a matter of confidence. Those words, though admittedly redneck, still hold true in business.  Employees, suppliers and even clients will walk all over you if you give them the chance.  It can be uncomfortable at times, but in every situation, it is important to hold the reins tight and clearly establish yourself as the authority.

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil!” 

My mom may not have coined this phrase, but she certainly said it often – usually in regards to job hunting when I was younger.  It was a constant reminder that you have to be persistent in life to get what you want out of it.  When it comes to business, that persistence will be perceived as passion and passion never goes unnoticed or unrewarded.

Potential clients rarely just stumble upon your business and ask if they can give you money.  It is your job to shout from the mountain tops about what you do, why you do it…  oh, and can I do it for you or possibly anyone you know?  Over the years I have learned that my coworkers, bosses, and potential clients are not mind-readers.  (Word of advice: this applies to spouses, too).  That potential client that you want so badly has no idea that you’re wooing them if you don’t tell them so.  It can be uncomfortable for some people to come right out and ask someone for the business, but I promise you it’s not as uncomfortable as passing the time wondering why your list of clients is so short.

“Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.”

Of the many endearing words of wisdom that my husband picked up in the Army, this is the only one suitable to publish.  In fact, even this phrase had to have a couple curse words edited out.

It almost seems silly to include this message on my list.  Shouldn’t it just be obvious?  It’s amazing how easily we can forget this simple phrase when we are swept up in the chaos of running a business and juggling a million things at once.  In my experience, this isn’t always about the big decisions.  That’s usually not where we are willing to cut corners in favor of expediency or ease.

It’s the small things, like responding to an email promptly when you have 5000 other things you could be doing.  It’s opting to take some extra time to properly vet a job candidate even though you know that the sooner you hire someone, the more clients you can sign.  It’s taking a moment to tell an employee that you recognize the contribution they’re making.  These small things are just as important in building that ever important reputation as the products and services you offer.

“Work works.  The harder you work the luckier you get.”

For those of you who have never heard the term “cold-walking,” consider yourselves very lucky.  My former boss taught me this time-honored Financial Advisor tradition.  At first, I absolutely hated walking into unfamiliar businesses, asking for the owner, awkwardly working my way through my pitch, and inevitably being shot down.  But every single day, my boss drilled the same credo into my brain over and over and over again: “Work works.” How could anyone argue with that?  It was genius in its simplicity.

These words are never more true than when you’re starting a new business.  You may not have deep pockets.  You may not have all the resources and manpower as your competition.  You may be lacking in experience.  It doesn’t matter.  Working hard and working smart are the most valuable tools in your disposal right now.

After months of cold-walking, I still got doors slammed in my face on a very regular basis.  But the more doors I knocked on, the more likely I was to find someone who was interested in talking to me.  The more people I found who were interested in talking to me, the less I cared about the ones who wouldn’t give me the time of day. I never actually got the point of what I’d call “enjoying” cold-walking, but I did learn that it was all just a numbers game.  The more people I talked to and the more things I tried, the more clients I gained.  It was as simple as that.

 

The most powerful lessons I’ve picked up along the way are not elaborate quotes coined by philosophers and high-minded figures in history.  For me, they are simple in phrase, and diverse in application.  Surround yourself with people who offer the same support and guidance and you really can’t go wrong.

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