Over the years I have received several pieces of business and general life advice from mentors, employees, colleagues, teachers, and family members. Sometimes the advice was solicited, but most of it was not. While the range of advice has been varied and downright bizarre at times, it usually came from well-intentioned individuals and most of it was helpful and insightful. I am often asked to identify the best business advice I’ve ever received. After much thought, here is my Top 10:
10. Be willing to take calculated risks.
Starting and running a business is full of potential pitfalls and a healthy dose of insanity and ongoing risk. While the old adage of ‘no risk = no reward’ is true, why take on unnecessary risk when you don’t have to? Evaluate all sides of any project and/or venture before you dive in. In layman’s terms—do your homework.
9. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
No one ever achieved anything great by staying in his or her comfort zone. Old-school motivational speaker Dale Carnegie said, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” Doesn’t sound too old-school now, does it?
8. It needs to be the right idea at the right time.
The time-honored saying ‘Timing is everything’ has never been truer than now. Listen cautiously to those who say, “We tried that once and it didn’t work.” Good ideas have a way of resurfacing at the appropriate time. Apple hasn’t always been the can’t-miss king of technology. In 1991 they released Apple Newton—one of the first PDA’s—but people weren’t ready (“Remembering the Newton,” Wired Magazine) and it failed miserably. Looking back, the concept was ahead of its time, but unfortunately the technology wasn’t. On the flip side, by the time the Apple iPad came around in 2010, tablets were considered a wasteland of hype and repeated failure and many predicted its demise. To the surprise of many, the iPad created a whole new industry built on its cutting edge technology, ease of use, and cross-consumer and business appeal. You know the rest of the story.
7. If you want to get good at something, you have to practice and work hard.
If you were to ask my kids the two slogans they hear their father repeat ad nauseam they would tell you, “If you want to get good at something, you have to practice.” They would also tell you that our family motto is “No Wimps, No Whiners,” meaning everything that is worthwhile takes hard work and persistence. Einstein is famous for his quote, which defines stupidity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Long-time advice columnist Ann Landers was once quoted as saying, “Opportunity usually comes disguised as hard work so most people don’t recognize it.” This couldn’t be nearer to the truth.
6. Hold yourself and those who work for you accountable.
Own the projects that are assigned to you and be willing to take both the praise when they succeed and the heat if they fail. Report back at appropriate intervals with progress reports. A wise religious leader once said, “Where performance is measured, performance improves.”
5. Be willing to take a step backward for something better in the future.
Stubbornness can become a gigantic progress inhibitor, and sometimes our egos get in the way of making a needed course correction. The definition of sacrifice is giving up something now for something that is better in the future. Author, Napoleon Hill said, “Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice and is never the result of selfishness.”
4. Solicit opinions of others.
Stop taking credit for everything. Your ideas are not always going to be the best ideas. I’ve always loved the quote, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” You don’t always have to always accept it, but all points of view should be considered when forming opinions and action plans. Be willing to give credit to someone else; especially those lower on the totem pole than you.
3. Listen to your existing customers and potential customers.
At eFileCabinet we have gotten in the habit of sending out periodic surveys to our customers asking what they like and what they don’t like about our products and services. It would be easy to get defensive with some responses, however, the suggestions for improvement are invaluable. Only ask the questions if you are willing to listen and change. Otherwise you are wasting everyone’s time.
2. Grow where you are planted.
Too frequently people jump from job to job because the grass always appears greener somewhere else. In my experience, a lush lawn always requires a lot of water, regular mowing, and a significant amount of fertilizer. In other words, a lot of work. My mother used to always say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but when you get there, you’ll realize it is artificial turf.
1. Follow your instincts.
Instincts are forged through experience. After you’ve completed all the research and the data is gathered and reviewed, you have to make decisions. Often there is no clear-cut direction, and you will have to make a judgment call based on inconclusive data and your gut feel. That little voice in the back of your head is right more often than not. Listen to it. Once a decision is made, move quickly, as opportunities typically have a very short shelf life.
Written by Matt Peterson, CEO of eFileCabinet. Matt writes on the successes and struggles of growing a company. Follow Matt on Twitter @MattPeterson.