Hey, no one said it was easy. Not everyone is born to be a leader or manage a company. You learn as you go along.
You can read blogs and books, or learn directly from mentors and leaders, but sometimes you just have to learn it the hard way.
Here are 11 business management lessons I learned the hard way.
1. Sometimes Your Best Isn’t Enough
I know you’re trying hard, but you’re not the only one. Everyone else is trying hard too, and some of them are trying harder than you. You need to be better than your competition and sometimes that means bringing your game to a new level.
You can’t just give it your best and say you tried. You have to be willing to go further than your best. Your best is a limitation you put on yourself. Remove that and allow yourself to do better.
Have too many things to do? Cancel that dinner reservation.
Not making any sales? Go pound through those outstanding emails and sell your product yourself.
These may sound extreme but sometimes that’s what it takes to be successful.
2. Find The Fundamental Problem In Your Industry And Focus On That
It’s easy to get distracted. You may start with solving one problem and then as you explore your industry you find other problems that you could solve.
You start thinking about those and if you think some of them are easier to solve you might be tempted to switch tracks and work on those instead. And the cycle continues.
Ultimately, you’ll never get anywhere. You’ll keep jumping from one problem to the other, never really finishing anything, never really solving anything. At the end of the day your focus will be split in so many ways you’ll start to think you don’t have time for anything and you might even get disillusioned and burn out.
Don’t get distracted, don’t water down your mission, focus. Then focus some more. Take a single problem and work only on that. Only when you have worked on it enough and tried harder than everyone else (remember lesson 1?) can you call it a success or failure and change tracks if needed.
3. Sometimes You Need To Change Your Character To Achieve Your Goals
The reason people get distracted so often is not because they can’t find a problem to solve. It’s probably just because they don’t have the discipline, courage or confidence to stick with one thing and work on it.
These are character attributes and you need to change them because they might be out of sync with your goals.
You may have the knowledge to solve a problem but without courage you’ll never get started. You may already be solving a problem but without discipline you’ll never focus. You may have a great idea but without resourcefulness you won’t be able to find a team.
Don’t throw away your goals if they don’t suit you. Instead, figure out what character attributes are missing and work on developing those to suit your goals.
4. Keep Your Pitch “Simple, Clear, And Memorable”
I read this bit by Richard Branson. It resonated with me.
Pitching is all about storytelling. You only read stories that interest you, so make sure that when you pitch there is something in there that interests your audience.
Keep it simple and clear. Don’t use complicated numbers and spreadsheets that people will glaze over. You want them to remember everything you said so be crisp and concise. The moment you start rambling you’ll lose them.
Oh, one more thing, don’t hold back on your passion. Walk around, wave your arms, shout if you have to, but show your passion and let it infect your audience.
5. Learn About People’s Character When You Hire Them
I once read that American Express CEO Ken Chenault asked interviewees, “What are some of the most difficult issues you’ve confronted?”
I love that question.
Hiring isn’t just about looking at previous jobs or grades. Someone might look good on paper but that doesn’t mean he or she is right for your company.
There are a lot of ups and down in business, especially if you have a startup or fairly new venture. It’s no use hiring a top student if he can’t handle pressure and uncertainty.
Hire for someone’s character.
Hire a person because she can handle the pressure, because she is willing to admit mistakes and learn, because she is responsible and because she will give it more than her best.
6. You Need a Strong Team
I’m a big fan of Tarantino. Know what’s always prominent in his movies? A strong team.
Samuel L. had Travolta, there were the Inglorious Basterds, and, of course, don’t forget Reservoir Dogs (okay, maybe not the best example).
Notice that in these movies every team member plays a certain role. They each have a different skill and they come together as a team to achieve a common goal. They work well together and support each other.
That’s how you need to build your team. Figure out what skills you need to achieve your goal and hire people with those skills. When hiring, ask yourself if the candidate fits in well with the team.
Steve Jobs once said, “You need to have a collaborative hiring process.”
7. Watch The Money
Ah, the money. That’s what you’re here for isn’t it? And yet, sometimes we lose track of our expenses until one day we realize we have burnt it all. If there’s one thing you learn from this post it should be this - know your cashflow!
Make sure you know exactly what your costs are, how much investment you have and where your revenues are coming from. This way you’ll have a good idea about how long it is before you run out of money and you won’t be caught off-guard.
8. Be Transparent
To get the best out of your team, you need to be transparent. Ensure that there are no information silos in your organization and that everyone has access to all the information they need. Communication and collaboration are the foundations of a productive team, and transparency helps you build on that foundation.
Transparency engages your team and helps them be more productive.
Make sure everyone is aware of their roles and the goals of the company as a whole. Allow important documents to be shared across different levels and divisions and give people a chance to voice their opinions.
You’re not doing this alone. You have your whole team with you, so be open with them.
9. You Need to Light a Fire Under Your Own @$$
No one is going to do it for you. Reading success stories, getting advice from mentors, and learning from someone else’s experience (mine, in this case) will help you and give you some inspiration.
At the end of the day, you can read as many books as you want and talk to as many people as you want but you need to put in the hard work yourself.
10. Do What You Do To Change The Game
The goal is not to become a billionaire, or get famous. I know it’s nice to think about a massive exit and buying a mansion in Maui, but don’t let that be the reason why you start a business. That will only take you down a path of disappointment.
If you are going to do something, do it right and do it for the right reasons. You are starting a business to solve a particular problem. When you see something that’s not working in the world, fix it.
11. You Need a Good Mentor
It’s always great to have a guiding hand. We aren’t born with the knowledge needed to successfully run a business. Having someone around who can show us the way will improve our chances of success. Even the most successful people get stuck sometimes, and in these moments, advice makes all the difference.
Mentors provide guidance that is based on real world experience - that stuff is invaluable.
Pick someone you admire. Build a relationship with your mentor and learn as much as you can from him or her.
So those are the lessons I learned! I have made a few mistakes along the way, but as long as I don’t repeat them and keep learning, I’ll be fine.
What lessons have you learned the hard way?