(primarily, from my dad. but there are some other ideas in here that he didn’t come up with.)
I’ve been lucky this way- I was brought up to understand how healthy small businesses function and to respect them. (even though I personally choose to not-really-run-a-business. )
I made a list of many of the major points that seem to matter, both to individuals within a company and the company as a whole. I’ve never worked/ had much insight into what larger public companies are like- so most of this applies to smaller, entrepreneurial, privately held entities.
1. failure is fine. An entrepreneur needs to try many different things (sometimes at once) and recognize that more than half will fail. But, the one(s) that succeed cover those failures and then some.
2. fiscal responsibility is your responsibility. When we put money into the stock market, we’re accepting that it’s a risk. Everyone knows markets go up and down, though over the long term- decades we’re talking- they’ve gone up. But it’s still a risk. If you are putting your money into the markets, you, personally, are assuming that risk. Don’t do it unless your comfortable with it. (by the way, my savings are invested as conservatively as possible.) It’s much safer to risk money on things you can control.
3. understand your business finances. If you are running a truly tiny 1-5 person business, do the bookkeeping yourself, at least for a while. Basic accounting principles for a small business are highly accessible. And hire an accountant for taxes.
4. listen more than you speak. skilled people know their own skills and aren’t afraid to ask questions or admit what they don’t know. ask questions.
5. always be teaching someone how to do your job. and you’ll always have a job. the entrepreneur who doesn’t delegate doesn’t succeed.
6. always hold your cards close to your vest. understand what is important to keep as a trade secret, and what is important to say to pique the interest of others.
7. assume that NDAs and contracts are basically unenforceable. patents, copyright, and trademarks are very difficult and expensive to enforce. Unless you want to spend your life embroiled in litigation, take all these things with a grain of salt. they aren’t where the value is. trademarks are less important than URLs these days.
8. don’t cling to IP; it’s much less important than doing something. without the business, it generally has no value. execution has value.
9. understand where the value in your business is. if it can’t be sold and nobody will buy it, there’s no value. don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’ve created value because you’ve designed a brand or picked out some colors. there is no business value if someone won’t pay for it, and there is no business value if you can’t be removed from the equation…. this means, of course, that a small business run in the artisanal style I run mine has NO VALUE as a business. I’m fine with that, obviously.
10. press coverage tends to sell less product than you’d expect. good product sells product.
11. “Good enough” aka “The perfect is the enemy of good.” i.e.: if you are focused on perfection, you’ll never complete anything. This is really a problem in technology companies, where engineers, trained to perfect things, will perfect and add to a product until you are over budget.
12. charisma hides many personality flaws. be careful hiring charismatic people.
13. real world training and experience is infinitely more important than schooling. the first few months of your first real job will be spent training the schooling out of you.
14. it should be obvious, but treat your customers well. Don’t surprise them with overcharges or unexpected invoices. But keep track of if a customer is worth it to you. It’s not profitable to make everyone happy. Choose to work with the customers that are profitable, and kindly close accounts with those who aren’t.
15. employees need to add value to the company. The company can’t survive with large numbers of people who aren’t helping in the creation of revenues that are significantly more than their salaries. It might seem opaque to many who have only been in the employee seat, but having an employee generally costs twice as much as their salary, when health care, taxes, and training are figured in. This means that employees really need to be able to generate/ assist in generating multiples of their salary.
I could probably expand all these points to several pages apiece, but since this post has been drumming around my head for over a year now, I’m just publishing it as is. Maybe it will get expanded later.