I started my business career 30 years ago. I would have never thought back then, when I kicked everything off, that I would work for a large corporation, start three companies and an angel investment fund, become a small business author, motivational speaker and consultant, be fired, kicked out by my partners, and go out of business more than once. It has been a crazy ride, but with age, and all those ups and downs, comes experience—and with experience comes a little bit of wisdom. Here are 10 lessons I wish I had learned before I was 40.
1. You can’t control everything. No matter how hard you work or who you know, there are so many things out of your control. The sooner you realize that, the less frustrated you'll be. Work hard at the things you can control and learn to react decisively to the things that are out of your control.
2. Money is not the only measure of success. Money is important since it's the most visible way society keeps score. However, earning enough money doing something you love to support your family is the true measure of success.
3. "Love everyone, trust few and paddle your own canoe." Assume that people have the best intentions, but only trust those who have earned it. Your business is what you and your team make of it. Don’t depend on others for your own success.
4. It’s not what you do; it’s who you are doing it with. I have been unhappy in many successful businesses since it’s the people you are working with that really count. Business is ultimately about your partners, employees, customers and vendors.
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5. Overnight success can take seven to 10 years. Most financially successful business owners have been working at it for almost a decade. Patience is truly a valued virtue for every small-business owner. Accept that success takes a very long time.
6. We can’t always learn something from failure. Contrary to popular wisdom, sometimes when we fail, there is nothing to learn. When you fail, learn what you can and quickly let go of that failure so you can move on to the next chance to succeed.
7. There will always be winners and losers. It’s a lot more fun to be a winner, but learning how to be a “good loser” is important too. Don’t be happy about losing, but accepting defeat will allow you to move forward.
8. Sales are vanity; cash is sanity. Forget about how big your revenue number is or how many people you employ. Focus on how to read a cash flow statement and how much cash you actually get to keep.
9. Focus. Focus. Focus. Those small-business owners who want to be everything to every customer will ultimately fail. Customer loyalty comes from doing one thing extremely well for them.
10. There are other things in life besides business. Most entrepreneurs spend too much time at work or thinking about it. This obsession creates a very narrow and sometimes lonely world. Getting and giving support to family and friends will make your life journey much more enriching.
A version of this article was originally published on June 8, 2013.
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