5 Business Lessons My Single Mom Taught Me
Lying on a sick bed in a specialist hospital in Jeddah, my dad asked my mom to come closer. “I’ll leave this world soon,” he told her. “Go back home with the kids. Your family will take care of you.”
That’s when my mother began to cry, and the doctors told her to go out. After a couple of hours, they called to tell her that her husband had died. I was only six at the time, so I didn’t know what was going on. In fact, I remember playing with my little sister on that fateful evening, while my mom and other family members were crying.
That was 1989. A year later, my mom flew the five of us back home to Nigeria where she struggled to feed us, to school us and to raise us. It wasn’t easy for her. She ran out of money, and she fought with her relatives.
In her attempt to give us a life that we would be proud of, my mother would run multiple businesses -- a provision store, tailoring, selling snacks. Several of those failed. As I grew and watched her struggles, I learned many skills from her. Here are the top five business lessons that I learned from my mother:
1. Take risks.
When we flew back to Nigeria, we settled in our mother’s family home. Life was great when our granddad was alive. He would check on us every day, ensuring that we ate, that we were taken to and from school on time, and that our toys were not broken. Our world was so much fun with him around, but everything changed when he passed away.
Not long after his passing, my mom’s stepmother started mistreating us. She would fight with my mother over everything. She would yell at me to go out and ride my bicycle, complaining that I was causing commotion in the house. She tried to boot us out of the room that I shared with my elder brother.
My mom tried to settle things with her stepmother in a peaceful manner. But all of her efforts were in vain. My mom soon decided to leave the house, taking all of us with her. We settled into a two bedroom flat, which she bought with the money she had inherited from our dad.
At first, some of her brothers and sisters mocked her, saying that she’d come back within weeks. She never went back. Yes, the move was difficult, but my mother’s decision had emboldened us to live on our own.
Lesson #1: Bleeding in a job you hate? Quit and build your own company. In the words of Mark Zuckerberg, “The only strategy that’s guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
2. Be a great manager.
As a single mother and head of the household, my mother knew the burden of responsibility she shouldered.
Every day in the early morning hours, she would go around the house checking to be sure everything was in order. For instance, when she saw a broken pipe in the kitchen one morning, she immediately woke me up to call a plumber. Our house would have flooded if she hadn’t seen that broken pipe in time.
Lesson #2: Keep an eye on every detail of your business. The sooner you can fix a problem, the better.
3. Take charge.
When I was in elementary school, I loved playing with my friends all day, but my mom wouldn’t allow that.
She would only allow me to play after school on Thursdays and after I had finished my studies on weekends. I wasn’t happy about those rules. Sometimes, I’d sneak out without her consent, and she’d ground me for several days.
She’d double the punishment whenever I skipped school: No bicycle riding for one week; no playing Super Mario for two weeks. I would cry my eyes out, plead earnestly, and send my sisters to talk to her. My mom stuck to her guns. That, to this day, makes me think twice before breaking her rules.
Lesson #3:You’ve got to take charge as a manager to exert authority and control.
4. Teamwork accelerates growth.
If anyone among us faces a challenge, such as lacking money to pay for school fees, looking for funds to start a business, or dealing with an intensive project, my mom asks us to team up and solve it together.
“If you want to succeed in life,” she always tells us. “You must love each other and help each other.”
When my elder brother was planning his wedding, for example, she told us to join hands and make it “the most successful wedding on the planet.” She asked our eldest sister to handle the gifts, instructed me to tackle the logistics, and ordered our two sisters to take care of snacks.
The wedding went well. That’s the power of collaboration, and the good news is, you can apply it in your family, in your life, and in your business.
Lesson #4: You can’t do it alone. Get the right team to help you with the growing challenges of your business.
5. Say No!
One of my strongest weaknesses in the past was my inability to say no.
Even some of my friends used to request stuff from me because they knew that I couldn’t say no. When I started my freelance writing career years ago, clients repeatedly beat my rates down. I couldn’t say no to a bad deal. My mom? She will never say yes to a bad deal. When I was a little kid, one of my uncles wanted to adopt me. She said no.
When my mom decided to live on her own, everyone told her to stay. She said no.
When a wealthy politician wanted to marry my eldest sister, everyone said yes. Mom said no.
Saying yes often is not generosity. It is a weakness. “If you can’t say no,” my mom once told me, “then you’re doing a great disservice to yourself.”
Lesson #5: If you can’t say no to a bad deal, then you’re doing a great disservice to your business.
An entrepreneur is like a single mom.
Just like a single mom, we deliver a great business idea, give it a cute name, and work tirelessly to help it grow. We do this all alone, with joy and pride, because we love our business and have an intense passion for it. This passion to grow our business drives us to keep learning.
Sometimes we learn from our mom, sometimes from our colleagues, sometimes from business experts on the internet. We just can’t stop learning about how to nurse and nurture our business. So, when your corporate account reads $0.00 or you get knocked down by a competitor, don’t toss your business away. Instead, bear in mind that:
You’re a single mom. Your business is your baby. And your job is to make it thrive.