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What I've Learned in 20 Years of Being an Entrepreneur

Seasoned business owners often have great insight that can help you find success and growth.

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Many stories start with once upon a time, but mine started with no! The day my boss gave me that answer, I had a moment of epiphany — I didn’t have to follow the path my superiors set up for me when I could make my own. So, here I am, 20 years later, running my own business successfully.

The truth is there’s a maze of challenges for all business owners out there. But don’t get bitter about it. Not giving up, fighting tooth and nail and pulling out all the stops will eventually pay off. One more thing, learn from other people’s lessons and mistakes so that you can use your time to discover more.

Schools might prepare you for some hurdles, but you learn much more on the job. Here are some of the most important lessons from my 20 years of experience as a business owner.

Related: How Being Told 'No' Changed Everything for the Better

Be a continual learner

With technological advancements, socio-political issues and unexpected events such as a global pandemic, the business environment is constantly shifting and moving. Business isn’t about the survival of the fittest — it’s about adaptability to change. Therefore, one must become a lifelong learner to maintain growth and remain competitive.

Regardless of the stage of your career, you need to learn, do, unlearn — learn, do, rest — learn, do, unlearn and repeat to be agile and adaptable in the business world. Even if I’ve been in the industry for decades, there is something that I always bear in mind — staying up-to-date keeps my business running.

There is no excuse not to improve yourself since many courses are free of charge and let you schedule your own hours. Moreover, there are countless podcasts, books and mastermind groups. Everything you’ll ever need is at your fingertips. 

The benefits of being a lifelong learner go beyond understanding your business habitat. The process of learning strengthens your mental capacity by improving your memory and instilling self-confidence. Consequently, you can improve your skills valued in the workplace as well as find yourself in a happier place.

Seek wisdom

Knowledge is never enough just by itself for a well-achieved business. There’s more to it — wisdom. What’s the difference? Knowledge is simply knowing, and wisdom is having a perspective and being able to make sound judgments. It's said that theory without practice is empty; practice without theory is blind.

First and foremost, free your mind from whatever is holding you back. As business owners, we’re juggling between our professional and personal lives simultaneously. While experiencing stress or pressure, we might let our emotions cloud our judgment. Meditation and breathing exercises can help you see things clearly and transform your business. In my case, my faith and prayer life has guided me throughout my business when I didn’t know which direction to go. 

Second, surround yourself with respected business people. Having discussions while thinking critically broadens your mindset. Let them inspire you with their stories and motivate you to take action. While listening to them, always ask yourself — how can I apply this to my own business?' Furthermore, you can actually analyze their lessons more objectively because you’re not involved. Use this objectivity for your own benefit.

Related: How Meditation Can Transform Your Business

Your community is everything

Let me tell you a short story. A rich lady lived in a mansion. She wouldn’t say a word unless she was giving orders. Click-clack, the sound of her heels touching the ground, was the only thing her staff could hear. Needless to say, she wanted everything to be spotless. So, she would walk around the mansion to check on her employees every day. Click-clack. Everyone would bend over backwards to fulfill her endless needs until one day.

She’d broken her heels and ended up wearing flats for a day. As usual, she wanted to make sure that her employees were working. But the truth struck her deeply. None of them were engaged in work. She decided not to say anything, and the next day she got her heels back. Click-clack. Everything went back to the way it was.

Like that mansion, a business depends on many people who know their responsibilities and get things done even without the sound of your heels. It’s up to you to ensure that. Treat the entire team with respect, value their opinion and input, seek ways to build them up and recognize their unique talents.

By being more than fair and blessing those who help make your business a success, you can make a huge difference in people’s lives. Be humble both inside and outside your company. And lastly, always aim to be a leader and a role model whose actions match their words.

Hire smartly 

You might think that the hiring process is time-consuming. It’s understandable because of long interviews, reading resumes and training candidates. However, bear in mind that 46 percent of newly-hired employees will fail within 18 months

The purpose of the hiring process must be to find that 54 percent. In the long run, you can avoid wasting time and money training someone who isn't a good fit for the role. Or, one who doesn't have the traits that work well with your and your team.

There’s a misconception that a conversational interview can help you find out more about candidates. But, learning about their personality doesn’t mean that they can meet your criteria. A structured interview gives you the opportunity to be clear about the role, your expectations and your non-negotiables in a candidate, such as skills and traits.

Asking questions such as, tell me about a time when you…can give you a glimpse into their past behavior and enable you to see future actions. Moreover, being like-minded individuals, having things in common and the way that people dress are some examples of bias you could fall victim to. One shouldn’t let preconceptions decide whether the candidate gets hired. A behavior-based interview allows you to be more objective.

Customer service makes or breaks a business

Cheap products or countless discounts aren’t the ways to win the hearts of your customers — it’s your customer service. Forming a bridge between your company and consumers, customer service sets the seal of lasting relationships.

Industrialists claim that convincing a new customer costs five times more than retaining an existing one. Your reputation precedes you — don’t let it be negative. Bad news travels fast. Good news brings new customers. Since I started my business, I’ve always acted with the motto that the customer is always right. It may be impossible to please everyone, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. There’s always a way to go above and beyond in treating customers with respect and giving them the best service possible.

Make your clients feel like kings and queens. Surprise and delight them by giving them a shout-out in your marketing, offering discounts, coupons or small gifts and referring customers and clients to complementary businesses.

To conclude, successful business owners are like professional photographers. They know their environment, wait for days, sometimes months and work under difficult conditions to get a single perfect shot. Now, take a mental picture of your more successful business, and don’t give up — make it real.

Related: Why Good Customer Service is the Most Important Business Metric

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