Contributed by Kym Huynh, an EO Melbourne member, EO Global Communications Committee member, and co-founder of WeTeachMe. Kym is fascinated by entrepreneurs and their journeys, so he asked EO members from various chapters to share their experiences. Read his earlier posts on what EO members wish non-entrepreneurs knew about entrepreneurs, how EO members define success, the impact of core values and lessons learned from their best and worst partnerships.
Here’s what seven EO members shared when asked, “What is the best business advice you ever received?”
If I outgrow you, I will fire you!
“If I outgrow you, I will fire you!” These were the words of one of my first clients in the early days of my advertising agency. I took these words seriously, and I committed to applying that idea to every team member, vendor and future client.
Our advertising agency became very good at advertising for our clients, but the real business we were in was growth; growth for our team members, growth for our clients, and by default, growth for our business.
Inspect what you expect
When I was in retail many years ago, my boss at that time would repeat ad nauseum a simple and clear message: Inspect what you expect. In practice, she would “walk and talk” the sales floor and inspect all the expectations she had shared the day prior.
This taught me that we all need parameters. I learned that it’s important to be clear about our expectations and that our teams work hard to deliver on those expectations. Therefore, we need to revisit them, praise when accomplished, or course-correct when needed.
—Katty Douraghy, EO San Francisco, president, Artisan Creative
I grew up intimately watching and bearing witness to the ethos and work ethic of my mother and father.
The unrelenting nature of their extreme work ethic is seared into every fiber of my being: the strength in their inability to take no for an answer, the bravery in their conviction to stand up for what is right and fair, the audacity in their willingness to bulldoze through insurmountable odds, and the courage in their unrelenting ability to never, ever, give up.
I cannot remember, nor can I imagine, a time when the above was not the case.
— Kym Huynh, EO Melbourne, founder of WeTeachMe
Business is hard
When I started my first business, I wanted to do it right—I wanted to succeed. So, I went to the most successful entrepreneur I knew at the time, my father-in-law, Kimball.
I asked Kimball for the gold nugget. The advice that would set me on a path to entrepreneurial stardom. I wanted the secret.
Kimball thought about my question and simply responded, “Business is hard.”
I was crushed. I felt robbed! I thought, “What kind of advice and insight is that?”
After nearly 12 years of entrepreneurship, I now realize that was the gold nugget. That was the secret. When you’re doing well, business is hard. And, when you’re struggling, business is hard.
What I realized is, the hard aspect is precisely why I do what I do. I love the challenge, and I thrive on the friction. I need business to be hard because if it wasn’t hard, I’d go find something else that was.
—Marc Gutman, EO Colorado, founder and brand strategist, Wildstory
A CEO’s goal is to make yourself redundant
My mentor and business turnaround expert, Frank, once said to me that the goal for me as CEO of my family’s US$120M business was to make myself redundant from the day-to-day running of the business. To successfully do so, I would need to do two things:
- Build a great leadership team of smart people who had complementary skills to my own (rather than hiring in my own image)
- Do the things that only I could do in the business
— Richard J Bryan, EO Colorado, founder, The Bryan Group
You and your business are two separate things
The best piece of advice I got was the idea that my business and I are two separate things.
For many years, I saw my business as an extension of myself. It was part of my self-image and my self-worth. When things didn’t go well, I would take it very personally. When clients didn’t accept our quotes, didn’t like our creative work, or teammates left to pursue other opportunities, it left a deep mark on me. I took it to heart.
I would often react emotionally to such situations, which did not serve me or leave me feeling good. The physical toll on me was worse than it needed to be.
What affected me affected the company and vice-versa. As a result, I stopped enjoying the work. It became a drain on me and my life. That was, by far, the hardest part.
The idea that my company is “just a company” and if it goes away, I am still here, is very simple yet very liberating. I am able to approach work in a much more even-tempered way. I make decisions (mostly) much more logically. I recognise that Nicework is where I have poured many hours of thought, love and work, and it provides much of the life I lead. But I choose to spend my time there and could just as easily choose to spend it elsewhere.
—Ross Drakes, EO Johannesburg, founder and creative director, Nicework Communications
Done is better than perfect
I am trying to embrace the idea that done is better than perfect. I am not sure who first put that tidbit of wisdom into my hands, but it continues to stick with me because I suffer (along with many entrepreneurs) from “analysis paralysis” and “constipation via contemplation.”
My desire for perfection can leave some things unfinished in a quest to achieve perfection. I’ve been embracing “get it done” as an ethos.