Article Summary: I was 16 when my dad started his industrial supply business and it wasn’t long after that I started working for him—sweeping the warehouse floor, pulling orders, and driving the delivery truck. I spent the first several years of my professional career working in my father’s business, eventually becoming an outside field sales rep on the road in Utah and the surrounding states.
I was pretty fortunate that early in my career I had several mentors that took the time to show me the ropes and make sure I knew how to build a successful career. One of those mentors was my dad.
With Father’s Day right around the corner, keep reading to learn the four important small business lessons I learned from him:
If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right:
I mentioned that one of my first responsibilities for my dad was, among other things, sweeping the floor. One day, after watching me sweep for a few minutes, he “borrowed” the broom and said, “This is how you sweep the floor. If you’re going to do something, you might as well do it the right way.”
I have to admit, I didn’t realize there was a “way” to sweep the floor, but have since come to appreciate that there is. Looking back though, I don’t think he was as concerned with how I was sweeping the floor, as much as he was trying to teach me that doing a job well has intrinsic value, even if nobody else recognizes the effort to do it right. I’ve tried to live that advice over the 40 years since that lesson.
Don’t watch the clock:
If you worked for my dad and were headed out the door the minute the clock struck 5:00 pm, he would ask something like, “Do you have your track shoes on?”
He loved what he was doing and would rather be there doing it than anyplace else. I think he hoped his employees would feel that way too—I just don’t think he expressed it very well. If I’m honest, there was a little bit of the workaholic showing in his question, and I don’t think, “Do you have your track shoes on?” is the best way to promote a love of what you do, but it did teach me the importance of showing up, sticking with a job until it’s done, and the necessity of avoiding procrastination. He didn’t think anything that could be done today should be put off until tomorrow, just because it was 5:00 pm.
Everybody’s a salesperson:
He taught me to take pride in my appearance, to keep the delivery truck clean, to keep the warehouse in ship-shape, and to make sure that deliveries were in clean and properly-labeled boxes. “For many of our customers,” he would say, “you are the person from our company they see the most. Even the delivery driver is a salesman.”
I think about this lesson every time I have a bad customer service experience or get an impersonal and curt voice on the other end of a business phone call. While I don’t interact with our customers as a sales representative I try to remember, “Everybody’s a salesperson.”
That’s a lesson everybody needs to remember.
Business is personal
In any business, but particularly small businesses, business is done person to person—it’s seldom brand to brand. What’s more, your brand is really a reflection of your values and how you execute on those values with your customers and your employees. In other words, business is personal.
My dad used to say, “People have a lot of choices when it comes to where and what they buy. A big reason they buy from us is because they like us and they trust us.”
I’ve come to appreciate the importance of never doing anything that would diminish the trust of my customers and that we need to avoid the temptation to be self-serving. Over the last 40 years I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone make excuses to me saying, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” Most of the people who shared that sentiment with me are no longer in business. They didn’t understand that it’s not just business, it’s personal.
Several years ago, my youngest son had just graduated High School and all of us boys were together. I started telling a story, which I often do, and my oldest son said something like, “I know this story,” and started to tell the story. Another one of my sons said, “We’ve heard all your stories dad.” He then shared the moral of the story. My oldest son added, “We’ve numbered them all. This one is #18.”
I guess I should be happy that they remember the stories, and the lessons I tried to share with those stories. I still regularly think about the lessons I learned from my father.