Ten Quotes to Run Your Business By

American Express OPEN Forum stage setSometimes all it takes is a short bit of wisdom … to give you confidence, to get you through the bad times, to inspire you to greater heights.

Earlier this month I attended the latest American Express OPEN Forum in New York. All of the Forums have been excellent, but this one stands out.

Why? Because I walked away with so many small yet powerful bits of wisdom that I simply can’t stop thinking about.

Like the last Forum, this particular event was kicked off by Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN. The moderator was financial columnist and author Jean Chatzky. The featured entrepreneurs in this event were: famous chef Mario Batali, the three founders of the Blue Man Group (Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton), and maternity fashion designer Liz Lange.

Let me share the top ten bits of wisdom that I picked up from this American Express OPEN Forum, based on my notes during the event. Here they are:

  • “To be successful in business you don’t just need a great idea — you have to sell it. Don’t be afraid to sell. Don’t think of yourself as anything but a marketer.” (Susan Sobbott) — My Take: For some this comes naturally. But for others, especially those who do not have a sales or marketing background, this can seem like the hardest thing in the world. However, most owners of successful businesses will tell you that they were their company’s main sales representative, certainly in the beginning. You have to be able to sell and market your business — don’t expect to delegate this to someone else.
  • “Every brand isn’t for everybody, and everybody isn’t for every brand.” (Liz Lange) — My Take : In other words, do what small businesses do best and focus on a niche — and then own that niche. Be at the top.
  • “The Web puts an exponential twist on the whole word of mouth thing, because word of mouth is now happening virally.” (Blue Man) – My Take: the Web is a megaphone. It gives you leverage and dramatically increases the spread of any talk about your business. The Web makes it easier for word of mouth to spread, and spread more quickly and more widely.
  • “An inner quality that many entrepreneurs say helps them survive is optimism.” (Jean Chatzky) – My Take: optimism is the number one essential characteristic of successful entrepreneurs. There are so many things that can go wrong when you own your own business, especially in the early years. Every single day is littered with stumbling blocks and reasons to call it quits. You have to be driven by a belief that things will work out well in the end.
  • “If you had to choose an address, it would be on the corner of Art and Commerce.” (Mario Batali) – My Take: This is perhaps the single most unique quote of the event. It means, turn your business into an art form. Being creative is at the core of successful businesses.
  • “A little personality goes a long way.” (Jean Chatzky) – My Take: The theme of this Forum is “standing out from the crowd.” Letting your personality show through is a way to make your business stand out. People remember you and thus your business. Instead of trying to be a corporate clone, be different. For instance, Mario Batali lets his personality show through by always wearing shorts and orange clogs. Maybe we don’t all want to go that far, but ….
  • “Be aggressive in getting media coverage.” (Liz Lange) – My Take: Media coverage is free, which is a very attractive price tag for most small businesses. But media coverage usually is not an accident. You have to take it in your own hands to get coverage. And as Liz’s experience illustrated, you have to be creative in order to get media coverage. For instance, Liz sent maternity clothes to celebrities. The media were more likely to cover a celebrity wearing Liz’s maternity clothes, than to write an ordinary article about maternity clothing.
  • “Follow your bliss.” (Blue Man) — My Take: In a way this is like the old saying, do what you love and money will follow. Of course the reason it is an OLD saying is that there is truth to it. When we are passionate about what we do our passion gets translated into creativity, into the amount of effort we devote to the business, and into many other factors big and small.
  • “We are all competing against mediocrity.” (Blue Man) — My Take: Instead of focusing on the competition, strive for a higher level of creativity. To create a great business create something extraordinary, instead of falling into a rut and settling for average.
  • “Everyone talks about growing the business, but what you don’t hear enough about is the importance of not growing the business too fast.” (Blue Man) — My Take: Growth can bring on its own set of challenges and problems. Grow the business at the pace that feels right to you to manage and handle. If you are comfortable with fast change, then grow it fast. Otherwise, keep the business smaller and more manageable for you. Not everyone wants to grow their business.

Some of the above quotes are paraphrased slightly. They are taken from my notes of the event.

Many thanks to American Express OPEN whose advertising support of this site made it possible for me to attend.

37 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

37 Reactions

  1. OK – I LOVE you, Anita. And this post, as all of your posts, rocks save one of the 10 tips from BlueMan, “Follow Your Bliss.” AKA: “Do What You Love and The Money Will Follow.”

    That advice is pure crap.

    We Americans place far too much emphasis on being happy. Be financially secure FIRST. Often that means doing something you dislike or doing something painfully tedious in order to grow your own greenbacks. Eventually — and only eventually — you will earn enough money to survive on the faint cash fumes that come with running an emerging entrepreneurial business.

    Only 3 glaring exceptions to the rule: be born rich. marry rich. wait for a windfall.

    Call me a cynic. Capital reserve — not bliss in bounty — is the only thing that will weather the first few years of financial drought for entrepreneurs. And an understanding of cash flow — or the keen insight to defer to outside well-trained financial advisors — is the only thing that will sustain your success in small business.

    For the rest of us, “following your bliss” is a well-planned and well-earned luxury.

    kindly,
    kirsten

  2. P.S. Much deference and respect to Jean Chatzky. One of my heros! But I’m surprised MY tip (see my comment above) wasn’t one of Jean’s tips!

    kindly,
    kirsten

  3. Oh Kirsten, Kirsten, Kirsten,

    I certainly agree with you that we sometimes have to do things that are tedious if we want to grow our greenbacks.

    But those are elements of a business, they are not the core of the business itself.

    I think I can sense your pain — it’s the pain of the entrepreneur running a startup, and we’ve all felt it. Having to do things we don’t like, just for cash flow.

    But knowing you and respecting you for what you are so good at, Kirsten, I think I can say that tedious tasks aside, you’re still doing something you love at the core of your business.

    Keep the faith,

    Anita

  4. I agree fully that growing the business too fast can be disastrous. A few posts ago, I wrote that

    the first job of the CEO is to keep the company healthy, and if it is healthy, it will grow.

    CEOs therefore should refrain from creating actions that impacts the health of the company.

    I remember the quote of Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest who said, ” Think Samll and act small, and we’ll get bigger. Think big and act big, and we’ll get smaller.”

  5. “An inner quality that many entrepreneurs say helps them survive is optimism.” (Jean Chatzky)

    This was my favorite. It’s hard to stay optimistic – but when you can – it pays off in more ways than one!

  6. Hi Anita:

    Actually I still respectfully disagree. And I think you misunderstand my point. I’m not losing faith, Fearless Anita. ;)

    What I suggest is this: CHASE BUCKS AND LATENT CONSUMER NEED NOT BLISS if you want to BUILD A BOOMING BUSINESS. Loving what you do is highly over-rated. By all means choose a business model that fits your skillsets and challenges you enough to drive you during dark hours. Whatever you do is worth doing well. But doing what you love (aka “following your bliss”) will blind you to the most scalable business models and profits.

    Come on now…how much can you LOVE retinal ID security systems or greenwaste shredding (two high ROI business ideas)?

    In the end, business success is about understanding the rules of the game, ROI, cash flow management, vision, discipline, persistence, core ideology, point of difference, a zillion million other things most important of which is delivering a product or service that generates sufficient consumer or customer demand.

    By all means follow your bliss if you want to build a hobby business. Or if you don’t give a hoot about “build to last” OR “built to flip”.

    Yes there are some exceptions. But not that many. Many of those seeming exceptions are pure post-dated topspin from P.R. flacks. Once you’ve made it to the top, your publicist or SVP Corporate Communications can fondly muse about how you were following your bliss from the very beginning. Makes ya look humble. Great way to seduce the masses (see R. Greene’s The Art of Seduction, Appendix B) and sustain your success/wealth.

    What do I know? I’m just biding my time till I get my own talk show, like Oprah or Rachael Ray. I’m cuter. ;)

    kindly,
    kirsten “k.o.” osolind

  7. one other exception: p**n. its a profitable model. who can’t love that? just kidding. :)

  8. Kirsten and Anita,

    I see both your points. But I’m still of the “follow your bliss” school of thought. Kirsten, one point I think you may be overlooking is that following your bliss is not necessarily synonymous with running your own business or working freelance. For some, it can simply be a line of work or industry, whether that be for an employer or for yourself.

    For example, I majored in Hospitality & Tourism Management in university. I outgrew that idea, but many of my friends from school LOVE working in hotels or tour companies and interacting with guests. They are doing quite well financially and have a stable income. For some, it may mean science and working in a well-established research lab. For others, it may mean graphic design. I will venture to say that perhaps, if you are freelance, due to your small operation you can only handle clients who don’t have deep pockets and therefore are willing to settle for lesser ad campaigns; you won’t get to work on the most interesting projects this way. By working in-house, you may get to do better or more work. For some, this can be a dream come true.

    I’m just sayin’.

  9. Hi Laura:

    Hmm. Some of the wealthiest men I know are institutional traders and hedge fund guys. They HATE what they do. But they do it to make money and afford indulgent lifestyles. They are incredibly happy AFTER they leave work each day. One of them once told me: “quite well and stable ain’t near as rewarding as quite wealthy.” He lives in Austin, dates women 20 years his junior, has a house that overlooks the hills and the water, and has a rockin’ boat. Let me assure you — he hates his job but he’s happy! ;)

    On the other hand, many women might not choose that path. Indeed, that COULD be why many women don’t wield the wealth. Could it actually be that women prefer to follow their bliss rather than take the tough assignments or do the dirty work? Shades of poor choice rhetoric author Warren Farrell…

    My supposition is based on 16 years in Corporate America (working for Big Boys the likes of Coke, Gen Mills, P&G) AND 4.5 years as entrepreneur.

    I’m just sayin’. ;)

    kindly,
    kirsten

  10. Kirsten, here’s my thing. I don’t believe that hating your job and being happy, fully, is possible. These guys you mention probably work about 50-60 hours a week or even more, right? That’s 50% of their waking hours that they hate what they’re doing. That’s not happiness to me, and I’ve learned that I value happiness more than money and what it can afford me.

    I also do not believe that taking tough assignments and following your passion are mutually exclusive, and I refuse to believe that following your bliss and becoming extremely wealthy are mutually exclusive. You should be able to follow your dream and still find an appropriate niche where your product or service is needed in the real world if you get creative.

    I don’t think it’s a female thing though, I think it’s a generational thing. My generation (Gen Y) is well known for valuing our work-life balance and pursuing our own interests far more than the ambition and long hours of those that came before us. It’s a difference of culture, in a way.

  11. Hi Laura:

    You know I respect you and love your blog. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one. You must shop the softer side of Sears. I myself get lost in the Power Tools section. Wink-wink.

    more over at my blog: http://reinventioninc.blogspot.com

    kindly,
    kirsten

  12. This seems to be the main point:
    “We are all competing against mediocrity.”
    Mediocrity and enthropy are hard to beat.

  13. As far as the “do what you love and the rest will follow,” deal, I have to agree with Kirstin. I see too many young people trying to do what they love, and going broke in the process; businesses going under, debts accumulated, etc. It’s too idealisitic. You should have PASSION for your business, but it’s not always love. Passion is energy and devotion to succeeding in a business, but it doesn’t mean you walk around with a happy face on all day. Who loves waiting on these goober customers we all get in our stores? Who loves the 7 day a week stuff?

  14. Much deference and respect to Jean Chatzky. One of my heros! But I’m surprised MY tip (see my comment above) wasn’t one of Jean’s tips!

  15. “The Web puts an exponential twist on the whole word of mouth thing, because word of mouth is now happening virally.” This is so true these days. New ways to virally market a business online are constantly arising. It can be tedious to stay on top of this but the pay-offs can certainly be fruitful.

  16. I certainly agree with you that we sometimes have to do things that are tedious if we want to grow our greenbacks.

  17. I think I can sense your pain — it’s the pain of the entrepreneur running a startup, and we’ve all felt it. Having to do things we don’t like, just for cash flow.

  18. ..”The Web puts an exponential twist on the whole word of mouth thing, because word of mouth is now happening virally.” This is so true these days. New ways to virally market a business online are constantly arising. It can be tedious to stay on top of this but the pay-offs can certainly be fruitful…

  19. “”Follow your bliss.” (Blue Man) — My Take: In a way this is like the old saying, do what you love and money will follow. Of course the reason it is an OLD saying is that there is truth to it. When we are passionate about what we do our passion gets translated into creativity, into the amount of effort we devote to the business, and into many other factors big and small.”

    Really I agree with this in 100%

  20. Provide your customers with exceptional service, quality products and a smile. Follow this simple plan and you have just made a life long friend and client.

  21. Anita,

    I really like the one about “…competing against mediocrity…”. Too often, we benchmark ourselves against competitors.

    But the ultimate judge is the client. Instead, I say benchmark yourself against clients’ expectations and exceed them.

    Any other comparison can fall short, so I think you need to stay focused on your clients at all times – despite the numerous distractions in pretty much all small businesses.

  22. “Do what you love and the money will follow” – What if you love the wrong thing?! Emotions could be misleading…. It’s more about being a businessperson first, bringing in the money and then being able to do what you love… So, it’s more the other way around ;)

  23. Hi Ian, yes, the Blue Man quote was one of my favorites, too. We have to save ourselves from lapsing into mediocrity — it’s so easy. Remembering what the customer wants helps us from falling into that.

    Hi Jon, It’s interesting to me how many readers, like you, disagreed with the idea of “do what you love and the money will follow.” How funny — I thought everyone would agree with that.

    I concur with you that sometimes it can be easier to make money (especially in the short term) by following the money first. But, the thing that gives me hope about doing what you love is how many entrepreneurs have managed to take a hobby and turn it into a business. :)

    Best,
    Anita

  24. It’s interesting when comparing last year to this year. I can add and subtract. What’s hard to guage is effectiveness.
    However I do believe that hard work is proportinal to return on investment. It’s especially true with marketing. The harder I work, the luckier I get. And by the way, who was it that said, “Hard work never killed anyone.” because I’ll bet they are dead and if they’re not, I’d like be the one to kill them. What you really need to know is, that just as a negetive snowball gets bigger, so does a positive snowball gain speed and grow bigger. Go roll out that positive snowball and keep it moving.

  25. Awesome article and Kirsten-I can see why you shop in the power tool section! I’m so glad I decided to follow my bliss because I’m working at what I love to do and could not be happier. Do I have a house that overlooks the ocean an indulge in vacations such as the men you mention above? No! However, I think going to work everyday with a peace of mind is much more “lucrative”!

  26. Thanks for the quotes. I’m thinking of starting my own business and it’s just so fitting for me to think like a marketer.

  27. Thank you for the inspiring and motivational business quotes. I am struggling with the set up stage of a small business, but nothing inspires me more than money so i will cross any river and any valleys to achieve it.

  28. My, quiestion to you Miss Anita is,I’m soon to open a Property Preserva
    -tion Bubiness…I was told that,I’ll need atleast $200,000 dollars in
    insurance,as well as being bonded….what,would be the monthley cost for this type of insurance…as well,as being bonded?

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