Sometimes 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.