Late Is Rude and Bad for Small Business

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Punctuality is the politeness of kings.

Small business owners have smaller margins for error than our larger big-company counterparts. One way a person, a company, can stand out and avoid error is to respect people’s time. By being on time.

Your Business Blogger was reminded of this truth last year while working with small businesses in a trade show. Some 10,000 of us sat of the feet of the keynote speaker Karen Hughes, presidential advisor. She was flogging her book Ten Minutes from Normal about working on the political campaign trail.

She recounted the story of President Bush’s particular concern about being on time. She once asked the President (who has an MBA) why they were leaving so early for a meeting. He said:

“Three words: Late is rude.”

Getting down to business is best done in the atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. It can best start by checking your watch. Promptness is the soul of business said Lord Chesterfield 1694 – 1773. Timeliness is impressive.

More recently, Emily Post has much to say on the courtesy of timeliness. In Business Etiquette — Tips on Making a Good First Impression Post reminds us — when traveling to an appointment you should “know how to get there and how long it will take. (BEING ON TIME IS CRITICAL).” Emphasis in original.

But being on time is sometimes not good enough. One of football’s most successful coaches would tell his players to show up 10 minutes early or be considered late. This discipline is known as “Vince Lombardi time.”

Lombardi won games, in part, with the discipline of punctuality. This also teaches the value of time: Man has no nobler or more valuable possession…. as Beethoven said.

Being punctual will demonstrate the politeness of kings. And courtesy to your clients. It would please even the French, like Louise XVIII. Punctuality is the politeness of kings.

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Jack Yoest John Wesley (Jack) Yoest Jr., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Management at The Catholic University of America. His expertise is in management training and development, operations, sales, and marketing. Professor Yoest is the president of Management Training of DC, LLC. A former Captain in the U.S. Army and with various stints as a corporate executive, he also served as Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Resources in the Administration of Governor James Gilmore of Virginia.

11 Reactions
  1. What an excellent post. I wish I’d written that. Indeed it brought to mind a topic that I’ve written about and will write about again. We all say a lot about quality assurance but rarely talk about time assurance. Delivering something on time is as important as delivering satisfactory quality. Indeed deficiencies on time will be much more apparent to the customer than deficiencies on quality. Of course you must get both right, but time is the most obvious characteristic to get right.

  2. Too true. And you can add politeness to the list. People talk about the importance of customer service, customer relations and the need for training in these things, but what most of it comes down to is simply being nice, being polite and treating people with respect – genuinely, not because you’ve been trained to do it. Have a nice day 😉

  3. Barry, thank you for your kind words on the need to respect everyone’s time. In addition, I think you are also touching on the courtesy of managing expectations, for clients — and as important — your employees. See:

  4. Stuart, you are on to something that should be a core value for every small business owner: Hire Right. A bad hire is the worse mistake your managers can make. See:

  5. Tardiness is like shooting yourself in the foot and starting the race with one leg – and an obvious disadvantage. With so many obstacles to overcome on the road to success – why travel it limping along? Additionally, it creates an impression of disorganization and incompetency. . .not the impression of productivity and reliability.

  6. Great post and I wholeheartedly concur. Not too long ago I had a business owner want my services, publicity, and when we had a set time to do an interview promo for him, he failed to be at the phone when I called. I called twice on two different lines…no answer.

    15 minutes later he called and said he had been in a meeting, and my response was – You could’ve excused yourself to make a quick call to let me know you’d be late. I don’t appreciate my time being disrespected.

    He got all huffy, and I told him it was inappropriate…and as a result chose not to work with him….and I think it was a great decision because if we don’t have standards to live by, then anything goes and people will treat us without respect.

    Great post. 🙂

  7. Lateness is, to me, an act of a liar. To tell someone that something will be ready at 1PM and then turn it in at 1:15PM without any explaination or fore-warning is the type of thing that gets people fired with me. Now on a personal note, I hate to be kept waiting and therefore I hate to keep others waiting. In business keep a client waiting is even worse, therefore there are penalties for lateness.
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  8. Great post.

    Our time is one of our greatest assets….esp as small business leaders…..both time and money have an opportunity cost,and when someone is late (or does not have the courtesy to let you know they’ll be late) they are damaging one of your assets…your valuable time.