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Four Small Business Lessons I Learned From My Dad

Strategy

It must be Father’s Day: ads for power tools rule the airways, and my mailbox is stuffed with flyers for ties, watches, and gadgets.

In addition to the gift you select, you probably plan on thanking him for being such a great Dad. But do you also plan to thank him for teaching you valuable lessons in running a small business?

I’m not talking about the obvious lessons, like show up on time, work hard, and play fair. I’m talking about worms, duct tape, and buying your first car. These are the hidden lessons and skills that fuel your business success today.

The top 4 unexpected small business lessons you learned from your Dad.

Dad’s Small Business Lesson #1 – The Price of Admission is Worms

I grew up in a fairly rural part of northern Michigan. My family loves the outdoors, especially my Dad. In the summer his favorite weekend activity is trout fishing. As a kid I looked forward to the times we went fishing together. Fresh trout is yummy, and I reveled in trekking through the woods in search of a good place to put our bait in the water.

There was only one rule, and it was applied without fail. To go fishing you had to help dig up the worms, and you had to put your own worms on the hook. I’m not going to claim the worm part was fun. I didn’t run out to the garden in my spare time just to see how many earthworms I could find. I followed the rule because that was the price of admission to a fun day with my Dad.

Looking back I realize that I was learning an incredibly important business truth. If you’re not willing to pay up, you don’t get the reward. As an entrepreneur, especially in the start-up phase, you must be willing to roll up your sleeves and do the necessary grunt work to achieve success. Seems simple, yet how many times do you see people taking short cuts only to fail?

Dad’s Small Business Lesson #2 – How to be a Coach

My Dad was a jock. He loves basketball, and was a pitcher for the Coast Guard baseball team. This was both a blessing and a curse for me. I never enjoyed basketball, and he never seemed to give up hope that might change. I did play softball, and appreciated my Dad’s help with batting practice and learning the right way to catch a fly ball.

Softball will never be more than a team sport I play for fun. On the other hand the coaching from my Dad gets put into practice on a regular basis. How is that possible? No one would (or should!) pay me to coach them in softball. However I do get paid to coach small businesses about finance.

While I was being coached on how to hit better, I was also learning how to coach. To be an effective coach you must break things down into manageable pieces, be patient, and hold the trainee accountable. Whether it’s in sports or business, the principles are the same. Master this trifecta, and others will pay for your help.

Dad’s Small Business Lesson #3 – The Rules of War Negotiation

I had little experience with negotiation growing up other than trying, unsuccessfully, to get a later curfew. That changed the day my Dad took me to a dealership to help me buy my first new car. I didn’t need help paying for it, I needed help buying it. Badly.

I was amazed as I watched my Dad state the actual dealership cost (back then I’m not sure how he got the number) and the fact that he could go a few hours away for a much better deal. His calm, matter of fact approach gave away nothing. He made it clear he was not emotionally invested, and would walk away if the deal was not to his liking.

My Dad had just given me a crash course in negotiation. Before starting, a successful negotiator gets as much information as possible, including what alternatives exist to the current person / company with whom they are negotiating. Stay calm, and be prepared to walk away.

Dad’s Small Business Lesson #4 – The Right Tool for the Right Job

In the movie Gran Torino there’s a scene where Walt, played by Clint Eastwood, takes the neighborhood kid Thao into his garage workroom. It’s filled with tools of every shape and size, all carefully organized. Thao asks if Walt really knows how to use them all. Walt responds you need to have the right tool for the right job. Then Thao despairs of ever being able to follow in Walt’s footsteps since he doesn’t have any of these tools.

Walt then reassures Thao with the following, “Take these three items: some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone.”

Swap out hot glue for duct tape and it could have been my Dad uttering that phrase. Yes his workroom rivals the one in Gran Torino. Yes he knows how to use everything. And yes, he also showed me how to make do with a few simple things, most often hot glue.

As entrepreneurs, we are constantly bombarded with the business equivalent of Walt’s garage, but our budgets put us closer to Thao’s situation. My Dad taught me both the value of the right tool for the right job, as well as can-do attitude to find a solution when only a few resources are available. What better training could a small business owner ask for?

What about you?

What unexpected business lessons did you learn from your father? Let us know below. Shout-outs to your Dad are encouraged – maybe he’ll use his latest gadget to read it!

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