The Best Business Advice I Ever Received

The lessons and advice that have stuck with me over the years and proved themselves over and over have not come from the board room or on the internet. The best business advice I ever received came from little mountain towns in the Rocky Mountains. I've read a lot of advice over the years in different publications. In the tech world now, it's hard to go one day without a new blog post coming across your screen. However, I've never come across any advice that has been better than what I learned inside my own family circle growing up. My great-grandfather and grandfather were both successful businessmen that I learned a lot from. Both successful in their own rights, they instilled a pursuit of entrepreneurship in me and taught me how to work smarter. My work ethic and leadership advice comes from years of working side-by-side with my father in the rural Rocky's.

Why does that matter? A couple of these have been echoed with similar sentiments online as well, but these are bits of advice that I know have withstood at least a century and have worked for many people across at least 5 different industries 1. As I was responding to a request for advice the other day, I compiled this list and decided to share it here for those who are interested:

1. Worrying is like paying interest on a debt that you don't have.

This is probably one of my favourites that I try to remember. Worrying fixes, literally, nothing. Nothing. If you're worried about something, get busy. You solve a big problem by breaking it into a bunch of little problems. One foot in front of the other and press on. You can bury yourself with worry and anxiety to the point where you get paralyzed. On top of doing nothing to help your situation, it hurts you and usually is not based in reality but rather a set of hypotheticals that may or may not happen. You're paying interest on a debt you don't have yet.

2. Work on the mine, not in the mine.

It's easy as entrepreneurs, small businesses, startups, and even in a small corporate team to want to do a lot of the day to day operations/services yourself. That's working in the business. It can be easy to do for many reasons: saving money, doing it "right," wanting to work side by side with the team, etc. Your main focus, however, should be working on the business. This would include stuff like building new business relationships, optimizing processes, talking with customers to improve your product, business development etc. Find the right people, trust them, and focus on your responsibilities which are to keep the company moving forward.

3. Lead from the front.

Now this is going to seem to counterintuitive to the previous advice, but it's not. While you should always try to be working on your business and not in your business, it's also important lead from the front. Another way to put this advice, is never ask your team to do anything that you wouldn't do yourself. If you have a technology team largely involved in programming, learn a bit of code and their processes. If you have a bakery, work a full day with your team baking. If you expect your team to work 14 hour days on a deadline, then you damn well better be doing the same. This bit of advice foster mutual respect in your team, helps you understand their challenges and how to move obstacles out of their way, and helps foster a culture of collaboration.

4. Persistence and hard work is 90% of success.

The other 10% is a bit of luck and brains. The 4-hour work week was a book that spawned a bunch of praise and people looking for an easy fix. The book has good processes and solutions for efficiency, but I've yet to meet a real world entrepreneur that doesn't have to work very hard day in and day out for a number of years before realizing a business that can operate with such little input. If success was easy, we would have an entire world filled with millionaires. As well as hard work, persistence is a common denominator of great people doing great things. Something I heard a while back from Jason Roks could be paraphrased by, "A hacker isn't only a genius writing code. A hacker is defined by persistence -- never giving up until you find your way through or around an obstacle."

5. The best investments free your time up for other investments/projects.

I am not quite sure how to best summarize this advice, but the basic principles are working smarter and investing in processes and efficiencies. This goes hand and hand with the advice "Working on the mine, not in the mine." Your time is your most valuable asset that you have to invest - more than capital that is being reinvested into the company. There are only so many hours in the day. Nearly every investment that you make with your time should be doing 1 of 2 things. #1, directly impacting revenue or #2, improving a process 2. If you're doing #2 then it should be a process that allows more of #1. 20% of your effort gets, 80% of the results. In your own business, find what that 20% is that works and maximize it.


  1. Probably more. Just 5 that I know of.

  2. What about stuff like education and employee development? Happy employees impact revenue. You need processes and policies informing employees of their benefits as such. This rule isn't meant to be ruthless. It's meant to drive the question for everything you invest your time in, "How is this impacting revenue and business health?" The truth is many activities, if you asked that question, would not pass the test.

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Written by
Cody Littlewood 14 Apr 2015

CEO

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