As a small business owner, you may have any number of aspirations. Maybe you want to just stay small and lean, at the helm of a business that supports your lifestyle and nothing more. Or perhaps you see yourself on a mission to take your company from a small business to a major player in your space.
Regardless, everyone needs a little guidance and inspiration, and who better to give it than the people at the forefront of American entrepreneurship? What makes these people the perfect role models isn’t that they’ve achieved the most dizzying heights of success. It’s that they’ve overcome tremendous hardships and crippling failures to get where they are.
As a small business owner, you’re going to have your ups and downs throughout your time building a product, branding your business and finding new ways to grow. No matter where you are on that continuum, you can use these quotes to get your bearings and take the inspiration you need to press forward and help your business succeed.
1. Peter Thiel
“Customers won’t care about any particular technology unless it solves a particular problem in a superior way. And if you can’t monopolize a unique solution for a small market, you’ll be stuck with vicious competition.”
As one of the most successful entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley, Peter Thiel knows quite a bit about what it takes to start and grow a business. No matter what your small business does, you have to make sure your product or service solves a real problem. You can’t start a business and then try to build something. As Thiel points out, your customers don’t care about what you build, they care about how you can alleviate their pain points better than anyone else. If you can’t do that, you’ll be forced to compete with your competitors on price, which will surely lead to a race to the bottom.
2. Steve Jobs
“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.”
When you ask someone to tell you what comes to mind when you say “Apple,” chances are they’ll say something along the lines of “great design.” It’s true that Apple’s products look good, but if that was all, the company would have never gotten to where it is today. The fact is that Apple’s products work better than their competitors. Your small business should follow Jobs’ advice here: No matter what you do, the customer’s experience has to be intuitive and even enjoyable if you want to set yourself apart.
3. Jack Ma
“My philosophy is repair the roof while it is still sunshine. When the company is good, change the company. When the company is in trouble, be careful, don’t move. If the storm comes, you don’t go up and repair the roof – you’ll be destroyed.”
Many small business owners have the tendency to stand pat when things are going well and make panic moves when disaster strikes. But as Jack Ma, founder of the massive Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba said, that’s the exact opposite of what you should do. Don’t wait for the storm to hit to start fixing your business. If you’re getting too comfortable, it’s time to take on a project that changes your business for the better and makes you more prepared for the vagaries of the market.
4. Marc Andreessen
“These days, you have the option of staying home, blogging in your underwear and not having your words mangled. I think I like the direction things are headed.”
As an engineer and entrepreneur who was at the helm of many of the biggest early Web startups, Marc Andreessen is in a perfect position to see how the business landscape has changed over the last few years with the rise of different Internet-related technologies. But these trends haven’t just affected big businesses and tech companies – they’ve impacted small businesses as well.
It used to be that small business leaders would have to fight for their space in the local paper or magazine. As Andreessen so eloquently stated, that’s no longer the case. You now have the power to take full control of your message and speak directly to your customers and wider audience. Take advantage of free/cheap tools like social media and easy-to-create blogs and websites and use them to interact with your fans.
5. Jack Welch
“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
OK, OK, so Jack Welch isn’t an entrepreneur in the strict definition of the word. But during his tenure as CEO of General Electric, Welch grew the business by about 4,000 percent, and a lot of that was due to his ability to think like an entrepreneur.
Specifically, Welch had a vision to morph GE from a slow-moving company weighed down by bureaucracy to a nimble one that could pursue new opportunities in new verticals – much like an entrepreneur would. Though he was sometimes maligned for his views, Welch’s attitude and vision for the company permeated every facet of the business. As the leader of your small business, you can have the same impact. It’s up to you to decide what you want to be, communicate it to every single employee and be the driving force behind everything you do. No one will ever care about your business as much as you do, so it’s on you to be the source of ambition and drive.
6. Reid Hoffman
“An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down.”
In this quote, Reid Hoffman, investor and co-founder of LinkedIn, makes it clear that entrepreneurs are defined by their pursuit of the unknown. They start with an idea, jump into the unknown as they try to build it and figure out how to make it work on the fly.
You’re doing the same with your small business. You might not be breaking completely new ground in terms of creating a whole new industry, but if you’re doing it right, you’ll be trying to solve a problem or improve something that no one else is doing. There’s not always a blueprint to follow – you have to be able to build your own plane while you’re plummeting to the ground.
7. James Altucher
“Don’t buy into the 20-hours-a-day entrepreneur myth. You need to sleep 8 hours a day to have a focused mind.”
As a former hedge fund manager and current entrepreneur/author, it might be a surprise that James Altucher can find so much time to sleep. But it’s true, and you should do the same. When you’re passionate about your small business, it can be all too easy to keep working through the night, warding off sleep with energy drinks and coffee.
Running a successful small business requires more than just raw passion. It takes clear thinking and the capacity to make rational decisions. Neglecting your health will definitely make it harder for you to stay focused and perform at a high level day in and day out.