Not All Business Lessons Need to Be Learned Alone

By Kristen McAlister

5 business lessons you don't need to learn the hard way

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the first conference solely focused on the contingent workforce and the gig economy. It was put on by the leading analyst association in our industry, the Staffing Industry Analysts.  The contingent workforce has been a great enigma for many years, however, with recent successful gig business models such as Uber and AirBnB, the growth of this category has been explosive the past few years. 

It was exciting to hear from industry leaders such as WorkMarket and Upwork sharing insights about how they reached success and where they are going next. The innovation and business model pivots in an industry that is so human capital intensive are remarkable.

The conference brought together company buyers of contingent solutions and the various providers within the marketplace. There were many apparent themes throughout the conference. The two that struck me most were lessons learned and collaboration. As unique as I like to think of myself, it became clear I was not alone. I am not the only one who has accrued numerous frequent flyer miles of lessons learned and am looking to collaborate to avoid as many as I can moving forward.  I discovered this at breakfast when the individual next to me asked why I was at the conference. My answer was met by every person at the table with a head nod or an "amen."  My response was simply, “I’m tired of my own lessons learned and would like to learn from someone else’s.” 

Any CEO, entrepreneur or business owner can relate.  We are taught early in our career that learning our own lessons was a badge of honor. However, as someone who works with business owners to find the right advisor or interim executive to grow their business, I have learned there is a fine line between it being a badge of honor and it being a business downfall.  

Being willing to go beyond one’s walls is the first step. Learning from others is the next. Applying those learnings is invaluable. As business owners, we need to be willing to share and collaborate. As a step towards that, here are five of my favorite lessons learned so you don’t have to learn it the hard way:

1. Focus on Your Customers

Does the vision for your company include your customers?  We often get so focused on growing the company and either following our gut or single points of information that we forget to frequently stop and talk to our customers.  Stay focused on solving your customer’s pain points. In some cases, I have seen products and services create new pain points rather than solve them. Look to see how customers’ businesses are changing and what you can do to help them.

 2. Let the Experts Be Experts

Few companies have all of the expertise they need. Most of us need to beg, borrow and steal expertise from outside our companies. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations and not stop and realize when some expert advice is needed. There is always someone who knows more in any one specific area. Leverage it. Take Greg as an example. Greg has worked in the food and beverage industry for over 10 years. He has worked with over 30 companies during that time. What do you think Greg knows that could be of value to a small and growing company in that industry? You'd want to grab a pen and paper to keep track as you count. Why learn the lessons yourself when someone can give you the cheat sheet to avoid them?                

3. Don’t Be All things To All People

We need to remember our brand and the core competencies we leverage to support it.  It is easy to get distracted going after various business opportunities not knowing which is going to be “the one.” First, make sure opportunities align with your brand and core competencies. Second, determine if it will deliver great value to your customers. Stay focused on your vision.

 4. Differentiate Between Cool and Value

When getting feedback, I often hear, “You know what would be cool?”  Ask questions and work to differentiate what is cool vs. what is of value to those buying your products or services. The only time customers will pay for cool is when they see value in cool. Customers pay for value.

 5. There May Be Something To Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor problem-solving principal, “Other things being equal, simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones,” is true. When working with customers and developing solutions for them, it is tempting to want to build and deliver the ultimate product with all of the bells and whistles. But start with solving clients’ biggest problem, pain point or friction, get feedback and go from there. The simpler it is, the more likely it will be understood, accepted and adopted.

 When learning from others, think of it more as collaboration.  Share as much as is being shared with you. The shortest path to get anywhere is to learn from others. 

 Image from Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com.

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