8 Lessons my Dad Taught Me about Business

You wouldn’t necessarily think there’s much you could learn about business from a guy who’s a forester. Growing up (and even now), my dad loved tromping around in the woods, tackling the nation’s largest forest fires, prescribing forest fires and probably so much more I have not a clue about. He’s now the pastor of a small, humble AME church in Union Springs, AL and teaches agriculture at one of the world’s greatest HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities): Tuskegee University. So what can this global marketing gal learn from her Smokey-the-Bear-like dad about business? Plenty. Apparently, he’s always been smarter than the average bear. 😉

Here’s 8 Big Business Lessons I learned from my forester dad:

1. Do not be quick to hire employees.

From the onset, when I first ever mentioned the idea of even attempting to form an LLC, my dad’s first words of advice were: “don’t be quick to hire employees.” It’s true. Even growing up, I remember him working in the Forest Service – a governmental agency that will keep moving you up and up in the ranks (and, much to my dad’s dismay, farther and farther away from the forest and nature that he loves). He would always say that managing employees is a lot like babysitting – a sentiment that rings true with most entrepreneurs and managers alike. Best to contract and partner with people as needed. So far, that’s what I do. And so far, it’s been working out great for my business (and overhead costs).

2. Save your money.

This is one he’s only said to us just about our entire lives. All four of us girls. “Save your pennies.” “Save your dollars.” “Save your money.” “Don’t buy me something, make me a gift.” ‘Tis true! Even as grown adults, he still says this to us (with good reason, I can’t say I’m always great at this). In business, it makes total sense too. Once you start working for your own paycheck, every single cent is a cent well earned. And every cent saved is a cent well kept. The next level? To start investing a percentage you set (ideally 10% – said a mentor of mine) in a mutual fund or stocks of some sort. The bottom line: business is all about money, and the more you have of it (and the more you can keep), the better.

3. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Remembering the Golden Rule – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – also bodes just as well in business as it does our personal lives. What goes around comes around in business. Cutting corners with someone will come back to haunt you. Someone shafting you on a business deal will come back to bite them. Not staying true to your word will kill your reputation in a fraction of the time it took to build it. Building a great business is aligned with building a great brand. And that’s based on your reputation – which is based on what you do. Your actions. That includes treating your customers, vendors, prospects and everyone else along the chain well. No short cuts here.

4. Do the job right. Train others to do it right.

The first time I ever had to vacuum the house, I’m pretty certain I was doing a fairly crappy job at it. I was probably whipping the vacuum cleaner around a bit too fast (that’s before the days of these super Hoovers and HEPA-filters and all of that). Probably wasn’t doing it in too much of an orderly fashion. My dad took the time to stop me and show me how to properly do it. And not just your regular cleaning but the full deep-clean treatment! He moved the whole couch out of the way, picked up the toys and random pencils, pennies, etc. under the couch first before vacuuming there. Moved the coffee tables and other furniture items around – got in every crevice, nook and cranny. Moved over the main real estate of the floor in clean, straight lines until the job was done – all while my sister and I watched. From then on, you better believe we knew how to vacuum a room properly! Of course, you don’t vacuum like that every time, but if you know how to do a job well, you can gauge from there when a room needs a light clean versus when it’s time for a spring clean.

Business is a lot the same way. Not only do we need to know how to do the job right, but we’ve got to execute it right and also take the time to teach others as needed to do so. We can’t duplicate ourselves until we know how to train others to do what we do. (Preaching to myself right now as I’m looking for others to help join my own team!). In the meantime, I’m learning how to put processes together with supporting materials and tools to help someone else do what I seem to so naturally do. That way, when I am ready to bring on help, the systems are already in place to ensure quality service.

5. Be dependable.

If nothing else, my father is dependable. Consistently there when you need him. I’ve seen that over the years growing up and even moreso now as an adult. He’s a rock that many depend and lean on – not just his family but the students he teaches and mentors, his church members, extended family and more. In business, people are depending on you just like that. It’s so much more personal when it’s your own client’s business that’s depending on you to come through. Their success depends on your ability to perform for them.

6. Communication is everything.

We never really saw our parents fight about anything, but we would see them with the occasional disagreement or dealing with some faux pas. Nine times out of ten, my dad would chalk it up to miscommunication. Anytime he and my mother would have a slip-up about something, you could hear him say under his breath something like “communicate, communicate, communicate” or “your mother doesn’t know how to communicate” (sorry mom, you know he used to say that). Truth be told, whether it was her or him or both of them or none of that, what he said rings true for business too: communication is absolutely everything. It can make or break a client relationship. It is the glue that holds it all together. It is the thing that makes people be loyal or has them talking about you behind your back. Through any circumstance you may find yourself in in the business world, communication can largely be the difference between success or failure in a project, relationship or otherwise.

7. Remember who you are and whose you are.

No matter where you go in life, there’s one thing all of us girls were taught that never actually had to be said. Remember who you are and whose you are. Being brought up in the AME Church, we were taught to believe in a power much higher than our own. And being raised by a family full of educators, there was a standard and expectation unspoken which we all always felt. There was a very high standard to uphold. There were many dreams from the past our ancestors had for us. Held for us. Hoped for us. Worked for us. There was an expectation to hold your head high and yet balance that with not being too proud. Being humble. There’s a poem my dad introduced me to when I was little called “If” by Rudyard Kipling (a staple amongst the National Pan-Hellenic Council – i.e. NPHC – community) – which embodies this spirit of humble and mature excellence. The ability to dwell amongst kings and “common folks” alike, not being too much of a philosopher but still knowing your craft and being wise enough to advise the greats if needed. To take risks in life but to meet failure and success with equal resolve – not letting one sway us more than the other. It’s this feeling of knowing both who you are and who you belong to that gives you the courage needed to face the world. Hence, see my final point #8 below:

8. Believe in yourself.

The 8th and most important lesson: believe in yourself. When I was still in grade school, I distinctly remember a time where my dad pulled me aside – in the laundry room matter of fact – to tell me what seemed to be a random message. Had no idea why he decided to tell me that when he did. The message? “You’re going to do something very special one day.” It took me aback. It made me both want to cry and tear into destiny head first all at once. Because what it really meant is that he saw something special in me right then. He already thought I was quite special. As entrepreneurs, we have a lot of holes pocked into us. There is plenty of room for self-doubt, second-guessing, insecurities and more. You question whether or not you have what it takes to do this. You think to yourself: who am I to take on the world like this? To attempt to successfully traverse a path many have gone down and few have emerged “victorious” on the other side of? Remembering that people far less smart than you have achieved far greater. Remembering you’re just as capable if not moreso than anyone else. That you are equipped adequately with everything you have right now. That there is no perfect time – the perfect time is now. Reminding yourself that you are already ready and you do already have what it takes is important. Believing in yourself and your own capabilities to do this is perhaps the best lesson of all.





Andrea D. Smith, The ADS Agency
Marketing & Branding Tips for Entrepreneurs & Career Professionals