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Best Advice Ever

There have been a few moments in my life when someone has said something so meaningful that it forever changed my perspective. Here are just a few of those that I’ve found most powerful.

Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it.
— Benjamin Franklin

Put the Customers’ Needs First

It was winter in New Hampshire. I was probably just twelve or thirteen. There was a fresh layer of heavy snow on the ground and I was determined to make a buck helping neighbors clear their driveways and walkways. I took my shovel and went about knocking on doors until someone would take me up on my offer. My first customers were a pair of elderly women who lived together just around the corner.

After I’d cleared a path from the door to the street, my father came around to check on me. He noticed that the path I’d dug out was only about as wide as the shovel. He looked at me, a bit annoyed, and said, “How the hell would they get a stretcher through that?” He then instructed me to dig out the front walkway so that it was clear of snow and as wide as the steps on the farmhouse porch.

Of course, I was annoyed by my father’s interference with my first business endeavor, but I learned a few important lessons. The first was to think about the customers’ needs first - don’t shovel to to make it easier for someone to get to the door; do it so that the customer has what they may need - a means of egress in case of an emergency. The second, I could save myself a lot of frustration by getting it done right the first time. Lastly, I learned that there’s no point in taking on a job if you’re going to leave a mess for someone else to clean up - this builds character and a reputation for reliability.

About Friendship

I was just about to start a new job in a new city. At the going away lunch, one of my co-workers pulled me aside and said, “You’ve got to be a friend before you have a friend.”

There’s nothing wrong with being the first to reach out for a handshake. 

Dave Kerpen, founder of Likable Local, was recently interviewed by LinkedIn and had this to say about similar advice he received from his father-in-law, “...when you want something from someone, give them something instead, with no strings attached or expectations. Ask how you can be of service. Act like a true friend, even before you’ve established a friendship. Are you guaranteed to be able to leverage this later? Absolutely not. But that’s not the point – the point is that when you act unselfishly – when you behave as you would to a great friend – trustworthy and trusting, respectful and kind – then more often than not, good things will come in the relationship."

Problem Solving

I’d been particularly plagued by an ongoing challenge we faced at work. I had my boss’ attention for a moment and found the perfect opportunity to bring it up. After I’d expressed my frustration and explained the situation, he looked me in the eye and said, “Come back to me when you’ve got a solution.”

From this moment, I learned a lot about empowering employees and that, in most cases, people can be either a part of the solution or a part of the problem. No reasonable boss or client will hire someone who will make their life more difficult.

Planning For Success

My high school home ec. teacher used recipes, meal planning and life skills classes to teach us more than how to cook, shop, budget, manage our credit and keep ourselves healthy. Each exercise started with an objective - this is what we will accomplish today.

As we prepared our shopping lists or laid out the ingredients necessary to bake a certain dish, she’d often quote Ben Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” This was proved repeatedly by a wide variety of horrifying non-edibles, created by students who failed to plan ahead.

The other thing she often said was, “If you don’t know where you’re going, that’s exactly where you’ll end up.” I’ve repeated this phrase countless times when talking to friends, colleagues and family members who struggle with goal setting. It’s unlikely that you’ll reach the ideal destination if you haven’t thought about what that place looks like or where it may be.

To read more advice from business experts, check out these great articles:

This article was written by Fire Starter Brands’ Stephen Ekstrom. Click here to connect with him or to talk about how Fire Starter Brands can help your organization reach new audiences.

Stephen Ekstrom