Business Wisdom from Dad
by Jake Poinier
I received the writing and editing side of my brain from my mom’s side of the family, but it was my dad who taught me how the business world works. He died five months shy of his 60th birthday, but lived long enough to see one important prediction about my career come to fruition. A few months into my first magazine editing job after college, I had whined to him about some office irritation or another, and he simply said, “You know, you’re eventually going to work for yourself.” Sure enough, he was right: I started my freelance writing and editing business not quite a year before he died.
As the saying goes, “The older I get, the smarter my old man was.” Here are a few of the key pieces of his business wisdom that continue to resonate for me:
- Never have an acrimonious departure. He gave this advice when I was ready to quit my first job, and he knew my temper well enough to realize that I might say something stupid or sarcastic when I did. In addition to not wanting to burn bridges, the fact is that nothing you say in an exit interview is going to change anything for your coworkers remaining behind at the company. Today, as an entrepreneur, I sever relationships with difficult clients in the politest way possible – after all, who knows who they might know, or where they might end up?
- Create a go-to-hell fund. This is an important corollary to the previous bullet. A go-to-hell fund is money that you’ve set aside so that you’re never beholden to your employer – at any time and for any reason, you can tell a boss to take a job and shove it. (Nicely, without acrimony!) While my dad originally extolled the virtues of the fund as a safety net for quitting a job, I’ve found it’s even more valuable for me as a freelancer, because it allows me to dump a bad client or say no to an unappealing one. I never make a business decision out of desperation or fear. It’s the ultimate form of freedom.
- You can’t worry about what other people think. Dad spent most of his career in sales, and much of it as an independent rep. He drove cars based on how cheap they were to operate and maintain, rather than how comfortable and stylish. He was a tenacious competitor who worked hard when he needed to, but felt free to take ample time off. Although he had many ups and downs in income and prospects, he remained relentlessly positive. And although he surely could have made more money working in a corporate job, he had an entrepreneur’s spirit.
Dad saw me launch my business, but it was too early to know if I was going to succeed. I’m sure he thought that he’d set me on the correct trajectory, which is the best a parent can do. Sixteen years into my chosen path, it’s clear he was right once again.
Happy Father’s Day, everyone!
Please answer in the comments: What was the most important business lesson your dad taught you?
Jake “Dr. Freelance” Poinier is the author of The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid. Sign up to receive a free copy of his upcoming ebook, The Smooth-Sailing Freelancer, at DearDrFreelance.com.
My dad’s best advice was “If you don’t know, ask!” I have been unafraid to ask questions my whole life – and it continues to serve me. My first book was “1,001 Real-Life Questions for Women: A Self-Exploration Workbook to Make You Laugh, Cry, Ponder, Ruminate, & Consider.”
Great post, Jake!
Marcie (aka Laura O)
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Thanks, Marci/Laura! Asking questions is a great one–and a lesson I’ve tried to impart to my own kids.
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This may not be the best advice from my dad, but it’s the most memorable: “Even a nice guy will take advantage of you if you let him.” While that is questionable, I am proud to have learned my dad’s work ethic. He worked hard every day, and when jobs didn’t work out, he took on whatever he could to support us, holding his head up high. It’s great to see him enjoying retirement.
Thanks for commenting, Shay. Not all advice is rainbows and unicorns, and you do need to look out for bad actors! Sounds like dad earned his retirement well.