You can’t get through a semester of business school or a meeting with a loan counselor without learning the so-called unbreakable rules of business. And, yet, some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs ignored accepted business conventions.
Bill Gates, for example, attributes some of his success to reading, thinking, researching and being quick to call a dumb idea dumb. But he’s never written a playbook for business success. And Donald Trump, a perennial member of Forbes’ list of billionaires, suggests that rules don’t matter when he says “Everything in life is luck.”
Can only the lucky few get away with breaking the rules? Or can anyone? Can you?
Here are five business rules that successful CEOs have ignored:
1. Never start a business with friends or family.
Taki Skouras, Jaime Brown and Joseph Brown wanted to work together after they graduated from college.
They opened a weight loss kiosk, and it failed miserably.
But their friendship and desire to work together remained intact. They opened a second kiosk business, one that offered cell phone accessories.
Although they struggled initially, living together in a single room and taking home about $100 a week, they kept their faith in their friendship and the business.
Today, 10 years later, Cellairis has grown into a $350 million success, according to company spokesperson Andrew Park.
2. Never start a business unless you have a product or service to sell.
When Ronny C Jetmore was 25, he started his own insurance company despite the fact that he had no products of his own or contracts with outside insurers. He also had no money and limited knowledge of insurance — he had worked for one year at State Farm.
“This was 12 years ago. I was too young to be crippled by other people’s message of doom and gloom and had no bridges to burn, so why not do it? The worst that would happen was that I would fail and then simply get a job, so I did it.”
Jetmore never had to find a job. He continues to run Jetmore Insurance Group, Inc. in Lusby, MD as a successful small business.
“My wife stays home to raise the kids, and we are growing, almost every year. We have a house, cars, some money put away and we take a vacation once in a while. We don’t drive Ferraris, but we don’t drive jalopies either.”
3. Don’t start a business unless you have a solid business plan.
Audry Darrow had no business plan, no business experience and no product to sell when she launched Earth Science Organics.
She was a 50-year-old, stay-at-home mom and breast cancer survivor who changed her eating habits as part of her healing process. Her passion to help others motivated her to open a food manufacturing facility.
“Currently we are number one in our niche around the country selling to over 1,300 stores,” Darrow says. Sales this year are projected to reach $1.5 million.
4. Keep cash on hand to protect your business from slow-paying customers.
When Julia Cole launched Perfect Rubber Mulch six years ago, she didn’t have any spare cash lying around.
She solved the problem by refusing to allow credit terms to anyone who wanted to buy rubber mulch for use in playgrounds, sports fields or landscapes.
This was an unusual stance to take in a business-to-business environment in which 30 to 60-day billing cycles are the norm and not infrequently stretch to 90 and 120 days.
Cole said she lost a few customers because of her no-credit policy, but the company has grown to $1 million in sales and she never had to spend money on bill collection.
5. Stick to something you know.
The worlds of late-night infomercials and brick-and-mortar businesses collided when A.J. Khubani decided to take a product called Amber Vision glasses mainstream. He convinced a sporting goods store in New Jersey to carry them. The bold move made him a millionaire by age 26.
That was 30 years ago. Khubani’s “as seen on TV” products and the now ubiquitous red logo he created for them are carried in chain stores such as Target, Walmart, CVS and Bed, Bath and Beyond.
He recently expanded into book publishing. “Who Knew: 10,001 Easy Solutions to Everyday Problems” sold more than 600,000 copies between December 2012 and June 2013, according to Andrea Pass, a company spokesperson.
The One Unbreakable Rule
Gates and Trump both speak openly and often about one constant in their careers: hard work. The entrepreneurs interviewed for this article also spoke about the principle of hard work. They didn’t clock out at 5 p.m., shift unreasonable burdens on to their staff or substitute a can-do attitude for actually doing the labor necessary to achieve and maintain monetary rewards.
You can’t phone-in success. But, if you work hard at something you’re passion about, success will call you.
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