Why did you become an entrepreneur? Who inspired you to take the biggest risk of your life? How did they convince you that you had something the world wanted? In my case, it was my mother. Since it’s only a few days until Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share what my mom taught me and see if it can help you become a more successful entrepreneur.
First, a little background, my mother grew up in a very poor family. When she went to trade school her notebook was made out of cardboard that her mother cut from orange crates so she could carry her papers back and forth to school. As a young woman, she got polio and spent several years in an iron lung after several major surgeries that took away her ability to sing and talk, as well as her ability to have children…or so they thought.
She fought mental illness much of her life. She heard voices in her head, ugly destructive voices saying things that shocked even the most experienced psychiatrists. Finally, she received significant electroshock therapy to try to help her get better. None of it worked, none of it worked. Not even a little. Then something amazing happened, not a miracle, but close. She started volunteering at the local Goodwill store. She began spending time with people who had more challenging lives than her. She started to come out of her shell. She wrote poetry and sang funny little limericks.
She started bringing home books from Goodwill to share with me. She brought home Your Erroneous Zones and Pulling Your Own Strings by Wayne Dyer. She started sharing their ideas with me. She became quite a good teacher. It’s hard to imagine the change she went through over the next couple of years. She got better and she became almost normal. We had an opportunity to share our love for art and reading. Even to the time she died, the art would always bring her home. When I tried to start my photography business, she shared her advice with me. Her life taught me to be fiercely independent, constantly growing, and strong. When I took a job selling Kirby Vacuums she helped me get my practice appointments with her many friends.
I can remember one person she had me show it to. They lived in a 8 by 12 apartment off the bus line in Cleveland. They wanted to buy a vacuum from me, but I had to talk them out of it because they would be unable to lift the heavy sweeper. I felt so bad, I got my boss to give me a lighter Hoover that was traded in by one of my other customers so the poor woman could sweep her floors. My mother asked me how I planned to eat if I wasn’t willing to sell her friends. I told her not to worry, there were plenty of other people who could not only afford the sweeper, but had the strength to use it. She cried when I didn’t get paid that week because I hadn’t closed a deal.
It was heartbreaking. I’m not sure who was more upset, me or my mother. She told me good ethics won’t always put food on the table. I told her I would prefer not to eat than compromise my values. She told me that was when she knew I was ready to take on the real world. It’s funny, I’ve been involved in sales for many years, both big and small but I have tried not to compromise the values my mother taught me.
It can be hard; companies always are all about what you’ve done lately. They have very short memories. Luckily for me, I learned to sell in a time when if you worked hard and stuck to it, you would find people willing to buy from you. I have the feeling things have changed today, the way we sell has changed. As importantly, the way people buy is changing. I still hear my mother asking me the tough questions. Are you keeping up your skills? Are you creating value for your clients? Are you building better relationships with your best clients? Did you call your mother? Just kidding on the last one! Selling and business development is changing, those who are unwilling to change may find it hard to do well in the new economy.
People are more cynical than in the past. I remember going door to door giving away steak knife sets if the person would take a demo. Can you imagine doing that today? I’m not sure how long it would be, but I bet it wouldn’t be very long before the police showed up!
So, thank your mother today. Odds are, she supported you, and rooted for you when a lot of other people thought you were nuts for going out on your own. I know I’m a better person today because my mother was there for me. Happy Mother’s Day.
See you next week.