29 Things No One Told Me About Business


I was asked during a phone interview recently to share a few things I wish I knew back when I first started out in the world of Internet marketing. Things that maybe could have made my journey easier or lessons I wish weren’t so hard learned. It got me thinking about where I’ve been, what I’ve jumped over (or, trip over, as the case often was) and the guidebook I wish someone would have handed me when I was still fresh-eyed and new to the world.

I wanted to expand on some of the answers I gave during that interview. Below are 29 things no one told me about business that I really wish they would have.

1. You can save yourself 20 redundant emails (and maybe some hurt feelings) simply by picking up the phone or walking across the room to ask the person that question you’re trying to type out in an email.

2. There will be days when you really don’t want to get out of bed to start up again. Do it anyway. Unless there are tears involved. Then stay there until you can make them stop.

3. Firing people sucks, but employing people who don’t fit sucks even harder. Look for culture and value fit. Most other things can be taught, picked up, or beaten into them.

4. You’ll learn more from people who think differently than you, than from those who share your way of thinking. My greatest business conversations have been with people who sit on the opposite side of the spectrum from me.

5. Today’s nemesis may be tomorrow’s ally. The opposite is also true.

6. If something’s not working, change it. You must fail faster.

7. Today’s hot trends are tomorrow’s Friendster. Focus on what you’re after, not the tool you’re using today to get there. Twitter may not last, but your need to have real-time conversations with customers and approach them on their terms will remain. How will you do it post-Twitter?

8. If you’re lucky, your employees will always be smarter than you. Embrace that.

9. You will become who you align yourself with. Pick wisely.

10. Always take the lunch. You never know where it will lead or what unlikely friendship it will create. That stranger in the bar could grow up to be your business partner. [Right, Rhea?]

11. No is a complete sentence.

12. Hire an accountant; never touch your own books. That’s not your strong suit and it’s a waste of your time to mess it up.

13. Getting involved with Internet drama, public flame wars or emotional train wrecks is for people with too much time on their hands. It’s distracting and will derail you from your real purpose. [Though sometimes it does brighten up a slow day.]

14. Always remember why you’re doing this. Know, at your core, what you’re trying to build and why you’re trying to build it. It will see you out of some difficult times. Make sure your team remembers it, too.

15. Don’t trust people who routinely answer questions you never asked. They’re trying to justify something – maybe to you, maybe to themselves. Either way, it probably won’t help you.

16. Having people pen hate blog posts with your name in the title is a sign you’re doing something right. Your skin will get thicker and it will be okay. You’ll actually come to find the attacks amusing.

17. You won’t know always what you’re doing or have all the answers. You just need to know where to go to find them. Or at least have the balls to make a decision and stick with it.

18. When debating with someone, act under the assumption that you’re right. Even if you’re not. If you show uncertainty, you lose anyway.

19. The world will not end if you don’t get that blog post out on time. Eat dinner. And go for that run.

20. The best clients are the ones you’d be friends with and who you’d happily support even if they weren’t paying you. We’re lucky to have more than a few of those currently on the books. However, we do still charge them. ;)

21. If the client isn’t happy, it’s probably because you did a crappy job establishing expectations. Do it better next time.

22. The people in business who you think have it the most together are probably Charlie Sheen’ing it in their home lives. Don’t psych yourself out.

23. It’s never the post you like that will become viral. It’s the best *they* like. Remember that.

24. You’ll get more from promoting others than you will from promoting yourself. You’ll also learn more, be introduced to cooler people, and hear about things sooner.

25. Business is based around relationships. The relationship you have with your partner, with your employees, with your colleagues, and especially with your competitors. Invest in them and treasure them. You’re lucky to be surrounded by people constantly surprising you.

26. Talent and luck only get you so far. You need to create your own opportunity.

27. Think before you execute, but don’t get stuck there. A mediocre idea that’s acted upon will always trump the genius idea still in your head.

28. As partners, you don’t always have to agree on the individual steps, just the course.

29. You are going to meet some amazing people. You just have to relax enough to enjoy the ride.

Those are 29 things I wish someone had sat me down and told me when I started on this path. What do you wish someone told you? What lessons have you learned the hard way?  Give me one.

Your Comments

  • Todd Mintz

    People forget but Google never does :.)

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha. Hear, hear. Luckily, Twitter Search now does if you can catch it fast enough. ;)

      • paisley

        actually.. not really Lisa.. do Google realtime you can find the deleted tweets…

        (HINT: change time to time of tweet)

        once the library of congress happened tweets live on forever if you do’t catch it within 73 seconds. (longest one that stuck)

  • Randy S

    Great post! The two things I would add to this list would be:
    1. Don’t be afraid to fail – Failure can lead to success and a fear of failure can cripple your ability to think outside the box.
    2. Own your mistakes – A client/boss/coworker can usually tell if you blew it. Don’t be afraid to own your mistakes and show what you’ve learned.

    • Lisa Barone

      Oooh, +1 on the owning your mistakes thing. That’s a big one. Most times people really don’t care you goofed (because they goof plenty), they just want you to acknowledge it instead of trying to pass it off on someone else.

      “Yes, I was late getting that to you but that’s because JANE was talking to me during lunch yesterday and then BOB stole my apple which made me very, very emotional…”


  • Naomi Niles

    Love all of these!

    My two for the day are:
    1. It’s more important to stand up for what you think is the right thing, than to be right.
    2. There’s no too honest or too dishonest. You’re either one or the other, honest or dishonest.

  • Nathalie Lussier

    Ooh I really loved reading through this list. A lot of them had me nodding, and a few I had to pause and imagine a situation. I especially like the one about working with clients you’d love to help even if they weren’t paying… and how you still charge them. What a great way to look at things!

    You’ve got much wisdom to share Lisa! Oh, and yes the internet will not blow up if you go to bed… that one’s been a tough one to learn. ;) Kind of like the “eat dinner, go for a run” before posting to your blog.

    • Lisa Barone

      Right? I used to have such panic attacks about what would happen if there was not fresh content on the blog EVERY DAY. Then you miss a day and realize, yeah, no one cared and they probably didn’t even notice. YOU’RE the one who’s OCD about it. :)

  • netmeg

    – People skills are more important than technical skills. The latter can usually be learned. The former, either you have them or you don’t.

    – No amount of technical skill or success can make up for someone who is disruptive to the team (i.e. I’d have fired “House” after the second episode, with no regrets)

    – If you’re not failing every now and then, you’re not taking enough risks. You also need to allow your employees to fail. Let them know it’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s not okay to make the same mistake more than once. If you can’t trust them not to make business-altering mistakes, then maybe they shouldn’t be employees in the first place.

    – If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re considering partnering up with someone, make sure you ascertain ahead of time that they’re an entrepreneur too. There is no hell quite like expecting your partner to be an entrepreneur and finding out they just wanna be an employee.

    Be different or be damned.

    I have a lot more, but you said one and I’m already over.

    • Lisa Barone

      I love that entire comment.

      On the hiring side, we deeefinitely hired a few people awhile back that had pretty good technical skills but made you wonder if they grew up in an isolation tank. It was not pretty and the other staff didn’t really appreciate working with them. So they’re no longer here. Love your comment about being disruptive to the team. So, so, true.

      And by all means continue with the teaching. I didn’t intend to stifle anyone. :)

    • Lucretia Pruitt

      That partner one? 100% spot on. Special Hell when they expect to work like an employee and yet be treated like a partner.

    • Michelle Robbins

      Spot on with hiring tips Meg! I always say “a smart person can learn anything – but you can’t teach someone to be smart” – hire smart people, and teach them what they need to know to get the job done.

  • Dana DiTomaso

    Mine are:

    1. Be upfront about delivery dates. You will struggle with this. Everyone underestimates how long things take, especially in consulting.

    2. Thank your customers regularly. Mean it.

    I have a post on a similar vein from last year, after speaking to a group of Engineering students who were in a “Entrepreneurship” course.

    • Lisa Barone

      Thanks, Dana! Especially love the one about thanking your customers. Customer service is such a big part of both the consulting biz and running a startup. You really need to be putting channels in there to make sure you’re addressing it the way you should be.

  • Tre ~

    embedded therein is the conviction with hearing one’s voice and heeding it..sifting thought, discerning untruths, determining truths, stepping forward. grateful to know of you thanks to @alizasherman ‘s link. here’s to thriving.

  • Nancy Davis

    The biggest thing I have learned is “If you would not say it to someone’s face, do not say it on Twitter, Facebook, etc.” This is why we have fiends. Call and complain to them.

    The other thing is – find a boss who will push you to be better. I feel like I am an okay writer, but my boss is pushing me to be better. I may hate his tactics sometimes, but the truth is he is making me better, even if it hurts.

    If it is not challenging, it probably is not really worth doing.

    Love this post Lisa, really great list, thanks!

    • Lisa Barone

      The biggest thing I have learned is “If you would not say it to someone’s face, do not say it on Twitter, Facebook, etc.” This is why we have fiends. Call and complain to them.

      Ha, in the world of passive aggressive social media updates – AMEN! ;)

  • Chris Yee

    Hey Lisa,

    Long time reader but first time commenter. This comes at the perfect time in my life because I’m about to start up my own SEO biz. This drives home the point that no matter how much time you spend on a super detailed biz plan, you can never account for everything. You’ve inspired me and perhaps in a few years I can have my own unique post just like this. =]

  • Jerry McCarthy

    I used to be in the marketing, managing and promotion sector of professional boxing. My fighter went from obscurity to HBO to Heavyweight Champion of the World in 3 years. Though it was short lived (it was a hell of a ride), the lessons I learned in that space were priceless. Probably the best one was when someone shows you their playing cards (intentions or actions), take them at face value. Trying to give them the benefit of the doubt , bumping your head against a wall trying to figure out their rationality or making excuses for them is a waste of your time so move on. Great post Lisa!!

  • Lucretia Pruitt

    Absolutely awesome post!

    My big one was “if the other guy is treating someone else like dirt, don’t expect him to treat you differently. If he’s refusing to pay someone else, bad-mouthing them, and lying to them? You can expect to be that person if you do business with him.”

    Adding this to my “link it rather than rewrite it” folder. Thanks Lisa!

  • Debra Gaynor

    This is great. I will (humbly) add three more from a blog post I wrote earlier this year: http://bit.ly/ixi5S5
    * If you give people wings, and tell them they can do something they’ve never done before, they’ll probably do it really well.
    * If you think there is a problem with a client or a member of your staff, there is.
    * You work hard so you can take fabulous vacations.

  • Melanie Phung

    I don’t run a business so I can’t speak from the perspective of a business owner, but something I like to remind myself of no matter what I’m doing: Ego and name recognition don’t pay the bills. Even if you’re a “rockstar” in your field, at the end of the day, it’s not going to sustain you if you can’t deliver the goods.

  • Kim Krause Berg

    — Age doesn’t matter, as long you continue to kick ass on the job

    — Women don’t have babies and suddenly drop out of their careers (A lesson I had to prove to my father.)

    — Always be approachable. To everyone. Even those who you know can’t stand you. (That’s their problem.)

    — The Internet is NOT real-time.

    — Family first. This is the #1 lesson I learned. This one has appeared in so many ways, in lots of different forms. I’ve worked the hardest for bosses who supported this and had some funny client calls with kids and dogs in the background.

    — Always be who you really are, not a clone of somebody else. It’s amazing what games we play with ourselves just to feel accepted.

    Beautiful post Lisa.

  • Michelle Lowery

    I would add:
    Trust your gut. It may sound cliché, but it’s served me well many times. If you get a certain feeling about a person or situation, there’s a reason. Don’t discount it.

    Remember that you can learn something from everyone, whether it’s the most experienced member of your team, or the least.

    Great post, Lisa. :-)

  • Monica Wright

    Thank you Lisa, AND Kim. I am still justifying to my mother why I work the way I do with the 2 kids, it’s just how I’m programmed. One of my favorite bosses (and good friend) used to say, “I want no surprises.” That’s all he asked for. That has got to be one of the best pieces of advices I have ever gotten for working on a team, working for clients or for someone else – if there are no surprises, good or bad, there is little risk for blame, resentment or bad feelings. And credit is given where credit is due.

  • Melinda

    My dad told me, “Treat the company’s money like it’s your own.”

  • netmeg


    If possible, hire someone who’d be doing it as a hobby if they couldn’t do it for pay.

    Don’t give the keys to the kingdom (root password, access to the cashbox, whatever) to the person who keeps lobbying for it, give it to someone who doesn’t particularly want it. Cause the person lobbying usually wants it for the wrong reason.

    A year of experience is worth 5-10 years of formal education.

    Take EXTRA good care of your support staff, be they clerical, technical, whatever. Nobody ever does it alone.

    Get over yourself. There’s always room for improvement.

    Hope for the best, expect the worst (I think I wrote about that here before)

    Reflect and be flexible. It never hurts to revisit your philosophies / business model / original premise to see if it still holds. If I stuck to all the beliefs and practices I had when I was 24, I’d be dead or broke or dead broke.

  • Doc Sheldon

    Lisa, I swear… I’m going to stop coming by if all I can ever expect is greater wisdom than I encountered on my last visit! ;)
    Fantastic post, and every tidbit is something that all of us can put to good use!

    One of my favorites:
    When you’re in charge, BE in charge! Be the first to shoulder the blame, and the last to take credit.

  • Ron

    “Don’t trust people who answer questions you never asked”

    How did you know about my relationship with my ex partner?

    Very perceptive,
    cheers Ron

  • hyderalis

    I <3 that 'dont make false expectations to client' really in this seo field you are fooling your client by showing them high rankings & guaranteed results which should be avoided.

    Just keep in mind RESULTS are return on investments not EFFORTS :)

  • David

    Congrats, great list. And very true. Seems we’re all living some of the same life, huh ? ;)

  • bluephoenixnyc

    This is so wonderfully-written and on-point. It skips the dodgy platitudes and gets down to business. What I’m finding to be the common thread here is this: That business will always be about people finding a way to get along with one another.

  • Leslie Curtiss

    My lesson is never give up, pick your battles wisely, and always put family first.

  • Rosemary ONeill

    Can we go back and mail this list to our past selves? Awesome list!

    I’d add two:

    1. Don’t hire anyone who’s not willing to empty the dishwasher or assemble furniture with you (regardless of their title).
    2. Don’t trust anyone who uses the word “frankly” a lot in conversation.

  • PM Daeley

    Thanks for the reminders Lisa! Here’s something I so wish someone had told me early on: Beware the really great client with lots of money.
    Sounds crazy I know, but you can distort your business if you get too successful too quickly. You come to believe it will always be that way and it won’t. Clients come and go through no fault of your own. You need to experience the loss and recovery of clients early in the process of owning a business.

  • Amanda Devine

    This has brightened my day, and it is Saturday, so you know that I must have REALLY enjoyed it!

    These 29 things should automatically be placed in every business book, because they are all 100% true.

    The one I would add, is that failure is the best teacher and absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, or hidden. I learned the most and (like you said..) the fastest during my “failure” and my actions following it, cemented my reputation among my peers and customers as someone capable and driven and loyal. I wish I had worried less about what people thought, I would have had a whole lot more sleep!

    If you don’t mind, I would love to send my readers from http://www.createdby.co.za to read this too?

  • Farnoosh

    Lisa, I just resigned from my lucrative 12 year career to pursue my dream so I wish someone – preferably those who raised me and whom I adore but any one else too – had told me that Corporate America is a huge misfit for me and that a restless soul needs to find its own path, outside of the boxes of structured organizations and bureaucratic walls.
    So that’s what I wish someone had told me – but hey, I finally saw the light :)!

  • Laurie Gourley

    I love your list but I would like to add one thing. Attitude and perception are a key ingredient in being successful.

  • Gonzalo Chagas

    Great stuff here! I love the # ” You will become who you align yourself with. Pick wisely”.
    Thank you

  • JM

    Great post!

    One I learned:

    For something YOU want: If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.