Guidance for Running Your Business from Poor Richard's Alamanack

An adage is a proverb or short statement expressing a general truth, and Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack is chock full of them. Published in 1759, it continues to provide advice that can serve small business owners well today. Here are 15 quotations from the Almanack and my interpretation of them as each pertains to your business today

1. The noblest question in the world is 'What good may I do in it?'  Every business owner must answer the question of what you're in business for -- what problems are you addressing and what help can you provide. Without the answer, you won't be able to formulate your company's offering and how to market it.

2. He that would catch fish, must venture his bait. Taking risks is part of owning a business.

3. Not to oversee workmen is to leave them your purse open. It's up to the business owner, or managers that report to him/her, to oversee employees' activities. This includes training, giving feedback, and handling problems that arise. Poor management and oversight will cost you money.

4. Necessity never made a good bargain. When you have to negotiate, the more willing you are to walk away if the terms don't agree with you, the more likely it is that you'll be successful. Don't show desperation or you're bound to get the short end of a bargain.

5. Beware of little expenses, a small leak will sink a great ship.  Are you aware of every penny your company spends? The little expenses most easily overlooked can add up to serious money. Review your expenses regularly to keep things in check.

6. If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher's stone. The less you spend, the more of your revenue you keep. Again, cutting expenses can boost your bottom line without your having to raise prices or increase the number of sales.

7. He that won't be counselled, can't be helped. You can't be an expert in everything you need to run your business. When you bring in specialists (consultants, attorneys, CPAs, etc.), heed what they say. If you don't like what they suggest, get a second opinion.

8. He that pursues two hares at once, does not catch one and lets the other go. You have to focus your resources carefully. Those starting out should direct energy and money toward a single product or service; expand once the first stage is up and running. Those who've been in business for a while should not get distracted by ideas that may lead them astray. Make sure to properly vet an idea before pursuing it.

9. Well done, is twice done. Avoid any action that could result in making mistakes and having to redo your work. Plan, plan, plan.

10. Glass, China, and Reputations, are easily crack'd, and never well mended. With social media today, it's all too easy for a disgruntled customer to post an unfavorable comment that can damage your company's reputation. You have to be vigilant in monitoring what's said about you and in handling unfavorable public statements. Maybe there are legitimate complaints that you can remedy. Maybe there are bogus postings that you need to counter with more numerous favorable ones.

11. For age and want save while you may; No morning sun lasts a whole day. If your business is doing well, it is an opportunity to retain earnings for future opportunities (e.g., expansion, relocation). This avoids the need to borrow, and pay interest to the lender.

12. Pay what you owe and you will know what is your own. Stay on top of your accounts receivable. This helps create a good credit rating for your business so that you'll eventually be able to borrow solely on the business' credit rating; you won't have to co-sign for business loans. You'll also gain a good reputation with your vendors and, hopefully, be able to command better terms on future purchases.

13. He that pays for work before it's done has but a pennyworth for two pence. You may be asked to pay up front for work to be done (e.g., web design). While you may have to make a down payment, do not complete payment before the job has been completed to your satisfaction.

14. Lost time is never found again. While you don't want to rush things (see #8 and #9), you don't want to procrastinate. Be organized so you can optimize your time.

15. Industry, perseverance, and frugality make fortune yield. Need I say more?

Final thought

The quote from the Almanack that sits prominently on my desk: "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." What adages do you find helpful in running your business?


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