The Best Advice I Ever Got – About Being an Effective Entrepreneur


The March 21, 2005 issue of Fortune magazine included an article titled “The Best Advice I Ever Got.” It was a great article that offered wit and wisdom from top business leaders. It motivated us to produce this book. The following compilation focuses on the “best advice” people have received in helping them become effective and successful entrepreneurs.

Don Katz
Wine Director,

The best advice my parents ever gave me was to go to college. Considering that I wanted to drop out every semester of my degree program in Hospitality Management, this was not easy advice to follow. Now that I own my own business I think they are quite proud. My first lesson from a professor was to use someone else’s money to open a business. My dad is still thanking the professor for that one! Another professor taught me to survey all my skills and market myself. Since going blind, I recognize my newly enhanced sense of taste and smell are my new best assets. I used these refined skills to market myself and open Symposium Wine Bar where the focus is on pouring blind friendly wines.

Caroline Packman and Lisa Levin-Cohen
Founders, Pack Happy LLC

The best advice we ever got was from our respective fathers. Caroline’s father always said that successful people adjust to change. That is something that is important to remember when running your own company. We look for the positive in the precarious situations that arise and challenge ourselves to come up with a way to benefit from them.

Lisa’s father told us that getting orders is one thing but getting reorders was a sign of true success. We always keep that in mind and work hard to maintain good communication with our vendors to make sure that we get those reorders!

Ed Zimmer
Founder and President, Zimmer Foundation

The best advice I ever received (from an uncle in my pre-teens) was “build your vocabulary.” I’m sure his intent was that I learn to communicate clearly and precisely. However, I later learned that advice was the secret to gaining a quick understanding of any new field, technology or discipline. Once you’ve learned its special vocabulary, you have a grasp on all of its key concepts – and as an added benefit, you find yourself accepted as a “peer.”

The best advice I can give (based on 60 years of entrepreneuring in many different businesses) is “focus on your customers.” A “business” (any business) is nothing more than a set of customers (and a successful business, a set of satisfied customers) – everything else involved in your business is only a means to that end.

Thomas A. Goodrow
Founder and President, NACCE (National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship)

Focus, Focus, Focus! This by far is the best advice I have learned through personal experience. Do one thing better than everyone else, no matter what it is, and you’ll enjoy entrepreneurial success. Fight off all temptations to be distracted and unfocused by entertaining opportunities that compete with your core entrepreneurial mission, otherwise you’ll become vulnerable to your competition. Lastly, take time to listen to everyone but always remember to follow no one, except your peaceful balance of intuition and intellect.

Michael Jansma
Founder and President,

The best advice I ever received was from my college finance teacher. My class was having a discussion about the significance of company profits. We were learning about the practicality or commonality of companies existing while not making money. This was baffling to me.

“Cash flow is always the factor that determines whether or not a company can exist, regardless of profits,” he said. “It’s the lifeblood of business,” he further explained. He stated that cash flow played the same role as the blood in our bodies. No blood, no life. He provided us with many real life examples, showing us companies who for years spent previous years’ profits, leveraged employee retirement funds, borrowed money from banks and vendors, and remained in business despite having no profit. Eventually, many of these companies turned around and became profitable. He also showed us real life examples of companies where profits were exorbitant, yet lack of cash flow killed the company. Extending credit to customers and having huge Accounts Receivable eventually drove the companies out of business. They were unable to pay their vendors and their employees.

I experienced this first hand a year ago when my company suddenly lost one of its largest customers. We were unprepared because we had never really sought other large sources of revenue. We had outstanding bills from vendors and not much revenue; keeping the lights on became very difficult. Suddenly, I painfully remembered my professor’s words. I did what those other companies did: I borrowed. And borrowed. And got back to work. Fortunately, today we are profitable. Managing cash flow is the top priority of my job daily.

John Jansheski
President and CEO, DenTek Oral Care

The best advice I ever received in business is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Tom Elliott was the President of Washington Fish & Oyster and also one of my mentors. Mr. Elliott afforded my burgeoning company the use of his Telex machine to communicate with Korea. When our manufacturer’s quote for freight “prepaid,” which means Freight On Board delivered to my warehouse, noted that the cost for FOB shipping would be “free,” Tom warned me that when you are in business, there are very few things a company does not pay for one way or another. I received this eminent advice from Tom in 1984 and it has served our company well for over two decades. “No free lunch” prompts us to look at every deal and examine it for hidden costs and charges and make sure we are getting the best possible price for goods and services.

Norman Love
Founder and CEO, Norman Love Confections

Mr. Horst Schulte, former CEO of the Ritz-Carlton Company, told me long ago to go to work with a purpose, to go to work striving to be excellent everyday. In fact, to go to work to be better than you were yesterday. This is our philosophy, my employees and I, and has been since day one.

Scott Matthew
President, Super Fast Pizza

The most important part of your business is the one thing you can’t farm out – marketing. You have to learn it yourself. The guys at the ad agencies are only interested in awards and know almost nothing about getting real people to give YOU real money. (There are experts out there who know how to market, but most of them do it for themselves!) Read the classics: Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins and Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples. All the techniques that work were laid out decades ago: The Offer; Call to Action; Headlines; the Guarantee; Testing. The ad guys don’t know them. Frankly, they couldn’t care less. When you fail, they’ll just move on to their next sucker. If you want to succeed, YOU have to learn them.

Peyton Anderson
CEO, Affinergy, Inc.

The best advice I ever got was on February 7, 1998, at a local conference on entrepreneurship. I have had the notes taped to my office wall ever since. A wonderful person and entrepreneur, Robbie Hardy, shared her top 10 keys to being a successful entrepreneur:

  1.  Practice listening
  2. Surround yourself with smart people
  3. Spend investors’ money wisely
  4. Articulate and share a vision
  5. Trust and respect your partner
  6. Have unlimited stamina and passion
  7. Don’t take yourself too seriously
  8. Focus, focus, focus
  9. Develop a sense of humor
  10. Leverage your ego, don’t bronze it.