• tarahthornburg

Entrepreneurial Lessons From Dad

This post originally aired on The Fearless Creative podcastIf you’d rather read instead of listen, I’ve included the abridged transcript below. 

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Welcome, welcome, welcome to the show everybody. I hope you are enjoying your summer and you are taking some time to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather.

I am recording this episode on Father’s Day weekend. Unfortunately, I am here in Colorado and my dad is in Illinois, so I did not get to spend Father’s Day weekend with him, but I will be seeing him very soon.

Still, I was thinking about my dad this week, and I thought it would be appropriate to make today’s theme “Stuff My Dad Taught Me About Business.”

As I’ve mentioned, my dad is self-employed. He has been self-employed my entire life. And although I wouldn’t characterize him as a creative entrepreneur, he views the world through an entrepreneurial lens and he has taught me a lot about business — whether he really meant to or not.

Even though I never intended to start my own business, I think he must have rubbed off on me as a kid by demonstrating what it can look like when you are your own boss. It can be very stressful at times, but you get to take long lunches.

Some of these lessons I’m going to share are kind of funny and some of them are more serious. But they are all dad wisdom.

But first it’s time for this week’s Discovery segment. Now, I have talked about this before on the show, but I wanted to highlight it again because it is such a fantastic book. That book is called “Awaken the Giant Within” by Tony Robbins…I just finished reading it this week, and there are so many amazing lessons in the book that I am going to be applying to my life. I think this should be required reading for anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur or anyone who just wants to level up in life.

Let’s dive into the stuff my dad taught me about business…Also know as “sh*t my dad says…”

So my very first foray into entrepreneurship that I can remember is my deep yearning as a six- or seven-year-old to open a lemonade stand. I think even at that age I knew that having one’s own lemonade stand was the true American Dream…or at least an obligatory American childhood experience.

I had a plan. I was going to build my lemonade stand using these giant human-sized legos my brother had. I was going to set up on the corner of my neighborhood in the hottest part of July. I was going to make big money…BUT my dad put the kibosh on my burgeoning business. I distinctly remember saying we couldn’t have a lemonade stand “for tax reasons.”

I am dead serious.

Honestly, I’m calling bullshit on a lot of the reasons I was given for why I couldn’t do things as a kid — including that temporary tattoos give you cancer. Not sure about that one.

But the complicated tax code around lemonade stands aside, this is the first thing my dad taught me about business and the human experience…There are only two certainties in life: Death and taxes.

We’ve all heard this expression before…To be honest with you, I don’t think my dad really fears death, but he does fear an audit.

He let me know very early on that the IRS will get you eventually…But, on the other hand, life is short. So write off that lunch as a business lunch and spend your summer vacation in the pool rather than peddling lemonade in the hot sun.

I’m kidding, of course. But it’s quite possible that the margins on roadside lemonade are not good enough to give you a positive ROI. Which is also a good business lesson, so I’ll give that one to my dad. “What’s your bottom line?” should always be a question you ask whenever you start a new business venture.

This brings me to the second thing my dad taught me about business…How to win in any sales negotiation.

Now, my dad is a man of many talents, but one of his greatest talents is negotiating vehicle trades. He literally trades his cars every six months. It’s just something weird about him. But because he negotiates on cars so much, he’s scary, scary good at it. It was pure poetry to watch him negotiate on my behalf when I went to buy my Ford Escape, and I learned several important things about negotiating at a car dealership.

  1. Have your number and stick to it. There’s kind of an art to knowing where you should be aiming on your price. All that matters is the difference, but my dad taught me that you have the MOST leeway on your trade-in. So this is really where you should focus your negotiations.

The secret is that you really just have to be a hard-ass about your price. Most people try to stay friends with whoever is selling them their car, and this is a mistake. Used car salesmen are not your friends. They are sharks. If they aren’t a little pissed off when you leave, you didn’t drive a hard enough bargain.

Don’t be afraid to stick to your guns for as long as it takes. They aren’t going to give up on a sale, but you may not get the sale done that day. You may have to come back. My dad has dragged negotiations out for weeks, but he always gets his asking price on a trade.

  1. Go at the end of the month. Most car dealerships have quotas their sales team is expected to make, and if you go at the end of the month, a salesperson might be more motivated to give you what you want because he needs to make another sale to hit his target.

3. This is my dad’s best advice. It helped me get through the trade for my VW Beetle unscathed…What you have to understand is that making you wait is a proven sales tactic. Used car salesmen want you to wait as long as possible. Their goal is to keep you trapped there until you are so worn down that you’ll take whatever deal they give you.

This is my dad’s advice: If you feel yourself getting worn down and you feel you aren’t getting anywhere, leave the dealership to go get some food. The salespeople don’t WANT you to leave, but you are not in jail. You are free to leave to get food and come back rejuvenated. They hate when you do this, which is just another reason why you should…They want you worn down, hopeless, and hangry. Don’t fall for it. Get thee to a Waffle House and get thee a chocolate chip waffle with loaded hashbrowns on the side.

4. I’m going to lend you my dad’s best catch-phrase. I use it in every sales negotiation I do, and for some reason it really rankles salespeople.

Whenever the sales guy comes back with his first offer, it’s going to be insulting. He knows this. When he comes back with a second or third offer and doesn’t seem to be budging, tell him to “go sharpen his pencil,” because you’re going to be there for a while.

I don’t know why this works, but my dad has used it in every negotiation I have ever attended, and now I use it too because it works. Sales is really just psychological warfare, and by letting the salesperson know that you are ready to settle in, you win just a little right there.

Go sharpen your pencil. Try it. Memorize it. Pull it out when you need to establish that you have the upper hand.

5. The next thing my dad inadvertently taught me about business is that you should always stand on brand.

Let me give you an example…

Take UnderArmour — the athletic apparel brand. Now UnderArmour used to be really cool. If you look at their stock chart, you’ll see that they reached their peak around $50 a share in September 2015 and that they have been on a mostly downward trajectory ever since.

Now I don’t know this for sure, but I’d have to guess that their downfall started whenever they began selling camo-print T-shirts at Kohl’s to men in their mid-50s like my dad.

Yes, my dad can make anything country — even UnderArmour.

This is a key lesson in staying on brand, which is something my dad is usually great at. The Corvette phase kind of destroyed his brand image, but he’s past that now. And when Jeep came out with a pickup truck again earlier this year, my dad bought one.

Because of course he did.

When I was a kid, my dad never missed a chance to be country. He once took me trick-or-treating in his John Deer tractor. I asked for a treehouse…He bought me a deer stand and a camo hat to go with it at Farm and Home Supply.

On the plus side, the deer stand was much higher than any other kid’s treehouse. It even came with a safety harness so you wouldn’t fall thirty feet out of a tree after you’d been throwing back Keystone Light all morning while pretending to hunt.

6. The next lesson from dad is…The devil’s in the details. I also like to call this lesson: If ye be a good bartender, ye shall be rewarded.

My dad is a very good tipper if a bartender accidentally on purpose forgets to charge him for one or two beers. The bartender should also be pleasant, quick with a refill, laugh at your jokes, and always serve beer in a clean glass.

My dad is the person who taught me about head retention in beer. If a glass is not completely clean, it will prevent a good head from forming at the top of your beer when it is poured.

As you might have guessed, he is very detail-oriented, and this is critical when you run your own business — especially if you are in the service industry. If you want to know if a restaurant is good, my dad will always be able to tell you if the produce they serve is fresh, if they get good cuts of meat, and if the tables are clean. He is currently on the lookout for a good franchise to buy, so he always notices these things and he’s taught me to notice them, too. He is scary-good at predicting which restaurants are going to go under long before they do.

There was once a restaurant in the little town where he lives called the Tilted Kilt, which is kind of like Hooters with a Celtic twist…It’s kind of perfect for an intensely Irish-Catholic town like Quincy, Illinois…I won’t share my dad’s politically incorrect observations about the talent at the Tilted Kilt, but suffice to say that the restaurant is now closed.

7. The next lesson my dad taught me really put my mind at ease. I think I learn more from my dad the older I get…probably because as we get older, we start to realize that if we are going through something, our parents have probably already gone through it.

When I visited him over Christmas, I was a little nervous to talk to him about the house we had just started building. My dad has built several custom homes, and although he was not doing the physical construction, he knows a lot about how much it costs and what is involved. I knew I couldn’t bullshit him about how deep we were into this.

My husband and I had done some financial jiu-jitsu at the bank to get the money we needed to build the house. When I told my dad about this, he nodded and laughed. He basically said he’d done it all when he was young…He didn’t have to do it anymore, but he’d hustled and gotten extensions on tax returns in order to get a loan to get a house built.

I took this to mean that everyone has to hustle financially when they’re young. It’s stressful. It’s sketchy. But everyone moves through it. Right now it feels like a really big deal, but I keep telling myself that when I am my dad’s age, I will look back at this time fondly even though I am white-knuckling it now.

8. The last lesson I want to share from my dad is that relationships are everything in business. As I mentioned, my dad lives in a fairly small town, and we cannot go anywhere without someone recognizing him. He is the quintessential small-town celebrity. Everybody knows who he is…They know he sells insurance…and they know he’s the best insurance guy because he’s been doing it for 30 years.

But because he’s my dad, I know what goes into his business. And I know that whenever his secretary goes out of town, all hell breaks loose. The words “Sue’s gone” can make everyone in my family groan automatically. Your people are important to your business. And if you find someone who is good, you should never let them go.

Sue going on vacation also demonstrates just how important it is to have a good man or woman by your side when you are running your own business. My step-mom picks up all kinds of slack for my dad whenever Sue goes on vacation or calls in sick. She answers the phones and takes messages…I honestly think my dad would implode every time his secretary called in if he didn’t have my step-mom to help him.

Having a good partner to help you through the tough times in your business is critical. And I know from working with my husband on our business ventures is that if you’re going to be married, you have to be married to someone who isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty when it’s important to your company.

That about wraps it up…Dad, if you’re listening, I love you, and thanks for the lifelong MBA.

The rest of you…If you have any funny or insightful things your dad has taught you, I would love to hear them. You can get in touch with me @writewithtarah on Instagram and Twitter or at www.writewithtarah.com.

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave a written review. Reviews help me build up the podcast, and they help creatives like you find their home away from home.

I’ll see you next time, and happy creating!

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