Three lessons I have learned building up a business

Colm O’Brien gives some advice to those on their quest to start their own businesses.

Feeding Johnny is the story of Colm O’Brien’s rise from teenaged kitchen porter, to manager of Bewley’s on Grafton Street, to owner of Carambola Kidz, which delivers school lunches to 100,000 children in Ireland every week.

O’Brien aims to help his readers learn from his highs and lows, in their quest to start their own businesses. Drawing on all of his experiences – good and bad, success and failure – O’ Brien gifts readers with his most valuable and honest business advice.

1. Time management doesn’t work

‘I knew it!’ I hear some of you cry victoriously. Have I finally vindicated your way of being? Life is just too random to plan anything, so you have always simply chosen not to plan.

Regrettably, if that has been your reaction, I must burst your bubble. Planning is essential. But trying to manage time itself is impossible. Try stopping all the timepieces in your home or office for fifteen minutes and then restart them. What time is it? It’s fifteen minutes later than your timepieces say it is. We can’t manage time – it just keeps marching on.

So if you can’t manage time, then what can you manage? The answer, which is at once both simple and complex, is yourself. You can manage what you choose to do at any and every given moment. That’s it.

The late Stephen R. Covey, one of my all-time favourite motivational thinkers and trainers, in his book and CD series The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, teaches us ‘quadrant-two living’ and his ‘big rocks’ theory. Within these concepts, he teaches us that we must first decide what is important in our lives, and then prioritise the activities that give us the desired results in these important areas.

We must schedule time for these activities first each week, often by sacrificing less- important activities. As Stephen suggests, ‘organise and execute around priorities.’

Managing priorities works. Trying to manage time doesn’t.

2. Read and study

There is lots of stuff out there that we don’t know, each of us, but there is infinitely more stuff out there that we don’t even know that we don’t know. So how do we get to stumble across stuff – concepts, ideas, facts – that we didn’t know existed in the first place?

One answer is to read books. Books represent someone else’s view of the same world you and I inhabit and, if the author knows something that I never knew, she can impart it to me, I can learn from it and my world is instantly larger.

I was blessed. For me, apart from during my ‘stupid phase’ in my teens, reading has always been second nature, but I realise that not everybody has the same interest in books. I was doubly blessed when I was introduced to personal- development literature on my 21st birthday through Jonathon Livingston Seagull.

But it was getting into the habit of reading a personal-development or business-related book for ten minutes every day, and then studying biographies and autobiographies of world leaders, that really began to shape the world I now

This might have been lesson number one – it is that important. The reason I decided not to put it first is that you won’t change your reading habits unless you have a reason to, so getting the big picture of your life has to come first.

You should approach all your reading the same way that I suggested, in the introduction, that you approach reading this book: discipline yourself to read either ten minutes or ten pages a day. Do this every day for the next year, with books that stretch your mind.

Afterwards, if your life is not measurably fuller, bigger, more exciting and more flush with possibilities, I’ll buy from you – at face value – the twelve personal- development or business-development books you have read. Guaranteed.

3. Be thankful and believe

I’m not grateful enough for all the good stuff in my life. I am healthy, I have meaningful work to do, my family are still with me, the bills manage to get paid, I was born to great parents, I’m Irish… the list could go on and on. The point is, I find it easier to focus on the one or two areas that aren’t what I wish they were.

Do you know anybody like this? I bet you do.

My recommendation to you is that you consider taking stock of the good things in your life more often, to remind yourself that the good stuff outweighs the bad stuff, probably by a factor of several times.

Stephen R. Covey, in his lessons, talks about the week being the perfect ‘patch’ in the fabric of life: there are workdays, mornings, evenings and the weekend – and then it starts again. I like thinking that life is made up patches, each one only a week long. It makes for great planning, and is ideal for a review of the type I am talking about.

I typically use Sundays to have a look at what shape my life is in – not in a morbid, introspective way, just in the sense that I take a cursory glance at it to see if I am on track.

I also recommend you believe in the inherent goodness of most people. Most people are willing to help if asked. There are shysters out there for sure, but they are tragic people whose self-worth is derived from hurting others.

They exist, but they are few and far between. Let’s not allow them and their behaviour to stop us from being open, loving and trusting, in the belief that the majority are like you and me: out there trying their best with the best of intentions.

Lastly, I recommend you believe in yourself. There is nobody on the planet sitting in your seat as you read these words, but you. Nobody with your unique set of skills and life experiences looking at the world in quite the way you do, but you.

Nobody can do what you can in the unique way that you can but you. Why can’t the next Google, Starbucks, Guggenheim, Eiffel Tower – the next world-changing idea – come from you? No reason.

Except, perhaps, that you don’t believe it can. If you don’t do what’s in your heart to do, I believe the world will be a poorer place.

Colm O’Brien is lives in Limerick with his wife Aideen and their three children. He now runs Carambola Kidz, speaks to Start Your Own Business groups around the country regularly, and is on the boards of two children’s charities (CARI and Blue Box). In 2012, he helped found a small theatre company, Payday Productions. More recently, he has established the Ace Training Book Club, aimed at helping Start Your Own Business group participants develop a lifelong reading habit.

Feeding Johnny: How to build a business despite the roadblocks is available to buy now. For get your free audio book, click here.  

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