Small Business Quotes: 24 Pieces of Advice, Motivation and Inspiration

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Running a small business is hard work.

You probably have good days, bad days and some days that you will never mention again. 

Once in a while, you may wonder out loud why you did it.

"Why did I decide to start my own business?"

"What in the world was I thinking?"

"Am I as crazy as everyone thinks I am?"

You may start to panic, but now is not the time. Asking those questions is perfectly normal for small business owners. Doubting yourself is just the symptom of a common condition known as a Lack of Motivational Quotes.

Everything is fine, it's probably just been a while since you sat down with a collection of motivational and inspirational material. All you need is a few reminders to keep your chin up and keep swinging. 

It may seem a little silly, but there’s a reason that the guy who created those famous motivational posters sold about a zillion of them-- they work. For every person who would walk by and make fun of the poster in the break room with the bald eagle that said "EXCELLENCE," someone else would get inspired.

Finding motivation at the right time can remind us of basic lessons we forget in the hectic day-to-day running of our business.

I don't want anybody to suffer from this insidious condition. That’s why I’ve collected 24 of my favorite pieces of advice, wisdom and wit to help inspire, motivate and amuse you.

number1-2

"Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another." -Walter Elliott

"Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another." -Walter Elliott

I like this quote because it's a reminder that running a small business is like doing a marathon made up of daily sprints. You tackle one day at a time until those days become weeks and months and years. 

The trick to surviving, and thriving, in small business is the same as it is in running. You learn to embrace the pain and keep going through it until you catch that second wind. Push on farther and you might even find a third and fourth wind!


number2

QUOTE9-1

"Entrepreneurs understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity." - Victor Kiam

You probably remember Victor Kiam from his commercials for Remington shavers. He was the "guy who liked them so much he bought the company." Kiam bought Remington for $25 million, even though the company lost $30 million in its last five years. But he saw something worth saving, took a risk and it paid off. He turned the company around.

Entrepreneurs don't treat obstacles as a sign to turn around. Most see brick walls and locked doors as a challenge to find a new way through, over or around. Next time you run into a roadblock, instead of cursing your luck and shaking your fist, maybe think of it as a detour to a better route.


number3

QUOTE2

"Diligence is the mother of good luck." -Benjamin Franklin

The best kept secret to almost every successful business? They just keep going. They work, struggle and work some more. One day, something clicks. You can call it luck, but I prefer to think of it as the intersection of persistence and opportunity.

Think of all the actors and musicians who achieve that rare thing called "overnight success." It looks a lot like pure luck, like they hit the fame and fortune lottery. But dig a little deeper and you'll find stories of struggling for years: A-list Hollywood stars who acted in small parts for decades; bands who paid their dues in small clubs and bestselling authors with stacks of rejection letters.  

Building a small business takes time. Hang in there. keep at it and the "luck" will find you.


number4

QUOTE3

"Worry about being better; bigger will take care of itself." -Gary Comer

Gary Comer was the founder of Land's End. He started off selling sailing equipment and duffel bags. The first Land's End catalog was printed in 1975 and it quickly became one of the biggest mail-order clothing companies on the planet. He took the company public in 1986 and in 2002, Sears bought Land's End for $1.9 billion.

I like his lesson here, because one of the biggest mistakes I see small businesses make is trying to grow too fast. Scaling up is a tricky proposition.  Wanting to grow is not a bad thing, but growth shouldn't be your only goal.

Make sure you have a rock solid foundation when it comes to your personnel, your process and most importantly, your culture.  That way, when you grow, you'll be better equipped to handle what comes next. 


number5

QUOTE4

"Don't open a shop unless you like to smile." -Chinese Proverb

Retail isn't really about selling THINGS. Retail is all about people. If you don't like meeting people, talking to people and helping people... then the retail business is probably a bad fit.

Is there an alternative for the anti-social entrepreneur? I would recommend online sales, but you know who's on the other end of that internet connection? That's right. PEOPLE.

In just about any small business I can think of, success starts with basic people skills. I can't provide any scientific evidence, but I'll bet that a smile and a warm greeting generate more profits than a blank stare and a cold shoulder. 


number6

QUOTE5

"What helps people, helps business." -Leo Burnett

Speaking of people, ad legend Leo Burnett is behind some of the most memorable characters in advertising. He created Tony the Tiger, the Jolly Green Giant, the Maytag Repairman, the Keebler Elves and the Marlboro Man. Burnett is basically a god in the world of advertising, so his words carry weight.

Burnett believed in speaking simply and directly to people. One of the reasons his ad campaigns worked is that they connected with people's values. Instead of selling, he focused on helping. 

Try thinking of your business as a way to help people instead of a way to sell goods or services. Put yourself in the customer's shoes. Do you want to be pressured by sales pitches? Or do you prefer being asked, "How can I HELP you?" Focus on solving your customer's problems instead of meeting YOUR sales goals. The results might surprise you. 


number7

QUOTE6

"The purpose of a business is to create a customer." -Peter Drucker

The man famously known as "the father of modern management" knows a thing or two about business. It also helps that I'm a sucker for quotes that help us remember the core truth about business: it doesn't exist without the customer. 

The day-to-day grind of a small business can force you to focus too much on things like costs, inventory or sales. That makes sense, because money matters. Money is the fuel that keeps you afloat. But that money doesn't show up by magic. It comes from a customer.

Bury yourself in spreadsheets and bottom-line thinking and all you can think about is landing that next sale. But it makes much more sense for the long term to worry about the next customer. How to attract them, satisfy them and most importantly, how to keep them coming back.


number8

QUOTE7

"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." -Bill Gates

I know it's hard to believe that anyone ever complained about Windows, but it happened. A lot. So much so, that the founder of Microsoft has been the business and tech world's favorite fall guy for decades.  Some people are still so mad about the Windows Vista operating system that they blamed Gates for COVID-19.

But Gates took all that criticism in stride. He understood the value of feedback. Customers who are angry enough to say something (out loud or online) are giving you a gift. It may not feel constructive, but those negative reviews and complaints do wonders for helping small businesses see the blind spots.   


number9

QUOTE8

"As a small businessperson, you have no greater leverage than the truth." -Paul Hawken

Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur and the author of a great book called "Growing a Business." I'm a fan of this quote because I think you can read it in a bunch of different ways. But the way I take it? Small businesses should promote their stories.

America has a funny relationship with big companies. We admire their success, but there's always this bit of suspicion. The bigger they get, the more we wonder and worry about their true intentions. Maybe that's why big companies love to talk about their origin stories and share their "humble beginnings." 

But as a small business, you get to share your story and show your cards every day. If you're an owner-operator, your customers see you doing the work. If you're a family business, customers connect with your family. People love to connect and become part of that story, so my advice is to embrace it.


number10

QUOTE10

"There's a lot more business out there in small town America than I ever dreamed of." -Sam Walton

It doesn't matter whether you love or hate Walmart, the story of Sam Walton success is impressive. In 1945, Walton left the Army and borrowed $20,000 from his father-in-law to buy a variety store in Newport, Arkansas. He spent decades creating a successful model and opened the first Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas in 1962. To say things escalated quickly would be an understatement.

For most of the 1980s, Walton was ranked as the richest man in America. Today Walmart is the world's largest company by revenue ($548.7 billion in 2020) and the world's largest employer (2.2 million) with 11,443 stores and clubs in 26 countries.

My point? This whole thing started in a town with a population of UNDER 4,000 people. Which means that small businesses in small towns don't always stay that way.


number11

QUOTE11

"The girl who can't dance says the band can't play." -Yiddish Proverb

Love this one. This quote is all about making excuses. It's easy for small business owners to shift the blame or point the finger somewhere else, but that's a slippery slope. The less responsibility you accept, the less control you have over the future of your business. 

Stop blaming the band... and start taking dance lessons. 


number12

QUOTE12

"You don't drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there." -Edwin Louis Cole

Another gem. I can promise you that failure and trouble will be a regular companion on any small business journey. It's much better if you just accept them and adjust your attitude accordingly.

The greatest champions in boxing weren't necessarily the ones who knew how to throw the best punch. The greatest champions were the ones who knew how to take a punch and keep going.

Small business owners are survivors. No matter what happens, remember to always keep your head up and keep kicking.


number13

QUOTE13

"All profoundly original art looks ugly at first." -Clement Greenberg

New ideas are scary. Maybe you've started a business that hasn't taken off. Maybe one of your "million dollar ideas" is looking more like a hundred bucks. Maybe you're starting to believe all those people who called you crazy for investing your life savings in a "Dog Food Truck." 

Let this quote serve as a reminder that some ideas are actually ahead of their time. Colonel Sanders reportedly tried over 1,000 times to sell his famous chicken recipe. Rovio, the gaming company behind Angry Birds, struggled with 51 flops before hitting it big with game #52. And nobody thought much of Vincent Van Gogh's art when he was alive. He only sold one painting before his death in 1890.

I'm not saying that every idea is a winner, but if you believe in what you're doing... keep doing it. It may take some time, but once in a while the world does catch up. 


number14

QUOTE14

"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf." -Jon Kabat Zinn

You have to accept that there are some things you just can't change. The weather. The global economy. Pandemics. The outside world will always throw some new challenge at you and your business. But it's up to you how you handle it.

Sure, you can wade out into the ocean and just stand there as the waves pound you. What will you get? You'll get knocked down and rolled around. You'll get seaweed, sand and saltwater in places they don't belong. Or you can learn how to surf.

What happens then? Suddenly those big waves look exciting instead of scary. Suddenly you can't wait to see what comes next. 


number15

QUOTE15

"Management is nothing more than motivating other people." -Lee Iacocca

I think the key word here is "motivating." As one of the few people to run two of the Big Three automakers, Lee Iacocca knew a thing or two about motivating. He developed the legendary Mustang at Ford and in 1979, helped Chrysler come back from the brink of disaster.

He understood that uniting employees in service of a bigger goal was key to making massive changes possible. And what really motivates people? Money is always good, but more studies have shown that employees want MORE than money.

In fact, the top three things that employees crave have nothing to do with their paycheck. They want challenging work, recognition and involvement. If you want to see some remarkable results, add those to your workforce and see what happens.


number16

QUOTE16

"Business opportunities are like buses, there's always another one coming." -Richard Branson

Yes, it's much easier to wait for business opportunities when you are a billionaire entrepreneur. And Branson probably knows that those buses are coming because he owns them. But he wasn't always ridiculously rich.

Branson was a bad student who was once told he would either end up in prison or a millionaire. He started out by selling everything from wooden tissue boxes to Christmas trees. Once he found success by launching a magazine, he used the profits to jump from one opportunity to the next.

His magazine led to a record store which spawned a record label which led to an airline and then telecommunications, more media companies and space travel.

What's the lesson? Always keep your eyes (and mind) open for your own next big thing. 


number17

QUOTE19

"Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work." -Stephen King

I'm going to take a guess and say that Stephen King doesn't need any more money. He's written 62 novels, 5 non-fiction books and 200 short stories that have sold more than 350 million copies. He should be good, right? So why does he keep writing?

He loves the work. He keeps going, even when he doesn't have anything to prove. And in many ways, that's why he's so successful.

Want to find success with your small business? Run it like Stephen King writes books. Sit down at the keyboard every day. Create good habits and routines and stick to them. 


18

QUOTE21

"Enemies are so stimulating." - Katharine Hepburn

I don't know the backstory behind this quote, but knowing Hepburn's reputation in Hollywood, I'll bet it's a juicy one. It struck me because sometimes having a "bad guy" is just what small businesses need to motivate them.

History is full of great business rivalries. Coke vs Pepsi, Mac vs PC, Burger King vs McDonald's, Nike vs Reebok... just to name a few. While some great showdowns eventually have a clear winner (Netflix vs Blockbuster), most of time these ongoing "battles" benefit both parties with lots of lively advertising, publicity and a tug-of-war for market share.

But for small businesses, your enemies aren't always your local competitors. Sometimes the enemy is a concept or belief. What (or who) are you really fighting against? If you sell healthy meals, your bad guy is junk food. Professional organizers wage war against clutter. Groundskeepers hold the line against weeds and grass.

If you're walking onto the battlefield every day, it helps to know what your enemy looks like.


number19

QUOTE22

"It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan." -Eleanor Roosevelt

As important as it to move forward one day at a time, small businesses can't afford to sit back and hope that the future works itself out. Taking action is the only option.

Don't get me started on the pointlessness of daydreaming and wishing your days away. It's fine to ask yourself "What if?" all day long. Just don't expect anyone else to answer.

Answering your own questions about the present or the future puts you in control. What if a hurricane comes? Make a plan. What if there's another pandemic? Make a plan. What if the pizza oven breaks down? Make a plan. 

And you can plan for more than the worst case scenarios. Plans also help when things go well. What if your new beer becomes a worldwide sensation? Make a plan. What if I get more wedding clients than my current staff can handle? Make a plan. What if my tweet about "Two-Fer-Tattoo-Tuesday" goes viral? Make a plan. 


number20

QUOTE23

"People who work together will win." -Vince Lombardi

Including a quote from Vince Lombardi is mandatory for me, but it also helps that the guy knew what he was talking about.

Whether it's football, basketball or business, you can't have team members running around with their own agendas. Part of what made human beings the most successful animals on Earth was our ability to cooperate.

Always look for ways that your business can benefit by working as a team. And don't forget to take that thinking beyond your inner circle of family, friends and employees. In the game of small business you can never have too many players on the field, so collaborate as much as possible with other businesses, organizations and people in your community. 


number21

QUOTE24

"A year from now you may wish you had started today." -Karen Lamb

Never underestimate the power of compounded interest. If you have a long-term goal, don't wait to get started. It's called a "long-term" goal because it's going to take a while. You can start slowly, but just start. You might be surprised how much momentum that first step can generate.


number22

QUOTE25

"Knowledge exists to be imparted." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you know something, share it. I know that may sound counter-intuitive, especially if you're running a business based on your knowledge.

Why tell someone how to fix their car when you can just charge them $50 per hour to do it for them? Because you can still charge them $50 per hour, the difference is that they will appreciate it more. They'll see that it's hard work, it's dirty work and you need a whole slew of special tools to get it done.

Knowledge helps people understand. I like it when a roofing company explains WHY my roof is leaking instead of just fixing it and sending me the bill. When an appliance repair person comes to my house and SHOWS me the part that failed, I know what to look for in the future.

Give your customers the ultimate add-on by solving their problems AND sharing knowledge.


number23

QUOTE27

"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing-that's why we recommend it daily." -Zig Ziglar

I love finding quotes that give me a spark, that "lightbulb moment" of seeing the world in a new way. But I have to remind myself to go out and find them, because there isn't a higher power sending them to my inbox every morning.

It may seem trivial, but we all need a boost once in a while. It helps when some of this advice comes from people who have experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. They worked hard for that wisdom and you and I can get it for free. I'd say that's a pretty good deal.


number24

QUOTE28

"If all else fails, call Larry." -Larry Lombardi

I know, I know... two Lombardi quotes is probably pushing it, but I wanted to get this in. If you are thinking about starting a small business here in Currituck County... if you currently own a small business here... or if you are thinking of expanding, growing or relocating your business in Currituck County... I can help.

Send an email. Give me a call. I may not have ALL the answers, but I know people who do. At the very least, I can give you some guidance. Because as Yogi Berra once said, "If you don't know where you're going, you might not get there."

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