- Business success is dependent on relationships. So much of the way deals get done and people get hired is through relationships, referrals, and networking, so it's important to make meaningful connections and build a strong reputation.
Two concrete actions my prof recommends towards this end are being nice to your staff and placing your own calls. Your staff and colleagues are the ones who spread information about you and affect how you are perceived, so it's important to keep them happy (among many reasons for doing so). And when people don't place their own calls and instead rely on third parties like assistants, it creates an unnecessary distance, inefficiency, and sense of haughtiness that eventually harms the relationship.
- It's not a negotiation unless you’re willing to walk and have a legitimate Plan B. Otherwise, it's just a robbery. It's critical to have other options and a reasonable BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) so that the discussion can be a real negotiation and compromise rather than one party clearly taking advantage of the other.
- Don’t do business with lunatics or those who have any reasonable chance of going bankrupt. It's clear that both of these situations cannot perfectly be avoided or are in one's total control, but whatever one can do to prepare through checks and research (due diligence, references, UCC-1 filings, liens, etc.) can save a lot of trouble later. Lunatics can cause immeasurable headaches and immensely expensive lawsuits, and bankruptcy can completely destroy any value through canceling executory contracts.
- Always prefer short, clear, simple, and complete contracts. I wrote about this before, but my professor reiterated the point again. So many problems can be avoided by having clear, direct, and short contracts that avoid misunderstandings and lengthy court proceedings. Don't be afraid to tell your lawyer to cut the agreement in half and remove extra sections, even if they argue they're "standard." In contracts as in speeches and life (and blog posts--though I have trouble following my own advice here), brevity is king.
- The image of your work is critical. Perception is a reality, and every detail affects your reputation. Fix typos, and learn to punctuate correctly. Don't be lazy. (I've written about this before and suggested some good books on grammar and punctuation.)
- Cultivate the bond of trust through thoroughness and taking your time. My professor gave us the example of a client calling and asking for something "tomorrow" when in fact the work would require 2 days. While most people would cave and deliver suboptimal work tomorrow or just be late on their promise (and maybe try to hide from them), the right way to go is to tell them you need a week and deliver excellent work a couple days early.
As a recipient of the "wrong" approach before, I know how annoying this is. I definitely prefer people who set expectations realistically and deliver great results as promised, even if it's slightly slower than I'd want.
In failing a client with the wrong approach, you break the bond of trust that can never be restored (or with great difficulty).
In addition, many people err by saying what they think (with 90% certainty) is the answer rather than expressing uncertainty and expressing a need to research. The right approach is to say that you'll do the research and get back to them and most importantly do as you've promised.
- Happiness is the freedom to leave whatever you're doing or wherever you are and to do what you want. This was sort of a counterintuitive thing to hear, but it made sense after some consideration. If you are in a place where you can leave and say good-bye to your firm or your boss, it means you have a true power and inner freedom to do what you want, and that brings happiness. My professor loves his firm and his work, and hearing him say this sort of message affirmed this in a new way.
If everyone stood behind a set of principles or advice like this, I think business would operate a lot more smoothly.