3 Business Lessons I Learned from My Grandmother

Published on September 4, 2014

grandmahaynesThe most influential mentor in my life is my Grandmother. Under 5ft tall, she's tiny, but mighty. She is in her early 90s, yet she regularly attends aerobics class, paints, volunteers at the local artists' guild where she sells her oil paintings, and tends her own garden.  She purchased her very first computer in her 80's and took a class to learn how to use it.

Born and raised in London, England, she emigrated to Canada after World War II to marry my Grandfather. She left the comforts of a city to live on a cattle ranch in the wild, wild west of interior British Columbia 12 hours (by wagon) from the nearest city, Williams Lake.

Her courage, determination, and resourcefulness are qualities that I admire in her, and I strive to model myself after her example in my personal life, and as a professional.

Grandma's Lessons:

1. Waste Not, Want Not

My Grandmother wastes nothing. I mean, she even reuses plastic wrap. And twist ties.

While I haven't quite adopted this rule as deeply as Grandmother might like, I do think there is worth in proactively working to reduce our own waste. In a largely disposable society, this can be more difficult to follow than it appears.

How many of us use a piece of paper once only to recycle or worse, toss away? Could you use the other side in your printer or fax machine for internal documents, or find another use for it? Do you really need that new techno gadget, or does the older model you currently own still do a satisfactory job?

2. Do not spend more than you earn

While this sounds simple enough, take a moment and think about your credit cards. Are you able to pay the entire balance every month?

My Grandparents did not borrow money, as a general rule. If she wanted a new set of pots and pans (she's still using the same set she bought 50 years ago), she saved what little she could each month until enough was in the bank to buy them. This practice served them (and their family) in several ways - they had what they needed, had to prioritize what they wanted, and in turn, appreciated everything that they had.

When we borrow to cover the cost of living, or to do business, and do not have enough coming in to pay those debts, we find ourselves in trouble more easily; like when the economy shifts.

Consider this astonishing fact from Macleans.ca: According to the Bank of Canada, the debt-to-income ratio of households in this country stood at 142 per cent in the second quarter of 2009. What that means is that for every dollar Canadians earned, they owed $1.42 in debt.  And that was 5 years ago!

3. Plan Ahead

My Grandmother is a planner. On family vacations, the travel route was mapped out weeks in advance. Campsites were picked, and itineraries drawn up. If we strayed off course, Grandma would pull us back on and remind us of the plan. Knowing our lot, it was a good thing too, who knows where we'd have ended up?

In business, a plan is essential. Using the travel analogy, you have a better chance of navigating the course if you have a road map to keep you pointed in the right direction. My business plan is a living document; it changes over time, but it provides a basis and frame of reference on which to base important decisions.

What are your short term goals for your business? Do you have a 3 or 5 year plan mapped out for your business?

Other planning questions should reflect your policies - do you have a policy/procedures manual? Contingencies: what will happen if you need to take extended time off due to illness?

These 3 lessons are important to me, and I've developed my business with these principles in mind. My Grandmother may not understand "that computer stuff", but she's taught me some very important business lessons. I think she'd be happy, despite the fact that I don't reuse plastic wrap.

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