10 Business Lessons From a Baby

UPDATED: November 26, 2019
PUBLISHED: November 19, 2019
10 Business Lessons From a Baby

My wife is one of these effortless optimists who’s happiest working dawn to dusk.

So when I found her curled up in bed for the third day in a row, blinds drawn, I knew something was up. I’m quite the detective.

After our wedding almost exactly a year ago (happy anniversary, L!), we decided to live in Mexico for six months. We had plans to start a family one day, so that adventure would have to happen now, or probably never.

We rented our house, bought a car and hit the road for an epic, childless odyssey.

Stomach trouble south of the border isn’t exactly unusual, but when my wife’s nausea continued into week two, we hit the pharmacy for a pregnancy test.

There it was, clear as day: “Embarazada.” We were pregnant.

Business Lessons From a Baby

My dad loves to recount how he quit smoking.

“Cold turkey, the day I found out your mom was pregnant.”

I always thought it was a yarn, but you fathers know—life changes the second you hear the news.

Lucky for me, the past six months has been a free MBA. Business and fatherhood share the same fundamentals. Here’s what I learned as a father-to-be:

1. Cash flow is king.

“Making more money will not solve your problems if cash flow management is your problem.” —Robert Kiyosaki

One day you’re resigning your job and moving to Mexico; the next, you’re looking at your blueberry-sized child on the ultrasound monitor.

First, tears of joy! Then, I thought, You can’t raise a child on my business revenue.

You’re a provider now, Dad!

Like many startups, mine was a feast or famine—some months money flowed, others, it ran dry.

My family needed financial security. I traded adding features to my website for talking to more clients. My quarterly revenue increased sixfold.

What the experts say:

Virgin Group has annual revenue of $21 billion, but it almost failed in infancy when its bank refused to lend critical operating cash.

The near-miss made an impression on company founder Richard Branson.

“Never take your eyes off the cash flow because it’s the life blood of business,” he says.

This real-world advice is supported by research. The U.S. Small Business Administration says that the No. 1 reason businesses close is low sales/cash flow, so don’t get caught with your bank balance down.

2.  Seek stability.

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” ―Henry David Thoreau

After the cocktail of euphoria and terror wore off, we debated where to raise this kid. Mexico was out—we needed great health care, and family nearby.

We abandoned our beachside condo and started the 3,000-mile drive home (like I said, an odyssey).

The desire for a stable home made me seek the same in my business. Boosting cash flow was step one, but to make it consistent I’d need to create reliable systems.

From the passenger seat in the mountains of Chiapas, I rebuilt my lead funnel, automating the marketing emails I normally wrote ad hoc.

What the experts say:

Michael Gerber advocates system-building in his book, The E-Myth Revisited.

He says that most businesses fail because they’re people-dependent (where “people” usually means “founder”). To build a lasting legacy, turn your company into a set of systems where people are interchangeable, like a franchise.

The business world gushes about flexible, agile companies. But what Columbia Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath found in her study of 2,300 companies was that internal stability was just as critical to enduring companies.

3.  ABS: Always be serving.

“Whoever renders service to many puts himself in line for greatness – great wealth, great return, great satisfaction, great reputation, and great joy.” —Jim Rohn

My best thinking happens behind the wheel, so two weeks’ driving from Mexico meant plenty of time to imagine how I’d raise my first child.

How would I teach him or her to be kind to others, to love learning? In short, how could I give my son or daughter the best start in life? How could I serve?

Until now I’d prioritized my wants: get paid. There’s nothing wrong with profit, but business titans agree that putting it first is recipe for failure.

Companies that provide the most value profit—they serve clients. I focused on creating new, great content.

It took 10 times my usual effort, but the reward was a doubling of website traffic and at least two high-value clients.

What the experts say:

Bill Gates would approve this message. His 1996 essay titled Content is King argued that those who create great content will be those who succeed on the internet.

Brian Tracy calls the practice of serving others first the “Law of Reciprocity”: People always try to pay you back.

He applied the law consistently in his life and has become one of history’s most successful self-help authors and mentors.

4. Know your purpose.

“It is not logic or facts but our hopes and dreams, our hearts and our guts, that drive us to try new things.” —Simon Sinek

Before the baby news, I had a clear vision for my life: complete control of my time, meaningful work, four vacations a year… true liberty.

I believed that sharp vision was the best motivator (and it IS powerful), but becoming responsible for another human took my hustle up a level.

My work hours infiltrated evenings and weekends.

The weird thing? I loved it. I’m the guy who preaches working less, but I saw that I had a handful of months to swell the family coffers for my daughter (yep, it’s a girl!) and wanted to go “all in.”

With a new ironclad “why,” building my business became easier.

What the experts say:

In Start With Why, Simon Sinek teaches that successful companies need a clear purpose. If yours lacks one, drop everything and ask, “Why are we in business?”

The answer can’t be profit; companies with a service motive will clobber you.

Too many businesses confuse their “why”with their “what.” They say, “We’re in business to sell houses.” No you’re not. Customers don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.

In home building, this might mean, “We help our clients start families, take pride in home ownership, and build a nest egg.”

5. Slow. Down.

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” —Jon Kabat-Zinn

As I settled into my new work ethic, I noticed a paradoxical desire to slow down.

A first child happens once a lifetime. My wife and I agreed to slow down, be present, and enjoy this fleeting experience.

We started using our dining table, instead of Netflix ‘n’ coffee table every night.

If slowing down could improve my relationship, what could it do for my company?

Chasing clients, sometimes I send too many emails, ask for the sale too early, and release blog content that could be stronger.

Instead of producing four blog posts a month, I created a single, 10x quality guide. The results were more than 10x.

What the experts say:

In a study of 343 businesses, those that paused to assess and strategize had 40% higher sales and 52% higher operating profits versus full-speed-ahead companies.

We know why, intuitively. Goods rushed out by fly-by-night companies break faster. In their scramble for quick bucks, they hurt overall profitability.

This understanding has spawned a growing movement called “Slow Marketing.” Business coach Kayte Ferris explains:

“It’s about marketing ourselves and our business in a way that doesn’t feel like we’ve sold our souls, it’s about building trusted, long-lasting brands.”

Slow marketing puts human connection above “act now while supplies last!” and relationship building over ads for “Abs in 30 days!”

6. Innovate.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” —Albert Einstein

My totally minor life change has shaken me out of some ruts. Surprise, surprise.

I saw the pregnancy as a perfect excuse to do some rapid experimenting in my business. I launched a new 12-week writer coaching program that filled fast. More products are in the works.

Innovation is the favorite buzzword from Silicon Valley to Wall Street.

But entrepreneurs like you and me, we get caught up in the illusion that working in our business is the same as building our business. If you’re not testing new ways of operating at all times, you’re missing an opportunity for growth.

What the experts say:

Business moguls champion three interconnected schools of innovation:

Growth Hacking means rapidly testing ideas, watching results and adjusting. It argues that true innovation doesn’t require long studies, focus groups or fleshed-out business cases.

Read Sprint and you’ll see that a product can be launched and tested in five days—no expensive consultants required!

Design Thinking puts the customer at the top of the org chart. It’s a process of asking, “What are our users’ pain points?”

This usually means putting users into situations and watching them solve problems (it’s less creepy than it sounds).

Lean Innovation is religion in Silicon Valley—it’s focused on creating better processes by incorporating customer feedback early and often into the business.

By now you’ve spotted the trend: Each method teaches that rapid, early experimentation is critical to your business success.

7. Self-care.

“If you postpone the process of submerging yourself in the source for the sake of taking care of business first, your life will be spent in hours and days of business, and then it will be gone.” —David Deida

My wife’s alcohol abstinence had me wondering—could I quit, too?

So I did (mostly). In four months I’ve imbibed only on rare occasions.

Why forsake my favorite vice? Because I want to be around to see my daughter graduate, and have her own kids. I plan to live long, if only to annoy those in my will.

I’ve started hitting the gym hard and upped my green vegetable intake. I have more energy for my business; fewer “lost” mornings. My mood tracker app confirms that those wild ups and downs are in the past.

What the experts say:

In Essentialism, author Greg McKeown stresses the importance of getting enough sleep (and yes, I see the extreme hubris in a dad-to-be promoting the full eight hours). He calls it “protecting the asset.” How apt: YOU are the most important asset in your business.

Sleep studies support Greg’s advice: Research shows that fatigue devastates productivity, with less than six hours of shut-eye creating a 19% drop in productivity.

Another study priced the problem: $1,967 per employee per year. That’s $63.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone. Do your part for the economy—get more zzz’s.

8. Build relationships.

“Those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” —Charles Darwin

When I found out I’ll be a dad, I wanted to tell the world. Baristas and gas station attendants heard the harrowing tale of driving cross-continent beside a wife with morning sickness. I called family and friends to share.

Reinvesting in my social network created new opportunities and clients. I was reminded of the power of both phone and face-to-face conversation.

What the experts say:

Our brains reward us for being social, not independent. When we spend time with our fellow humans, we get a shot of two “happy” hormones, serotonin and oxytocin.

Evolution wants us to be Good Samaritans because groups that work together are stronger than lone wolves.

The same underlying programming is at work in today’s business world: Those who build good relations thrive.

One study showed that those who shook hands (the smallest of social gestures) before a negotiation were less likely to lie and quicker to come to an agreement.

When Shawn Achor studied 2,600 professional women, he found that the group that attended networking events doubled their chances of receiving a promotion!

Your business will thrive when you start having deep, face-to-face conversations instead of leaning on email.

9. Essentialism.

“Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference.” ­­­—Marcus Aurelius

My wife and I have settled into our new home near family. But to welcome a new life to the world, we needed some “spring cleaning,” not just in our physical spaces, but our psychic spaces.

A massive garage sale ensued, and I let go of many so-called obligations.

In my business, I cut the fat of nonessential features and services. Now I accomplish more in less time.

What the experts say:

Steve Jobs, riding into Apple as the knight in polyester armor, cut 70% of the company’s product lines.

He drew four quadrants—in each, a product that would satisfy the needs of all customers. Profits soared, investors gushed. The story is legend.

The beauty of this strategy is not in what Jobs chose to do, but what he chose not to do.

“The Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials,” says Greg McKeown.

In business, this means applying the 80/20 rule. It states that 20% of our activities lead to 80% of our results.

Focus only on what is essential, and your business will thrive.

10. Future focus.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” —Proverbs 29:18

It struck me today that my daughter might live into the next century. What will the year 2100 look like? That depends on you and me. We’re creating the world with every daily action.

Can I tell my daughter, straight faced, that my work creates a better future?

Facing that question has shown me the gap between where I am and where I want to be.

Too many of my business-building hours are spent in the morass of my email inbox and tinkering with spreadsheets, disconnected from my mission.

What the experts say:

Why bother looking to the future? Standing at the foot of the mountain, taking an hour to idly think about your vision instead of dealing with emergencies can seem like a luxury.

In reality, future-focus is crucial to your success, and, like opposable thumbs, sets humans apart from the rest of the animals.

A 15-year study of 17,000 managers worldwide found that having a “future orientation” was positively correlated to a society’s competitiveness. GDP per capita was also higher.

And within individual businesses? Evidence shows that companies that take the time to write a business plan grow 30% faster than those that don’t.

Knowing this, my mission now is to reconnect with my vision and let it guide my daily efforts.

I never expect that my daughter, still in utero, would become my teacher. But guidance is found in the least likely places, if only you care to look.

Whether you’re a parent or not, keep your cup empty. The breakthrough your business needs is right in front of you, and there are allies where you least expect it.

Do your children teach you things? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Related: What a Child Can Teach You About Life and Love

Photo by TierneyMJ / Shutterstock

I help heart-led entrepreneurs start + grow businesses that improve the world.Instagram: @mpbizcoach