10 Entrepreneur Lessons I Learned from My Immigrant Parents

I imagine leaving Taiwan in the 1960’s was hard for my mom and dad. They weren’t native English speakers and they had no friends in Canada. The only reason they were going was because my dad was getting his PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Waterloo. I wonder if I would’ve had the guts to do the same.

They never set out to be entrepreneurs. My dad told me that he thought they would return to Taiwan after graduate school, but instead he got a job in Florida, we moved to Pennsylvania and then Tennessee, and they never went back. At the end of my high school years, my parents opened their own company and became quite successful.

Here’s an interview I did with my dad a little while back and got such rave feedback that I thought you’d enjoy it. You can watch below or view it on my YouTube Channel.

 10 Entrepreneur Lessons

In a way, some of these lessons are as much about life as they are about entrepreneurship.

1. Foster the Love of Learning and Reading

My mom always felt like her English wasn’t very good but she loved to read and learn things. Since my parents were very poor when they arrived in Canada, my mom learned to do a lot on her own. She was a seamstress to make some extra money and if there was anything we needed, she figured out how to make it. She often told me that we all have the capacity to learn anything we want so that we can be anything we want to be. We just have to have the desire to learn it and know how to read. We can even teach ourselves this way.

2. Being Your Own Boss Gives You Stability

It may sound contrary since people seem to feel safer about their paycheck in a corporate job, but my dad got laid off when I was 15. I recall stacks and stacks of letters going out to find new employment. Back then everything was done by mail and we had brown paper grocery bags filled with his resume being sent out.

He did find employment and that’s when we moved to Tennessee, but a couple years later, he told my mom he thought he was about to get laid off again. She told him that was never going to happen again and that they would open their own business. She said she didn’t want to worry about his being fired ever again and being his own boss would make sure of that. Plus, they wouldn’t have to report to a boss or beg for pay raises.

3. There is a Work-Through for Everything

My parents were pretty tough cookies if you haven’t gathered that already. They didn’t put up with not getting what they wanted, especially my mom. Sometimes you only see the first couple of options but if you get creative enough, you can figure out how to get anything you want. You do not have to go over the mountain, you can also go around it or through it or even zigzag to get to the other side.

If you want something badly enough, don’t complain about it, just go figure out the wor-through.

4. Don’t Settle for Mediocre or Your Life Will Be Mediocre

My mom had been a ballerina back in Taiwan. She had gone to the most prestigious arts college there and had landed on TV where there was only one channel at the time. Even though she felt like she was an outsider here in the States, she knew that she was destined for more. She always fought for what she wanted and she never settled. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Most things were not good enough (we won’t go into the other side of those thoughts today).

My mom always encouraged big dreaming. Being average isn’t fun for her. Plus, if you know anything about Asian culture, being #1 is very important — you don’t want to be mediocre.

5. Opportunity is Everywhere

I would imagine that coming from Taiwan, my parents felt like the United States was the land of opportunities. My relatives acted this way as well. To them, everything was a chance to learn or a chance to improve yourself.  As they became entrepreneurs, everything became a possibility to make more connections, get a new client or expand their offers.

If you just open your eyes wide enough, you’ll see opportunities everywhere.

6. Don’t Spend More than You Have

I remember back in college I got a little hooked on the Home Shopping Network #dontjudgeme. Somehow buying new towels and other knick-nacks for my apartment made me feel like and adult — until the bill came. Sadly, the items weren’t even great. The towels were thin and definitely not soft. If memory serves me, I had overspent about $200 and called my dad to ask him if he would help me pay off my credit card.

My dad gave me a speech about not counting your eggs before their hatched because it would continue to get me into trouble. He paid off my card, but told me to never ask again. After that lecture, I was a bit more careful of my impulse buys.

Now don’t get me wrong here with this point. We do spend wisely on things like advertising, coaching and other help expecting to get a return on investment, but we do not count on a client payment before we even have the client.

7. Ask “Why not?”

No matter what I wanted, my mom would try to figure out how to get it, even if money was tight. She never told me that I couldn’t want something. In fact she encouraged me to be a bit ridiculous about what those wants. She used to talk about my sister and I becoming President one day (though neither on of us wanted that). It was just a representation in her mind of being big and having big dreams.

She helped me to question things and every time I would come up with a reason something wouldn’t work out, she would ask, “Why not?” It has helped me to think there’s nothing in my business that I can’t do or achieve, even if it sounds a little crazy.

8. Know Your Numbers

You can’t be profitable if you don’t know what’s coming in and going out. It’s a good thing I love numbers and became an actuarial math major or else this might be as painful as I see with some of my friends.  I remember the day my dad gave me his big engineering book like he was bequeathing a treasured family heirloom.

I’m not just talking business here because we know that our business sometimes is funded by other things. For example, I noticed our family Sprint bill went up considerably, but I was too busy to contact them. Plus, I hate being on the phone with customer service. Because of that, I ended up paying $100 extra per month for about 4 months because I dragged on it.

If you’re in business, you can’t bury your head in the sand if you don’t like the math. It’s also not a great idea to hope to be blissfully ignorant. That’s an oxymoron. If you don’t know what’s happening with the money in every area of your business, you’ll end up overspending or being wasteful on things you don’t need. Know your numbers!

9. Make Your Dollar Be Worth More than a Dollar

Even if you’re making great money, don’t be wasteful. Whether in business or life, make your dollar be worth more than a dollar.  You can wait for the most part to get the latest technology. There is usually a way to get a discount and never be impulsive (see number 6) unless you have decided to do so, like if you’re on vacation and made it a point not to think about money and you have the resources to do so.

Now, this doesn’t mean be cheap and it doesn’t mean don’t pay someone their worth. It just means be smart. Invest to multiply. For example, if you invest in advertising, expect to get many fold more in return. The same goes for coaching programs, Virtual assistant services or the like. Sometimes it’s about saving time too or mitigating risk later. Is it worth $150 or $300 per month to hire someone to do your accounting?

10. Have a Good Reputation

You may have heard the expression, “save face,” and this is very important to Asians. But it’s much more than that.  It’s about being a good person. Be generous when you can. Always make it a point to be helpful. When you can make good connections it’s better for your business and your life. People will honor your integrity and refer your services.

Now we are 3 generations into being entrepreneurs (the top photo is of me, my daughter Stephanie who runs Effie’s Studio, and my mom when we were in Italy a couple years back). My youngest has the entrepreneurial and world traveler bug too. And my middle guy whom I never thought would become an entrepreneur even said he was considering it too. Be-still my beating heart!

 

I’d love to hear your comments and biggest takeaways from what you read here. 

Just pop them in the comments below!

 

 

Vickie Gould is a book coach, content marketing strategist, best selling author, and speaker. She believes that everyone has a story to share and a journey orchestrated for their positive growth — and that those experiences should be written in a best selling book.

Vickie helps entrepreneurs to write, self-publish and leverage their own business books to share those stories, grow their following, create more impact and turn readers into clients through her Easy Writer Program, one-on-one coaching and her free Facebook Group, Write Your Biz Book.

She has written 10 best sellers such as Easy Writer (named after her signature program) and Standing in the Gap, and helped nearly 100 others to become best selling authors as well. Get her cheatsheet called 5 Secret Strategies to Write Your Book Quickly at: bit.ly/5secretstrategies.

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