Going from an impoverished and violent childhood to an incredibly successful talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey has become one of the most influential and inspiring individuals in the world.
Oprah has certainly changed lives for millions of people. But, she’s also inadvertently influenced business owners, like myself, through these twelve lessons.
1. Always be authentic
“I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.”
There’s only Oprah Winfrey. She never imitated anyone else – no matter what anyone told her early in her career. She found her own voice that resonated with audiences, and ultimately, lead to her becoming one of the most successful talk show hosts of all-time.
People will support you and your business if you’re authentic since they can smell BS from a mile away.
2. Take risks
“I believe that one of life’s greatest risks is never daring to risk.”
Oprah didn’t find success by playing it safe. For example, in 1988 she had a group of Neo-Nazis on her show. The decision was obviously controversial and Winfrey regretted it, and said so. However, it put her and her show in the national spotlight.
3. Thrive on challenges
“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.”
There will always be obstacles to overcome as a business owner. Instead of resisting these challenges you have to be flexible and learn how to adapt. If you do not, how do you expect to survive when the market changes?
4. Do your best
“My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”
No matter what your situation is in life, Oprah has always encouraged her audience to do and be their best. If you’re a mechanic, then be the best mechanic in the world. As a business owner, you want to deliver the best products and services to your customers. For example, Zappos strives to deliver outstanding customer service. And, it’s worked. They have a dedicated fanbase because they have one of the best customer service around.
5. Go with your gut
“Your gut is your inner compass. Whenever you have to consult with other people for an answer, you’re headed in the wrong direction.”
Some of Oprah’s greatest moments of success can be attributed to her listening to her instincts. As a business owner, you have to do the same. When something doesn’t feel right, or when it does, don’t ignore that feeling.
Take Steve Jobs, for example. He initially turned down the pitch for the now famous “Think Different” campaign. But, Jobs changed his mind and said, “What am I doing? Screw it. It’s the right thing. It’s great.”
6. Learn from failure
“Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it.”
You’ve no doubt heard this over and over again. Business owners are bound to face failure. Here’s the thing. Failure isn’t the end of the world. I’ve personally experienced failure. Oprah was told early in her career that she was not right for TV. Bill Gates first company Traf-O-Data folded. It happens to the best of us. But, the successful individuals embrace failure and learn how to skip those same mistakes the next time around.
7. Share your personal story
“Books were my pass to personal freedom. I learned to read at age 3, and discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi.”
If you’re an Oprah fan, then you’re aware of her personal struggles throughout her life – specifically the horrific fact that she was sexually assaulted at the age of nine. Sharing these personal stories can help you build a bond with your audience since there are people who can relate to you. It also shows that you’re transparent. That’s why so many entrepreneurs like myself have been so open about about failures.
8. Don’t worry about your competitors
“The way you step up your game is not to worry about the other guy in any situation, because you can’t control the other guy. You only have control over yourself. So it’s like running a race. The energy that it takes to look back and see where the other guys are takes energy away from you. And if they’re too close, it scares you. So, that’s what I would say to my team all the time: Don’t waste your time in the race looking back to see where the other guy is or what the other guy is doing. It’s not about the other guy. It’s about what can you do. You just need to run that race as hard as you can. You need to give it everything you’ve got, all the time, for yourself.”
I’m not saying that you completely neglect your competitors. I’m saying that you shouldn’t get consumed into what they’re doing. When we started offering online invoicing to our clients, we obsessed about what others were doing. We mimicked everything. This ended up wasting a lot of time and resources that we didn’t need to spend.
Instead, devote your time and resources into making the best business possible for your customers. This will spread your business 10x faster.
9. Help others
“What I know for sure is that what you give comes back to you.”
Oprah is known for giving back to the community. But, so are the most successful people in the world like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Larry Page.
The reason? Giving back makes us happier and healthier. And, it can connect with customers who champion the same causes as you do. I call this “Unicorn Habits.”
10. Follow your passion, not the money
“What I know is, is that if you do work that you love, and the work fulfills you, the rest will come.”
Never start a business for the money. That could arguably be the first lesson in Startups 101. Businesses succeed because the founders are passionate and believe in what they’re doing. This passion motivates them during the rough times and attracts employees and customers. Not how much money is in your bank account.
As Oprah has also said, “The reason I’ve been able to be so financially successful is my focus has never, ever for one minute been money.”
11. Be grateful
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
Oprah has been known for her gratitude. Whether if it was giving her audience members a car or taking her crew to Hawaii for a vacation, she realized that without these people she wouldn’t be so successful. Always find ways to thank your customers and employees. It doesn’t have to be a car or trip to Hawaii, but discounts and a handwritten thank you card can go a long way.
12. Keep good company
“Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.”
Negative people will only drag you down. Surround yourself with people who will not only challenge your ideas, but can also be a support system when you need them. This could be your friends, employees, business partners, or your spouse. These people are an important equation when determining your success. I know I wouldn’t be where I’m at without the support of my dear wife, my wonderful friends and my great family.
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