7 Things My Mom Taught Me About Business
My most vivid childhood memories often involved my mom’s dental practice, where I spent most of my time after school. My mom had a fairly small practice, where she saw patients out of one of the bedrooms of my grandfather’s apartment. It was a one-woman operation. She kept her own appointment book, saw every patient and she made her own calls on my grandfather’s old black rotary phone.
She did everything, crowns, fillings, exams and even performed dental surgeries in her office. I remember peeking at her medical textbooks on her bookshelves, her medical school diplomas on her walls, rows of amber bottles filled with liquids, numerous colorful dental molds and trays of sharp metal tools.
After the last patient leaves, we would take the bus home. She would make dinner for the whole family, do the house chores, supervise us doing our homework, go to bed after everyone is settled, then wake up early the next morning doing everything all over again. I always think of mom as a super woman.
It wasn’t until I have my own business for a few years, I realized how influential mom has been. Here are the 7 most valuable business lessons I have learned from her:
1. WORK BECAUSE YOU WANT TO
My mom was discouraged to work when she got married. (At the risk of making my family sound like the Joy Luck Club, traditionally, it was more important for women to keep a great home than having a career.) But she worked because it made her happy and made her feel fulfilled. She insisted on working, even part time while raising 2 young children.
2. BUILD A LOYAL CLIENTELE AND GROW IT THROUGH WORD OF MOUTH
From what I can remember, mom had very loyal patients. Her old patients from her hospital days would take an hour train ride into the city to see her. And they referred others. They came in troves. I could see that having warm referrals was the best way to keep a business alive. There was no website, no Yelp or no internet back then. All you had was a phone number and your sign on the building. Mom didn’t even have a sign on the door. It was purely all referrals & word of the mouth.
3. DON’T BE SCARED OF HARD, UNGLAMOROUS WORK
Dental work is not sexy, and you are on your feet all day. You are also crouching over staring into people’s mouth, which can be bloody, full of drools and your fingers are in a total stranger’s mouth. At times you have to deal with patients screaming or freaking out in the chair. But I never heard mom complained. She loved her work, even that meant she stared into people’s mouth all day. She felt challenged, fulfilled and able to apply her expertise.
4. POSITION YOURSELF AS AN EXPERT & CONSULTANT
I remember talking to mom about something at work where I felt not being taken seriously by clients sometimes. Mom said something that really surprised me. She described her work as merely being a technician. I was so surprised. “What do you mean? Your patients really respected you. And you went to medical school. How are you just a technician?” Mom said lightly and in this breezy way that was very surprising to me: “A doctor is basically just a technician performing a specific task. There is not much to it. But what’s important is that we are consultants with specific knowledge, which separated us from other professions. All I did was using my expertise to make recommendations to my patients.”
It is the same for home stagers, or any professionals. No matter what you do, you do it day in and day out. You know accumulated experiences and knowledge, leverage your expertise to position yourself as an expert in your field to serve your customers.
5. INVEST $ STRATEGICALLY & GENEROUSLY
Mom grew up after the war, which I think made her super frugal. Mom barely let us throw anything away when we were growing up. Everything must be exhausted of its purpose. Things like orange peels are used to clean up oily dishes before they are composted. But mom is generous when it comes to investing in tools and things that can generate ROIs. She saw money as a tool, a leverage. She would never buy fictions, but she would buy textbooks and dictionaries happily.
I remember when I first started my business, I was hesitant about buying inventory. I mean, I had zero money when I started and buying several thousand dollars worth of furniture seemed pretty daunting. Mom was very decisive, she said “You have to buy them. They are your tools to make a living.” That’s when I made the decision of investing in our inventory.
6. NEVER STOP LEARNING
Mom likes to learn new skills, observe how others do their work and learn from everyone. She is also a huge DIYer. She mosaic tiled her deck, set up her own sprinkler system and even installed new light fixtures and laid new floors in our studio. When she wanted to find out how something works, she would Google, watch youtube and figured out how to fix or do it herself. She loved using her hands, she said that is why she loved dentistry so much, because it was technical and she got to use her hands.
7. NOTHING IS TOO DIFFICULT
Nothing seemed to faze her or stump her. Mom was very comfortable with power tools. She has her own chain saw. She is fearless. She even drove cement mixing truck couple times when she poured the concrete for the yard. She and dad always say nothing is too difficult, as long as you go for it. That work ethic is amazing and I hope I grow up to be as good as she is.
Mom never moped or see herself as a victim. In her 40s, my father had a serious surgery gone wrong where it looked like he may be paralyzed. During that first month where all hope seemed lost, she never complained or freaked out. She kept a brave face for us and for my dad. She tried everything to help my father recover. She worked long hours taking care of all of us and I never heard her once freak out or give up (even though later I found out she really wanted to talk to someone about it). She always looked for ways to problem solve.
I think mom could’ve had a bigger career but she chose to sacrifice that when she had us. She could’ve caved into the pressure from my grandmother and gave up her work, but she chose to work because it made her happy. That was an amazing thing to watch growing up, and I am super grateful to have that experience. Mom loves her family unconditionally. She gives and gives and gives and never complains or waivers, no matter how difficult or challenge the road ahead is. I would not have my business (and life) without an amazing mom like her.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers in the world!