Thursday, November 26th, 2020

What I learned about Biz from my son’s teacher

By Lisa Sansom on Apr 18 2011 • Filed under Business

Photo: Business tips entrepreneurial mom learned from school teacher.

We recently moved to a new town, which meant a new school for my children. My youngest son, who was going into first grade, and therefore making the transition to full-day school every day, was a little nervous, but excited for the change. Honestly, his new teacher has been a blessing for us. As I was meeting other parents at the school, they would ask which class my children were in. When I told them that my youngest had Ms Dichter for grade one, they always replied, “Oh we LOVE Ms. Dichter!”

And now I see why.

But Ms. Dichter isn’t just a great grade one teacher; she is also a great model for the entrepreneurial woman who is growing and creating a business. Here’s what I’ve learned about business from her.

Set the rules early on.

What sort of business are you running and what are your rules of engagement? Set the rules early on with your clients so that you know what work you are contracting for, and how it will be done. Discuss payment early on (you would not believe the first newsletter that came home, asking for parental involvement in tangible and intangible ways – very clear and high expectations!)

Involve your clients in the contracting process.

Setting up the contract with a group of first-graders might seem easy enough – the teacher says what the rules are, and those are the rules. Ms Dichter has a different approach that neatly bridges dictatorial and collaborative. She shares the school rules with the children, and then invites them to create new rules that support what the school has set out but apply specially in Room 10.

Your business rules are your business rules – they determine which sort of clients you will take on, how you will be paid, and so on. However, you should consider creating different guiding principles with each client. Some clients will want to hold more status update meetings – fine. Some clients will want more check-ins via conference call instead of email – fine. Where are you flexible in your business practices so that the client can be part of the process in determining how you work together?

Keep the rules firm but flexible.

Situations change – especially in a grade one class but also in your business. As your business grows and matures, as you learn to trust the client and they learn to have more faith in you, as your understanding of your client’s needs expands and deepens, the rules that you had originally set may need to bend or be re-written. So stick to the rules that you and your client set, until they are not working any more. And then go back and explicitly revisit them. Maybe the original rule was that everyone had to use pencil for written activities, but sometimes there are special occasions when markers are just fine.

Each person is an individual with great potential.

And each client is individual – and each project has great potential as well. And those niggly personality traits that bug you may actually be strengths in hiding. Case in point: my son doesn’t do simple tasks. If you ask him to copy a list of words, he will do some in fancy letters, others in several different colours (including more than one colour in each letter), with different sizes, taking up several sheets of paper in the process. To me, this is taking way more time than is necessary and it’s overly-complicating a very simple and straight-forward task. To his teacher, this is my son showing his creativity and challenging himself because the original task was really too easy for his capabilities. He is, in effect, creating his own enrichment.

What bothers you about your interaction with your client? And what strengths may be lurking under the surface?

Care, care, care.

Ms. Dichter truly and genuinely cares about each student in her class, and it is probably this trait above all that makes her an excellent teacher. She is always thinking about how she can individualize her material, as much as feasible, to meet each student where he or she is that day.

When you truly and genuinely care about your client, and about their project, then you build a relationship and repeat business. As the truism says, people may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. When you make them feel cared for, beautiful and meaningful collaborations ensue.

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