3 Lessons from Must-See Small Business TV

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Think all TV is mind numbing? Think again. Entrepreneurs and small business owners can gain valuable insights from the small business TV shows that have become so popular. Stay tuned for some real-life lessons.

Lesson #1: Go for It

Candy Tolentino, founder and CEO of Earth Café Living Foods, received her education firsthand as a contestant on Richard Branson’s “The Rebel Billionaire” in 2004.

“Cast members had no idea what the grand prize would be, or if there even was a grand prize,” she says. Yet they suffered through crazy tests like walking on a pole between two hot air balloons and jumping from a 750-foot high cliff over an alligator-infested river, and had to complete business tasks on no sleep and in strange lands. “The pressure was constant and intense, and many times I wondered if it was all for nothing.”

Small business TV takeaway: “I learned that you must play full-throttle always, despite an unclear outcome, and in spite of fatigue, doubt, worry or fear,” Tolentino says. “Entrepreneurs must learn that no matter how difficult a task is and whether you can see the light at the end of the tunnel or not, you must bring your A-game each day. If you can rise above difficulties, excel in the face of adversity and pick yourself up each time you fall, you will outlast the competition and you can't help but be successful. Very few people have the gumption to do this, but those who do, win.”

But you don’t have to be a contestant on these reality TV shows to benefit from them.

Lesson #2: Get Dirty

Mario Almonte, managing partner of Herman & Almonte Public Relations in New York, learned the importance of staying close to how the firm performs its core work from watching “Undercover Boss.”

“I watched the head of a major home security firm go undercover to work with one of his salespeople and one of his customer service reps,” says Almonte. “He proved to be completely and embarrassingly incompetent at both jobs.”

Small business TV takeaway: “This particular episode reminded me of how important it is to always remain on top of the latest developments in my field and never to be afraid to pull up my sleeves and get in the trenches,” he says.

And remember, being an expert in your industry isn’t enough — you also need to be an expert in business.

Lesson #3: Know Your Numbers

Cindi Smith, founder and president of Cleveland, OH-based executive search firm The Lakeside Group Associates, picked up valuable insights from watching investors on “Shark Tank” grill entrepreneurs on finance and market figures. “The Sharks are looking for businesses that can and will grow,” she says.

Small business TV takeaway: “Because of this, our firm has worked hard to become experts on our own numbers,” Smith explains. “Knowing how many calls it takes to generate a new client or how many candidates it takes to fill a job search are crucial. We can predict our future revenue by really knowing and understanding our numbers.”

Nobody’s advocating that reality TV is a substitute for professional insights from professionals who know you and your enterprise. But when you need a break from the spreadsheets and regulations, there are worse things you could be watching.


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