What the Chinese can teach me about business

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Sometimes I wonder why I have subscriptions to Fortune and Forbes magazines. Although I operate my own business as a freelance writer/editor/photographer, my operating budget and annual revenues don’t exactly match those of the typical Fortune and Forbes reader. I do occasionally hire a contract worker to do transcription work for me, and for awhile there I thought about outsourcing some administrative tasks to a virtual assistant (until I found out how much they cost per hour, which was about how much I make per hour), but with those rare exceptions, I’m nowhere near being able to hire employees.

Still, it is inspiring to read a lot of the articles, even those that don’t directly pertain to me and my small biz. The ones that feature a particular small biz offer plenty of ideas and inspiration for other entrepreneurs, and it’s heartening to know that others face many of the same challenges I do.

One recent article about Warren Buffett’s foray into the electric car business via a Chinese company called BYD offers some interesting insight into that culture’s secret to business success. The bottom line for Chinese industry is literally near the bottom line of the article itself:

“How did BYD get so far ahead?” Warren Buffett asked Wang [Chuan-Fu, BYD’s founder], speaking through a translator. “Our company is built on technological know-how,” Wang answered. Wary as always of a technologyp lay, Buffett asked how BYD would sustain its lead. “We’ll never, never rest,” Wang replied.

Buffett may not understand batteries or cars, or Mandarin for that matter. Drive, however, is something that needs no translation.

I love that. Hard work may not always save a company from failure, but it’s definitely an essential ingredient for success. It’s something that many would-be entrepreneurs forget to take into account when they dream of making their first million or two. I know that in my previous attempts to start my own business (wedding photography, Mary Kay sales), I always underestimated the amount of sheer hard work and time that I would have to invest in starting and growing the business. It means often having to work on vacation (which I did for about a fifth of my time in Singapore last year); working late during the week and on the weekends; and skipping otherwise very important events, even those that involve family. People have the misconception that working for yourself means that you have unlimited time on your hands — I can’t count how many times I’m often asked, “So, what are you doing with yourself these days?” As if being a freelance writer meant lounging around in my jammies, waiting for inspiration to hit while popping M&M’s in my mouth and watching daytime TV.

Well, okay, yeah, I do pop M&M’s frequently, but usually it’s while I’m hammering away on an article or blog post or responding to a job posting. I watch TV no more than the average American, and probably even less. I don’t watch daytime TV because my job requires my full concentration, even though I’m doing it on the couch at home.

Still, I know I can do more. I’m not afraid of hard work, but it does require some sacrifice. I know I work hard, but I also recognize that there are times when I slack off a wee bit too much, and since we moved back to Dallas, those times happen more often than I care to admit.

What about you? If you’re an entrepreneur, whether you’re a writer or Web developer or artist or craftsperson, do you think you work as hard as you’re capable? Or do you think you have some room for improvement in your efficiency and industry?