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Business Lessons from Nelson Mandela


Nelson Mandela is a great source of inspiration for anyone, but here are a number of lessons from his life that can be applied to business.

“It Always Seems Impossible Until it is Done” – Nelson Mandela

The business lesson

Never let anyone tell you that you cannot succeed. All great achievements seem impossible at one time or another. Until they are done.

How we apply it

When I started Design Inspiration over 20 years ago, we were pretty much the first company in Plymouth to offer web design services. In the intervening years, we became so well known for designing websites that it became our number one activity. When we started, potential clients often had to be taught what a website was and how one could help their business. Now we’re doing the same for social media.

“It is What Difference We Have Made to the Lives of Others That will Determine the Significance of the Life We Lead” – Nelson Mandela

The business lesson

The purpose of business is to improve the lives of others. Successful businesses have a clear understanding of how they help others.

How to apply it

Never underestimate how powerful your purpose is. Take time to reassess your elevator pitch and your USP. Do they express how you help? Maybe it’s time to swithc from “We sell a wide variety of widgets at every size” to something that illustrates how your widgets actually help make your clients’ products better and more attractive to buyers, because that’s how you will make a difference to them. Do the same for your marketing copy on your website and in your brochures.

“When People are Determined They Can Overcome Anything” – Nelson Mandela

The business lesson

We are all presented with obstacles in business. Find a way through, over, or around.

How to apply it

Set clear goals, even if they might seem likely to be difficult. Develop a plan to achieve each goal. When you encounter resistance or obstacles, focus on what the goal is and do whatever it takes to reach it. This could involve brainstorming, getting expert advice, developing new products or modifying services. Whatever it takes to reach your goal.

“When a Man is Denied the Right to Live the Life he Believes in, he Has no Choice but to Become an Outlaw” – Nelson Mandela

The business lesson

Sometimes you have to make your own rules.

How we apply it

When others try to get in the way of your success, don’t accept it. When we first set up, Design Inspiration we were told by everyone that we had to have trendy offices in an expensive location in order to impress potential clients. We were told that by not spending big on the shiny smoked glass and expensive potted plants, we were committing corporate suicide. Well, we believed that it was better to save the money and pass the savings on to our clients so that could pay less for a superior service. Twenty years later, we still apply that principle and it looks like our clients agree with us.

“Lead From the Back and Let Others Believe They Are in Front” – Nelson Mandela

The business lesson

Don’t try to hog the limelight, leadership is not about being noticed, it’s about getting things done.

How to apply it

The two words in leadership that you can put to work straight away: collaboration and ownership. Give ownership of projects, tasks and achievements to the members of your teamand you’ll be amazed at how much you can achieve. Together.

“Courage is Not the Absence of Fear, But the Triumph Over it” – Nelson Mandela

The business lesson

Successful businesses do not hide from calculated risk.

How to apply it

Two of the greatest fear-related issues that affect business are fear of change, and fear of risk. There’s a good reason for that too, because both of those things can bring disaster. But there’s another factor too: both change and risk can bring enormous benefits. Sometimes you have to take a risk to find new lucrative markets, and change is essential to avoid stagnation. Markets change constantly and the business that doesn’t change to take advantage of that is doomed to disappear sooner rather than later.

“Do Not Judge me by my Successes, Judge Me by How Many Times I Fell Down and Got Back up Again” – Nelson Mandela

The business lesson

Take the blows that come with running a business, and keep going.

How to apply it

If you think running a business is going to be easy, get a job working for someone else. Being in business is not for the faint of heart. Every successful company that ever existed has had to face setbacks, difficulties, and failures but has kept going. It is  resilience in the face of hardship that makes a business successful. Remember Mandela’s words the next time you feel like giving up because you’ve had enough of sleepless nights, unreasonable clients, and economic recession.

“As We Let Our Own Light Shine, We Unconsciously Give Other People Permission to do the Same” – Nelson Mandela

The business lesson

Your against-the-odds success will inspire others to create their own.

How to apply it

Never stop creating success with your business, because it will encourage other members of your team to create theirs. Act as a mentor and guide for your employees; act as a guide for friends, colleagues, and yes even your competitors. Your success does not always require the failure of others.

The Next Step

Before you go to work tomorrow, pick one of these lessons and consider how you can apply it to your business. If you have a favourite quote of Nelson Mandela’s that you use to inspire your business life, please share it, I’d love to hear why it inspires your business life. Also, feel free to share these images on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram if you want. All I ask is that you include a link back to this article so others can be inspired by them too.

10 Reasons to Choose Design Inspiration

- 28 yrs web design experience
- 11+ yrs social media experience
- professional graphic designers
- content marketing experts
- free hosting for your first year
- free domain for first year
- mobile-friendly websites
- friendly and approachable
- social media experts
- professional copywriters

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