(Taken from Burroughs' Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information, 1889)
In order to succeed in business life, it is necessary to cultivate and develop certain qualities and traits of character. These are a portion of the capital of the successful man, and a more essential portion than money or goods.
"Sharp practice" may bring a temporary gain but in the long run of life that man will be far ahead who deals squarely and honestly at all times. A thoroughly honest clerk will command a higher salary than one of equivocal habits, while the merchant who has a reputation for honesty and truthfulness in regard to the quality and value of his goods, will on this account he favored with a considerable custom. The business man whose "word is as good as his bond" can in any emergency, control large amounts of capital, the use of which brings him a rich return, while the man who sells his neighbor's good opinion for a temporary gain, will find that he has discounted his future success, but taking an advantage at the cost of ten tines its value.
No other quality can take the place of this, and no talents of mind, however excellent, will bring success without labor; persistent systematic labor. The young man who expects to find some royal road to success with little or no effort, or who imagines that his mental abilities will compensate for a lack of application, cheats and ruins himself. Horace Greeley probably never said a grander thing than this: "The saddest hour in any man's career is that wherein he, for the first time, fancies there is an easier was of gaining a dollar than by squarely earning it." and Horace Greeley was himself an example of success through industry.
It is not genius, but the great mass of average people, who work, that make the successes in life. Some toil with the brain, and others toil with the hand, but all must toil. Industry applies to hours in business and out of business. It means not only to perform all required work promptly, but to occupy spare moments usefully, not to idle evenings, and to rise early in the morning.
An employee should not confine himself to his mere obligatory duties. He should be ready to work sometimes over hours or in other departments if it is desired of him. Willingness to work is one of the finest qualities in a character, and will compensate for many other deficiencies.
This faculty, always so useful, is pre-eminently so to the business man. It must be both retentive and quick. By proper training this faculty may be so cultivated that names, dates and events to a surprising number may be readily recalled. The ability to greet a customer by calling him by name is considered very valuable in any class of business. It makes a very agreeable impression when a man who has not seen us but once or twice, and who is not expecting us, meets us promptly as we enter his store, with, "Why, Mr. ——, how do you do? Glad to see you. When did you leave Newark?" We feel as if we had occupied that man's thoughts since we saw him before. He appreciates us, and we feel like patronizing him. Whereas, on the other hand to meet a customer with a blank, inquiring expression, and greet him with, "Your face is familiar, but I can't recall your name." is unpleasant and tends to drive away custom. Every hotel keeper knows the value of this greeting of customers. Facts, figures and dates are very necessary to remember in business, and these often form the basis of a business transaction or venture by which large profits are made. Superior ability in remembering prices and their fluctuations has been the secret of more than one brilliant success.
Desultory reading injures the memory, while close application to a subject, recalling the various points therein, tends greatly to improve this faculty. The clerk or employee in receiving instructions from his principal should endeavor to impress every point clearly on his mind, and retain them there until they are carried out in action. Carelessness and forgetfulness often causes the discharge of otherwise worthy and competent young persons, as employers do not like to repeat their orders.
A very essential element in the character of the business man is promptness. Filling all engagements at exactly the appointed time, answering letters or forwarding goods with promptness, the man of business finds that much more can be accomplished and with far greater accuracy, than by a loose system of putting off till to-morrow, or according to convenience. Not only so, but competition in business is such that the merchant or tradesman who does not deal with promptness can hardly expect to hold his custom. Young men starting out in the world should form the resolution of doing everything on time. Better to be ahead in the performance of duties than behind. This promptness then acts as a stimulant in itself, and is oftentimes the means of winning success in an enterprise.
A thing that is worth the doing, ought to be done quickly when the time is ripe for it. A prompt man or woman is valued, as he respects his word and has due regard for the convenience of others.
Wavering, timid and uncertain, the man without executive ability never achieves distinction in active life. Intelligence to decide on any measure, firmness in adhering to the decision, and force of will in carrying it out, constitute executive ability, and are as essential to the business man as his stock in trade.
The timid man never makes up his mind until after the opportunity is past, or decides, then recalls his decision, and feels incapable of promptly estimating all the facts in the case. This weakness is oftentimes natural, but more frequently it is a bad habit which should be broken up.
Rashness is to decide and act without taking the trouble to weigh intelligently the facts in the case. This is inexcusable folly, and always brings serious trouble sooner or later.
Through executive ability the labor or services of one man may be made to produce largely, or without proper direction such services may be almost worthless; and in the case of many employees under one executive head, the results of this combined labor may be great success, or where executive ability is wanting, a great failure.
The successful farmer, merchant, manufacturer, banker, and professional man must have this combination of ability, firmness, and will power.
Those who put their minds on their work, whatever kind that may be, and persist in its thorough execution; who get interested in something for their own advancement, that they may become more capable as men and women of sense and tact; such persons have a lively appreciation of the fact that success is never more certain to be gained by any other course.
These people have a just pride in learning the best methods of giving expression to the faculties and powers they possess, and which they desire to make the most of. It is incumbent that they do all in their power for their own and other people's good. Feeling this, an ever present incentive keeps them employed, and they are never idle.
If one does not succeed from persisting in doing the best he knows how, he may conclude that the ministry of failure is better for him than any worldly success would be.
Good behavior is an essential element of our civilization. It should be displayed every day through courteous acts and becoming manners.
Politeness is said to be the poetry of conduct; and like poetry, it has many qualities. Let not your politeness he too florid, but of that gentle kind which indicates a refined nature.
In his relations with others, one should never forget his good breeding. It is a general regard for the feelings of others that springs from the absence of all selfishness. No one should behave in the presence of others as though his own wishes were bound to be gratified or his will to control.
In the more active sphere of business, as in the larger localities where there is close competition, the small merchant frequently outstrips his more powerful rival by one element of success, which may be added to any stock without cost, but cannot be withheld without loss. That element is civility. A kind and obliging manner carries with it an indescribable charm. It must not be a manner that indicates a mean, groveling, timeserving spirit, but a plain, open, and agreeable demeanor that seems to desire to oblige for the pleasure of doing so, and not for the sake of squeezing an extra penny out of a customer's purse.
The sole reliance of a business man should be in the integrity of his transactions, and in the civility of his demeanor. He should make it the interest and the pleasure of a customer to come to his office or store. If he does this, he will form the very best "connections," and so long as he continues this system of business, they will never desert him.
No real business man will take advantage of a customer's ignorance, nor equivocate nor misrepresent. If he sells goods, he will have but one price and a small profit. He will ere long find all the most profitable customers—the cash ones—or they will find him.
If such a man is ever deceived in business transactions, he will never attempt to save himself by putting the deception upon others; but submit to the loss, and be more cautious in future. In his business relations, he will stick to those whom he finds strictly just in their transactions, and shun all others even at a temporary disadvantage.
The word of a business man should be worth all that it expresses and promises, and all engagements should be met with punctilious concern. An indifferent or false policy in business is a serious mistake. It is fatal to grasp an advantage at ten times its cost; and there is nothing to compensate for the loss of a neighbor's confidence or good will.
The long-established customs and forms of business, which in these times are assumed to be legitimate, already have within them enough of the elements of peculiarity, commonly termed "tricks of trade," or, in the sense of any particular business, "tricks of the trade." Therefore it does not behoove any active man to make gratuitous additions of a peculiar nature to the law of business. On the contrary, all should strive to render business transactions less peculiar than they are.
One may rest in the assurance that industry and economy will be sure to tell in the end. If in early life these habits become confirmed, no doubt can exist as to the ultimate triumph of the merchant in attaining a competency.
There should be no antagonism between economy and a generous business policy. Narrow selfishness is to be avoided in the use of money or means. In buying goods, one should not take advantage of another's necessities to beat him down to a figure which leaves him little or no profit, perhaps a loss, because he must have money. This is against manhood and is a ruinous policy, because it tends to picayunishness and chicanery. A sacred regard for the principles of justice forms the basis of every transaction, and regulates the conduct of the upright man of business.
If economy is wealth, it is not so because of a niggardly and
parsimonious policy. Perhaps the simplest, fewest and best rules for
economical business are these, by observance of which a noted merchant
amassed a large fortune:
1. Obtain the earliest and fullest information possible in regard to the matter in hand.
2. Act rapidly and promptly upon it.
3. Keep your intentions and means secret.
4. Secure the best employees you can obtain, and reward them liberally.
Proprietors of institutions will early discover that order, and neatness, are necessary as economical agents in prosecuting a successful business. And the youth who would grow up to become well-to-do, to gain complete success, to be a valuable member and assume a position in society, should take pains to acquire habits of cleanliness, of order, and of business.
To this effect each one may early learn the simple rules of health and good order by paying reasonable attention to those so-called minor details, which pertain to the well-being of the person, and which must be faithfully observed in order to avoid failure and win success.
A person, young or old, in or out of business, may keep a memorandum-book in his pocket, in which he notes every particular relative to appointments, addresses, and petty cash matters. An accurate account of personal expenses should be kept, which should be balanced each week. By this means each individual will be more careful and economical in his expenditures, and generally live within his income. He must be reasonable in spending, or his memorandum or record-book, if it be honestly kept, will stand to his discredit.
A well-kept memorandum-book is often very useful, as it is very convenient, and sometimes serves to settle a troublesome query, arising in other minds, by which the possessor is absolved from the prejudice of doubt. Young people who expect to labor with their hands for what they have of this world's goods, or rise by their own efforts, should by all means acquire habits of economy, learn to save, form correct habits, and no time will be required overcoming these. So surely as they do this, so surely will they be in a situation to ask no special favors. Every man wants to learn to look out for himself and rely upon himself. Every man needs to feel that he is the peer of every other man, and he cannot do it if he is penniless. Money is power, and those who have it exert a wider influence than the destitute. Hence it should be the ambition of all young men to acquire it, as well as to store their minds with useful knowledge.
In seeking a situation, it is always best to appear in person if practicable. A business man who requires the services of a salesman or clerk, a bookkeeper, stenographer, or some one to remain in his employ a considerable time, usually prefers to see an applicant and have a few words with him about the work that is to be done.
If an application has to be made by letter, it should be done in the handwriting of the applicant. It may be brief, and should include references.
It is best for a young man to learn a trade. In this country the trades offer more stable means of subsistence than do other departments of active life. His knowledge of a trade will form no bar to any effort he may afterward make to rise to a higher or more congenial calling.
When a position has been obtained by an applicant, he should at once proceed to render himself indispensable to his employer by following up the details of his work in a conscientious and agreeable manner. Thus he will gain confidence and grow in favor with men who are quick to recognize merit, and who respond to that which contributes to the success of a meritorious man.
There is always room in every business for an honest, hard-worker. It will not do to presume otherwise; nor should one sit down to grumble or concoct mischief. The most perilous hour of one's life is when he is tempted to despond. He who loses, his courage loses all. There are men in the world who would rather work than be idle at the same price. Imitate them. Success is not far off. An honorable and happy life is before you. Lay hold of it.
Copyright © D. J. McAdam· All Rights Reserved