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6 Powerful business tips from William Arthur Ward (Not Ernest Hemingway as misquoted)

Most of the problems business owners find themselves in can be avoided, if they follow these 6 tips from Ernest Hemingway William Arthur Ward.

“Before you act, listen.
Before you react, think.
Before you spend, earn.
Before you criticize, wait.
Before you pray, forgive.
Before you quit, try.”

~ William Arthur Ward

Before you act, listen

It’s tempting for entrepreneurs to get an idea and then take action, without first listening or getting feedback. That initial burst of excitement and the motivation it brings, means it’s all too easy to set off full speed – then get caught in a speed trap! Starting any project of value without doing the research required results in wasted time, wasted money and total frustration.

Remember: Ready, Aim, Fire – not Ready, Fire, Aim.

Before you react, think

One of the best ways to guarantee you make bad decisions, is to react before you have taken time to think the situation through.

I spoke once with a small business owner, who lost her biggest client because she reacted to an email from her client before pausing to think. The email seemed to be attacking the quality of her work and as an artist, she was extremely hurt. She replied quickly with an angry email, which attacked her client’s taste. The client then replied the following day, to say they had closed their account. It turned out that the client’s email was intended to be humorous. The small business owner only realised she had made a huge mistake, after showing it to her partner who immediately spotted the joke. She lost 60% of her turnover by reacting without due thought.

Before you spend, earn

Earning before you spend takes a lot of discipline. We live in a society that promotes the idea of instant gratification. Just put your credit card details into the box and Amazon (or whoever) will deliver that (whatever) to your door the next day. If you can avoid credit, do. Make your money work for you, not the credit card or loan companies. No, it isn’t easy. However, it is possible.

Before you criticize, wait

Criticism can be painful, so it pays to wait before you criticise. Life is too short to spend it upsetting people. Think for a moment about what you hope to achieve by criticising that person.

Offering a critique when asked by someone who respects your opinion, is very different from picking holes in someone who didn’t ask for your opinion. If you have to be critical about someone or their work, at least provide some helpful answers. Then ask why you needed to be critical of them and what you truly hoped to achieve. Try and ask yourself that question before criticising them.

Before you pray, forgive

It’s hard to move on with your life, unless you are prepared to forgive. I was recently left with a bill for thousands of dollars, because someone failed to deliver on a commitment they made to me and then walked away, leaving me to literally pay the price. However, I made sure to forgive the person immediately. In fact, I wish them nothing but happiness. I have not forgotten what they did to me, because if I did I wouldn’t have been able to learn from it. However, it’s pointless to hold bitterness toward people. As Buddy Hackett said: ‘While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing’.

Look for the learning. Use it as a lesson. Don’t let it happen again. Move on.

Before you quit, try

In my experience, people tend to quit too soon. For example, there are millions of blogs out there, which were abandoned after the blogger wrote a couple of dozen posts. Before these blogs had the chance to become massively valuable assets, the blogger decided it wasn’t working and quit. Instead of starting with a commitment to write regularly for at least a year before quitting, they became disheartened and gave up. They set it up so that it was impossible for them to succeed, by quitting unreasonably early.

If you are going to try something, really try. Make a commitment based on realistic data – then stick to it. This will cause your success rate and your self belief to soar like a rocket!

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The quote this post was based on, was originally attributed to Hemingway. The correct attribution has now been applied and I’d like to thank Peter, a reader who kindly pointed out the error.

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  1. Jim,

    These are excellent life tips…Thanks for sharing. Best wishes for a fruitful, healthy and prosperous New Year!


  2. Jim,

    I’ve seen this quote around before but never thought of applying it to business. Thank you for expanding it to be relevant to me.


  3. These are terrific tips – and I love seeing the first one especially. I’m an aimer, and far too often I see “gurus” encourage to just launch something and then figure out where it’s going. To me, that’s a waste of time.

    Have a wonderful new year Jim!

    • Good point, Courtney. Gurus tend to try and make everything sound over simplistic – it’s what their target market want to believe. Preparation is what sets the professionals apart.

      Thanks for the feedback.

      • The other end of the spectrum are those of us who spend too much time preparing and fail to launch. I think you have to find your happy medium between over prepping and just jumping in.

  4. I have seen hundreds of blogs on business tips but this is really “powerful”!

  5. Just one thing. Stay in something far past when the average person would quit

  6. Excellent life answers to help all of us. I relate to #1, I’m a little impulsive and when I find an idea that I want to use in my business I may rush into it, need to give it more thought and see results before I introduce it to my network. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Jim

    Great post! It seems that everyone is coming up with very stimulating and helpful guidance and information at the end of the year. Your post shared by +ChrisBrogan was just what the Dr., ordered and I really needed to be reminded about trying before you quit. I’ve had two blogs started and then end up on the shelf. I’m planning to get my new blog and podcast off the ground in 2013 and I’m going to work it and there is no quit this time around. Thanks again for the timely piece. Happy New Year!

  8. This article has perfect timing with the plans Im laying out right now.

    Cheers Jim.

  9. it really a helpful tips thanks for sharing…!!!

  10. This post has been extremely useful. Thanks again Jim and a very happy 2013.

  11. I find myself spending the cash I have before I actually think about something. Then when I get started, I quickly give up because I’m not seeing results. For 2013, I plan to keep working on one thing at a time, and keep tweaking it until it works.

  12. Quiting it the easiest way out of something. It’s the main reason why many people are still stuck in thier dead end jobs. I’ll definitely come back to this post when I feel like quiting.

  13. Thanks Jim! I’ll link to this in our next blog on Siasto about motivation.

  14. I love the simplicity of this post Jim. Very easy to understand, and implement.

  15. Who cares what the old drunk wrote? This is the 21st century and only the money has true value now, the rest is nothing but a big piece of junk.

  16. Awesome advice from Hemingway and thanks for expanding on this Jim. I wonder how many businesses that have failed might still be around if they implemented this advice.

    • Hi Neil. It wasn’t intended as business advice, but when I saw it I noticed the ideas could be applied to business as well as life, in general.

  17. Love this post Jim. I like the part about earning before you spend. Apparently in my country (South Africa), only 2% of the population is debt free. The average household spends about $814 per month servicing debt. My feeling is that anyone who has got debt to pay off should be declined any further credit until they are debt free.

  18. This does not at all sound like Hemingway, and it seems it is not from him:


    • Thanks, Peter. Any idea what proof there is, to absolutely confirm the quote belonged to someone else? I’d like to see it – as I had always seen this quote attributed to Hemingway.

      • Hi Jim!

        Well, it is hard to prove that somebody did NOT say something. However, you can find this quote in many places where it is attributed to William Arthur Ward. And if you read some more of his quotes, this parallelism is quite characteristic for them, cf. for example
        http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/416931.William_Arthur_Ward .

        Hemingway, on the other hand, is known as an author of novels and poems, not of aphorisms.

        But once something like this is in the web it easily propagates, especially if there is a big name attached to it.

        • Hi Peter. See, that’s exactly what I found. I researched the quote and found massively more people attributing it to Hemingway than any other writer. I’m with you though – It’s very hard to categorically prove that someone was the first person to say something (or even that they ever said it.)

          I need to write something about this, and want to thank you for bringing the subject to the front on my mind. Only yesterday, I commented on a quote on Google+, which claimed to be from Einstein, but I am almost certain wasn’t.

          As Walt Disney said; “Thanks for the feedback, Peter”.

  19. Anyway, it does not affect the validity of your article who the quote is from 😉

    • I did some digging myself and believe there is a far better chance this WAS a quote from William Arthur Ward.

      I have changed the post accordingly and thank you again for helping me improve the blog.

      If I write about this in the future, Peter, may I use your name?

      It’s an important subject.

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