10 Business Lessons Learned from Reading a Piece of Historical Fiction

business lessons

I’m a big fan of business books. I read a lot of them; some great, some OK, some crap. But my favorite kind of book has always been historical fiction. I love the way it takes me to locations and times I’m never going to experience in real life.

Usually when I read historical fiction, I’m not anticipating too many business lessons to be learned, save for a few possible leadership lessons (what to do and what not to do) via Elizabeth I and her pop, Henry VIII.

But right now I’m about three quarters of the way through a book about a woman building her life in 19th century London and New York City, and I’ve been schooled by her resilience and drive.

I’ve jotted down 10 Business Lessons demonstrated by a fictional woman building a happy life out of hardship.

  • There are days (weeks, months, years) when it seems like everything is falling apart. No matter what you do, nothing seems to work and everything seems to go wrong. But you have to believe in yourself. If you don’t, no one else will, and everything you’re working for will always remain just out of reach.
  • There’s no way in hell we can all know everything we need to know when we decide to start a business. Who the hell cares? You are smart. You can learn anything you need to know. Do not let what you don’t yet know stop you from going after what you want.
  • Friends and family are great. They are supportive and loving and helpful, and they want you to succeed. But never underestimate the power of also spending a lot of time with people who are doing what you’re doing- building a business. You know that excitement we all feel (the one that comes with a dose of fear on the side) when working on our businesses? It’s electrifying, thrilling. There’s an energy flowing. When you surround yourself with others who are on that same path, you feel their energy. You feed off of each other and you motivate each other without even realizing it.
  • Taboo questions. Screw them. I think talking about money is interesting. I think asking people how they worked to build their success is really good conversation. I think chatting openly about the process, sharing what you know, and asking others about what they know are all great ways to become more successful. Don’t worry so much about what’s “proper”. As long as you’re respectful, I say start talking.
  • We all have an idea of what we want in life and business (well most of us do) but sometimes we keep that info in our heads, rather than saying it out loud. Maybe it’s because we’re fearful of failure, maybe because we’re not “ready” to share, maybe because we’re not exactly sure of how we’re going to do it. Whatever the reason, stop doing that. Decide what you want, state what you want, and go after what you want. It’s much harder to get what you want if you don’t have a clear picture of what that is. And it’s much harder to get people to help you if you haven’t said it out loud.
  • It’s tempting to start thinking about all the great ideas you have for the business. New products, a brick and mortar shop, new categories, and all that kind of stuff. Ideas are great but before you start spelling out your expansion, make sure you’re focusing first on what you know. And then use that information to grow. What do you know about your current customers? What products are selling most? What geographical locations are you getting the most traction? All this information will help you determine how best to expand. This is stuff you already know and it’s what will help you grow your business in a smart and sustainable way.
  • I’m a big fan of dream big but start small. Mainly because I’ve seen what happens to new designers who pour all kinds of money and other resources into something so grand and enormous only realize a few months in that they really had no idea who their customer was, what their brand value really was, and where they see the business going. Not that growth and taking risks are bad things. It just that taking your time in the beginning, listening, learning, and experimenting are great ways to lay a strong foundation.
  • One of the best skills a business person can have is learning to anticipate needs. By paying attention to what your customer is saying and where the industry is going, you start to get good at offering something just at the time that people realize they need/want it.
  • As designers, it can sometimes be hard to accept that something you’ve created isn’t really all that well received- by customers, editors, or buyers. But you can’t let it get you down. One key to a successful business is being honest with yourself about your product offering and stop pouring money into things that aren’t selling. What sells, what doesn’t? And then ask yourself “Why?”. Understanding why something is working and why something else isn’t working, is how you make better decisions within your business.
  • Accomplishing your goals can take time. There will be a million distractions, some that you must address and other that you can ignore with enough willpower. But don’t let those distractions discourage you from going after what you want. Time passes without our permission, so we might as well love how we’re spending that time, right?

Read any good books lately?

Nicole Giordano

Nicole is the founder of StartUp FASHION, an online resource and community supporting for independent designers around the world with building their businesses. A deep love for the craft of fashion paired with an adamant belief that success is defined by the individual, led her to found StartUp FASHION, where she helps independent designers and makers screw the traditional fashion business rules, create their own paths, and build businesses they truly love. More than anything else, she’s in the business of encouragement and works every day to remind makers and designers that they have something special to offer the world and that they can, in fact, do this thing!

  1. temi

    Waow….I feel like I have just woken up from a giving up slumber… Thank you for this piece..truly helpful..

  2. Billy Bones @billybonestx

    Very well written Nicole! You make a lot of great points in the article, but I think one of the most important part is when you said “sometimes be hard to accept that something you’ve created isn’t really all that well received” because it puts perspective on how you need to listen to and understand your customer in order to know what they want.

  3. Hind

    This is so beautifully written and exactly what I’ve been needing to hear lately. It’s been a tough last 4 months trying to kick start my business. Nobody understands how hard it is to set the right and strong foundation for a brand. Everyone keeps asking me ”where are ur designs?” It gets a little frustrating to explain that it’s more than just ”make designs” and sell them. To the point where it made me doubt myself and that I made the wrong choice by choosing to do this. Thank you for writing this. I thought I was the only one, ! I guess I’m not, and that’s a releif 🙂 x

    • Nicole Giordano

      Hind, please always remember that you are not aline in this. We all deal with what you’ve described. And if you ever need reminding or encouragement, I’m in community, ready to remind you how awesome you are. 🙂

      I’m so glad that this article is timely for you.

      P.S. I just edited your interview for the blog. Publishing Sunday. 🙂

Comments are closed.