Life & Business Lessons I Learned in Mexico
Happy Cinco de Mayo! In honor of the holiday, this post focuses on my recent trip to Mexico and some business and life lessons I learned while I was there. A group of individuals and I went to Mexico for nine days. We helped with a lot of service-related projects and experienced Mexican culture to the fullest. Here are 9 lessons learned from the experience that relate to life and business:
1. Pay attention to the details
In Mexico, water has to be purified in order to be safe for drinking. The purification process is very specific and needs to be followed closely. All it takes is one drop of unpurified water to make you sick. You have to pay attention to details, such as making sure your silverware is dry before using it and not letting any water get in your mouth while showering. Just as we were careful to pay attention to every detail concerning the water in Mexico, your business should keep track of the minor details, which could potentially make a huge impact. These details can range anywhere from your store’s packaging and product placement to remembering your customers’ names. Don’t get bogged down in the details, but be aware of them and make any necessary changes.
2. Watch out for speedbumps!
We spent a total of about 22 hours driving in a 15 passenger van through the winding roads of Mexico. During those 22 hours of travel time, we experienced hundreds of “topes,” which are giant speedbumps. There isn’t much warning before each tope, so the driver has to be very alert and aware, ready at any moment. Usually the topes were taken with great care, but there was one time in particular when we had a new driver who wasn’t ready for the topes. The first tope he hit was incredible. We literally flew through the air, and there were some heads slammed into the ceiling. In your business, don’t let the topes catch you off guard. Always be ready to face unexpected obstacles, and if you do mess up, learn from your mistakes and move on. (Our driver quickly learned his lesson and never let that first experience happen again).
3. Utilize every resource you have, and let nothing go to waste
One of our tasks in Mexico was to prepare food at a large conference. We cut up whole chickens and threw almost everything into the pot. Nothing was wasted; the feet, the neck – it was all used. In your business, take every resource you have and use it to its full potential. Don’t let anything go to waste, and look for ways in which you can better utilize what you have. For example, when it comes to advertising your business, are you using all available (and free!) resources, like social media and online directories? Does your community have any events in which you could participate? You’d be surprised at what you can do with what you already have!
4. Seek wise counsel and follow it
Our team had an excellent leader when we went to Mexico. He grew up in Mexico, has a lot of wisdom, and gave us a lot of extremely useful advice while we were there. There are examples in which we heeded his advice, and things went well. Unfortunately, there were also times where we chose to ignore the advice, and things didn’t go so well. As a business owner, you should go to people who have more experience than you and ask for their advice and opinions, and then follow their advice. Good ideas are nothing more than good ideas if they are not acted upon.
5. Always be more than prepared
Most of our team got sunburnt at least once. This was mostly due to inadequate sunscreen use. One day at the beach I applied sunscreen but didn’t allow it to dry completely and faced the consequences. I thought I was prepared because I put sunscreen on, but I rushed the process and didn’t do it the right way. In business (and in life), don’t just be prepared; be more than prepared. When planning and preparing, don’t rush the process. Do things the right way the first time rather than rushing through things and experiencing the consequences later on down the road.
6. Communicate thoroughly and leave no room for misinterpretation
I speak some Spanish but am by no means fluent. While communicating in Mexico, I had to get creative with my sentence structures by using the words I knew. I had to ask people to speak slower and repeat things. When communicating in another language, you realize a lot about communication that is typically taken for granted. Be aware of these things when you’re communicating for your business. Take time, be specific, and state your points clearly. Proofread all written communication, and make sure everything is straightforward and wouldn’t be misinterpreted.
7. A smile can go a long way
It’s amazing how friendships and bonds can be formed with people who don’t speak the same language as you. Even though you’re not able to have deep and meaningful conversations, so much is said in people’s facial expressions and body language. Offering something as simple as a smile to your customers can go a long way. Train your employees on how to create a positive business environment and greet every customer. Sometimes a smile can do just as much (if not more) than your words can.
8. Stay hydrated (and motivate others to do the same)
The Mexico sun is hot and strong (especially when you’ve been used to winter in Minnesota). Each day was spent working in the sun. Our bodies weren’t used to the heat, and we were working hard. Dehydration was a real concern, so we were constantly telling each other, “Drink more water!” Make sure that you also are getting what you need to keep you going. Don’t get burnt out by all the demands of your business without taking time to “hydrate” yourself with learning opportunities like conferences and books and free time to relax. Encourage your employees to keep themselves “hydrated” as well by providing an environment of growth and learning.
9. Passion is what keeps you going
While we were in Mexico, we worked with many different groups of people, and they were all extremely passionate about the work they were doing. The days were long, hot, and exhausting, but we all persevered because we firmly believed in our mission. What sets your business apart from others? How are you living out your mission and providing value to your customers? If you’ve lost the passion that first inspired you to start your business, reignite the passion and allow it to be the force behind everything you do.