P.T. Barnum’s Rules For Success In Business
by Dan Walsh
I’ve written about P.T. Barnum before, but his autobiography had a strong effect on me, and I felt compelled to write again. The following passage was written by Barnum at the urging of Edwin T. Freedley, Esq., who was writing a book about business and wished to include the results of Barnum’s many and varied years in business. It’s a product of the times, so some of the references are out of date, but the advice remains sound.
Barnum’s Rules for Success in Business
1. Select the KIND of business that suits your natural inclinations and temperament. Some men are naturally mechanics; others have a strong aversion to any thing like machinery, and so on; one man has a natural taste for one occupation, and another for another. “I am glad that we do not all feel and think alike,” said Dick Homespun, “for if we did, everybody would think my gal, Sukey Snipes, the sweetest creature in all creation, and they would all be trying to court her at once.”
I never could succeed as a merchant. I have tried it unsuccessfully several times. I never could be content with a fixed salary, for mine is a purely speculative disposition, while others are just the reverse; and therefore all should be careful to select those occupations that suit them best.
2. Let your pledged word ever be sacred. Never promise to do a thing without performing it with the most rigid promptness. Nothing is more valuable to a man in business than the name of always doing as he agrees, and that to the moment. A strict adherence to this rule, gives a man the command of half the spare funds wihtin the range of his acquaintance, and always encircles him with a host of friends who may be depended upon in almost any conceivable emergency.
3. Whatever you do, do with all your might. Work at it if necessary early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unsturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now. The old proverb is full of truth and meaning, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing now.” Many a man acquires a fortune by doing his business thoroughly, while his neighbor remains poor for life because he only half does his business. Ambition, energy, industry, perseverance, are indispensable requisites for success in business.
4. Sobriety. Use no description of intoxicating drinks. As no man can succeed in business unless he has a brain to enable him to lay his plans, and reason to guide him in their execution, so, no matter how bountifully a man may be blessed with intelligence, if his brain is muddled, and his judgment warped by intoxicating drinks, it is impossible for him to carry on business successfully. How many good opportuniteis have passed never to return, while a man was sipping a “social glass” with his friend! How many foolish bargains have been made under the influence of the nervine, wich temporarily makes its victim so rich! How many important chances have been put off until to-morrow, and thence for ever, because the wine-cup has thrown the system into a state of lassitude, neutralizing the energies so essential to success in business. The use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage is as much an infatuation as is the smoking of opium by the Chinese, and the former is quite as destructive to the success of the business man as the latter.
5. Let hope predominate, but be not too visionary. Many persons are always kept poor, because they are too visionary. Every project looks to them like certain success, and therefore they keep changing from one business to another, always in hot water, always “under the harrow.” The plan of “counting the chickens before they are hatched” is an error of ancient date, but it does not seem to improve by age.
6. Do not scatter your powers. Engage in one kind of business only, and stick to it faithfully until you succeed, or until you conclude to abandon it. A constant hammering on one nail, will generally drive it home at least, so that it can be clinched. When a man’s undivided attention is centred on one object, his mind will constantly be suggesting improvements of value, which would escape him if his brain were occupied by a dozen different subjects at once. Many a fortune has slipped through men’s fingers by engaging in too many occupations at once.
7. Engage proper employees. Never employ a man of bad habits, when one whose habits are good can be found to fill his situation. I have generally been extremely fortunate in having faithful and competent persons to fill the responsible situations in my business, and a man can scarcely be too grateful for such a blessing. When you find a man unfit to fill his station, either from incapacity or peculiarity of character or disposition, dispense with his services, and do not drag out a miserable existence in the vain attempt to change his nature. It is utterly impossible to do so. “You cannot make a silk purse,” etc. He was created for some other sphere. Let him find and fill it.
8. Advertise your business. Do not hide your light under a bushel. Whatever your occupation or calling may be, if it needs support from the public, advertise it thoroughly and efficiently, in some shape or other, that will arrest public attention. I freely confess that what success I have had in my life may fairly be attributed more to the public press than to nearly all other causes combined. There may possible be occupations that do not require advertising, but I cannot well conceive what they are.
Men in business will sometimes tell you that they have tried advertising, and that it did not pay. This is only when advertising is done sparingly and grudgingly. Homoeopathic doses of advertising will not pay perhaps – it is like half a potion of physic, making the patient sick, but effecting nothing. Administer liberally, and the cure will be sure and permanent.
Some say, “they cannot afford to advertise;” they mistake – they cannot afford not to advertise. In this country, where everbody reads the newspapers, the man must have a thick skull who does not see that these are the cheapest and best medium through which he can speak to the public, where he is to find his customers. Put on the appearance of business and generally the reality will follow. The farmer plants his seed, and while he is sleeping, his corn and potatoes are growing. So with advertising. While you are sleeping, or eating, or conversing with one set of customers, your advertisement is being read by hundreds and thousands of persons who never saw you, nor heard of your business, and never would, had it not been for your advertisement appearing in the newspapers.
The business men of this country do not, as a general thing, appreciate the advantages of advertising thoroughly. Occasionally the public are aroused at witnessing the success of a Swaim, a Brandreth, a Townsend, a Genin, or a Root, and express astonishment at the rapidity with which these gentlemen acquire fortunes, not reflecting that the same path is open to all who dare pursue it. But it needs nerve and faith. The former, to enable you to launch out thousands on the uncertain waters of the future; the latter, to teach you that after many days it shall surely return, bringing an hundred or a thousand fold to him who appreciates the advantages of “printer’s ink” properly applied.
9. Avoid extravagance; and always live considerably within your income, if you can do so without absolute starvation! It needs no prophet to tell us that those who live fully up to their means, without any thought of a reverse in life, can never attain to a pecuniary independence.
Men and women accustomed to gratify every whim and caprice, will find it hard at first to cut down their cvrious unneccessary expenses, and will feel it a great self-denial to live in a smaller house than they have been accustomed to, with less expensive furniture, less company, less costly clothing, a less nmber of balls, parties, theatre-goings, carriage ridings, pleasure excursions, cigar smokings, liqour-drinkings, etc., etc., etc.; but, after all, if they will try the plan of laying by a “nest-egg,” or in other words, a small sum of money, after paying all expenses, they will be surprised at the pleasure to be derived from constantly adding to their little “pile,” as well as from all the economical habits which follow in the pursuit of this peculiar pleasure.
The old suit of clothes, and the old bonnet and dress, will answer for another season; the Croton or spring water will taste better than champagne; a brisk walk will prove more exhilarating than a ride in the finest coach; a social family chat, an evening’s reading in the family circle, or an hour’s lay of “hunt the slipper” and “blind man’s bluff,” will be far more pleasant than a fifty or a five hundred dollar party, when the reflection on the difference in cost is indulged in by those who begin to know the pleasure of saving.
Thousands of men are kept poor, and tens of thousands are made so after they have acquired quite sufficient means to support them well through life, in consequence of laying their plans of living on too expensive a platform. Some families in this country expend twenty thousand dollars per annum, and some much more, and would scarcely know how to live on a less sum.
Prosperity is a more severe ordeal than adversity, especially sudden prosperity. “Easy com, easy go,” is an old and true proverb. Pride, when permitted full sway, is the great undying cankerworm which gnaws the very vitals of a man’s worldly possessions, let them be small or great, hundreds or millions. Many persons, as they begin to prosper, immediately commence expending for luxuries, until in a short time their expenses swallow up their income, and they become ruined in their ridiculous attempts to keep up appearances, and make a “sensation.”
I know a gentleman of fortune, who says, that when he first began to prosper, his wife would have a new and elegant sofa. “That sofa,” he says, “cost me thirty thousand dollars!” The riddle is thus explained:
When the sofa reached the house, it was found necessary to get chairs, to “match,” then sideboards, carpets, and tables, “to correspond” with them, and so on through the entire stock of furniture, when at last it was found that the house itself was quite too small and old-fashioned for the furniture, and a new one was built to correspond with the sofa and et ceteras; “thus,” added my friend, “running up an outlay of thirty thousand dollars caused by that single sofa, and saddling on me, in the shape of servants, equipage, and the necessary expenses attendant upon keeping up a fine ‘establishment,’ a yearly outlay of eleven thousand dollars, and a tight pinch at that; whereas, ten years ago, we lived with much more real comfort, because with much less care, on as many hundreds. The truth is,” he continued, “that sofa would have brought me to inevitable bankruptcy, had not a most unexampled tide of prosperity kept me above it.”
10. Do not depend upon others. Your success must depend upon your own individual exertions. Trust not to the assistance of friends; but learn that every man must be the architect of his own fortune.
With proper attention to the foregoing rules, and such observations as a man of sense will pick up in his own experience, the road to competence will not, I think usually be found a difficult one.