Today is Columbus Day, a U.S. holiday set aside to remember that Christopher Columbus was the first European of the modern era to sail into the New World on his way to India.  This is the day we praise Columbus for his courage and determination, or vilify him for just about everything wrong in the world today. We’ll let others argue over that. However, we think the accomplishments of Christopher Columbus provide many lessons for small business owners and managers. While our intention was to list 1,492 of them, we settled for these nine:

1. Learn a trade.


(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

And by trade, we mean actually learning to trade. Columbus was a trained trader. Columbus began his apprenticeship as a business agent in 1473 and spent years trading along the coasts of West Africa.

2. Do your research.


(Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Columbus learned Latin, Portuguese and Castilian, and read widely about astronomy, geography, and history, including the works of Claudius Ptolemy, Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly’s Imago Mundi, the travels of Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville, Pliny’s The Natural History, and Pope Pius II’s Historia Rerum Ubique Gestarum.

3. Fulfill a customer need.


(Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Sure, there was a need for better trade routes to Asia, but the real need Columbus discovered was European monarchs’ need to replenish their war-depleted bank accounts.

4. Have a plan and know where you’re headed, but know that you’ll end up somewhere else.


While Columbus knew lots more than we learned in grade school (for example, that the earth being round was no secret), he was far off in his predictions of the size of the earth and never quite bought into the notion that the New World was not part of Asia.

5. Raising capital is never easy, and some investors will never be pleased.


If you raise outside capital, expect years of pitching, dealing with committees, rejection after rejection, failure, last-minute changes and then, if you are successful, a lifetime of lawsuits.

6. Find an opportunity where the wind is at your back.


(Photo: Wikipedia)

While the earth being round was not a breakthrough idea, Columbus benefitted from his knowledge of and use of trade winds. (Remember, he was a tradesman.)

7. Execution is everything.


(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Sure, the history books are filled with people who had the exact same idea as Columbus, but are we celebrating today with parades named after them?

8. Hire good lawyers.


In that poem about Columbus sailing the Ocean blue in 1492, they left out the verse where he was arrested and thrown in jail by his investors and he and his heirs spent years fighting over his backers reneging on their commitments.

9. And then, one day, when you’re invited to make a TED Talk, dazzle the audience.


(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Some people will throw parades in your honor each year, while others will devote their careers to writing books equating you with all that is wrong in the world. But no matter what, start a blog and get your side of the story out there.

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