5 Lessons Stan Lee Can Teach Us About Running a Small Business

From embracing originality to future-proofing, here are some powerful tips from a real-life superhero.
Stan Lee
According to Stan Lee, remaining innovative in a changing marketplace is crucial for keeping your business afloat. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

When looking for advice in growing your small business, it might surprise you to find inspiration from the career of a comic book writer. Of course, with more than 65 years under his belt in the industry, Stan Lee is no ordinary master of the pen. From creating original characters to launching new businesses, embracing digital media, and even acting, Lee’s career has been as rich and varied as the iconic superheroes he’s brought to life on the page.

Ready to inject some POW! and BOOM! into your own small business? Below are just a few of the life lessons Lee has learned during his 93 years of nonstop action.

Be original

Imitation in a competitive marketplace will only get you so far. To truly stand out, it’s important to innovate and take chances with original ideas.

To illustrate this point, Lee told Inc. how after 20 years of mimicking trends in the comics business for publisher Martin Goodman, he was contemplating quitting out of boredom. That’s when, he says, his wife gave him the greatest advice of his career.

“Why not write one book the way you’d like to, instead of the way Martin wants you to?” he recalled her saying. “Get it out of your system. The worst thing that will happen is he’ll fire you –but you want to quit anyway.”

Lee took her advice, creating characters like the X­Men and Hulk that featured real emotions and problems. It was a spark of innovation in the industry that not only set Lee apart from his competitors, but also led to the eventual birth of an entirely new company called Marvel Comics.

“There are so many stories about a good guy fighting a bad guy,” Lee told Fox Business. “How do you do it in a way that you don’t feel you’ve seen it before – the originality factor is really the big thing.”

Play to your strengths

As a small business owner, it’s typical to wear lots of different hats while growing your business. As you find success, however, it’s worth delegating the tasks that pull you away from what you’re truly good at and passionate about.

Lee recalled how after Martin Goodman sold off his publishing business, the new owners made him the president of the company.

“But I was never a businessman,” he said, adding that he resigned after less than a year. “I mean, I can add and subtract, but I hate to read sheets of numbers. I like to write stories.”

Lee’s story is an important reminder to remain true to your talents and original goals for starting your own business.

“Whatever you do, you should do what you most want to do and what you’re best at,” Lee told Business Insider. “Too many people don’t really do what their heart’s desire is, but they try to do something else because they think, ‘well it will be easy to get a job or to make money.’ And if that happens, then when you’re doing it, you feel like you’re working. But if you do what you really want to do, you feel like you’re playing.”

Stay ahead of the curve

Whether it’s the adoption of new card reader technology or the latest app to communicate with your customers, embracing new paradigm shifts is important for the continued growth of your business.

“Technology is inevitable,” Lee told Success magazine, “so we’d better look at it as a good thing and go with the flow – or better yet, stay ahead of the curve and master it.”

To keep his business relevant in the face of changing times, Lee has wholly embraced the digital world. He not only interacts daily with his 2.25 million Twitter fans, but he utilizes an iPhone, iPad and other tech to stay in touch while on the road.

“I think it’s not valuable, it’s invaluable,” he told 2machines. “I think that social media is the wave of the future. It’s the way all of us will be communicating and 90 percent of the way we’ll get all of our entertainment.”

Recognize team accomplishments

Back when Marvel Comics first launched, Stan Lee made it a point to change how each issue recognized the people who contributed to it. To that end, he introduced “credit panels” naming not just writers and artists, but also the inker and letterer.

Speaking with CNN, Lee said he made sure to approach everything at Marvel as a collaborative effort.

“I feel, when you collaborate with talented people, they inspire you,” he shared. “I would hope that you spark them also. And I find that working with people whom you respect, and who are as eager as you to do things that will excite an audience, that’s just the best way to go.”

In addition to the comic credits, Lee also made a point to highlight and applaud his team’s work in published monthly columns, including the popular “Stan’s Soapbox.”

By taking a similar approach with your small business, you’ll not only earn the appreciation of your staff, but also present a diverse company that’s more than just a one-person enterprise.

Allow mistakes to come and go

“As far as mistakes, I’ve made a million of them,” Lee told Business Insider. He added, however, that because he takes such great pleasure from what he does, these failures never truly
bothered him.

For example, when Lee’s first independent venture from Marvel Comics, Stan Lee Media, went bankrupt, he decided right away to start another company. Called POW! Entertainment, the company creates and develops characters not only for comics, but also television, film and digital properties.

In other words, don’t let setbacks or even accomplishments derail you from doing what you truly love.

“The minute you sit back to think ‘I’ve done it all,’ you’re through,” Lee told Success magazine. You might as well be dead.”

Staying involved and innovating, he adds, is absolutely key. “I love to be busy. Boredom is my enemy.”

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