Hao Lam | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Hao Lam

Background:  

Hao Lam founded the Best In Class Education Center in Seattle in 1995. It has since grown to a national tutoring franchise that helps K-12 students and teachers. Lam aims to have 100 locations across the country by 2020.

The Mistake:

Back in the old days, 10 or 15 years ago, I was feeling very financially insecure. I was a refugee, I was born in Vietnam, and I left my country and all that. I didn’t want to have a single source of income, so I was doing many things at the same time.

For example, at one point in time I was doing real estate. And at the same time I owned a mortgage company, in addition to my tutoring school. I was doing three things. I thought I was able to multitask, but I didn’t realize that I was spreading myself too thin.

I was spending one-third of my time in each area, I had three businesses. And obviously, none of them were doing well. I sacrificed my health and my family, and I basically didn’t have fun with life at all. Things were really hard, and it never stopped.

So later on I woke up. I quit everything [else] and I just focused on growing my tutoring empire. And now I just want to stay focused. I want to do one thing and one thing only.

But that was not the end of the mess. I was doing tutoring only, but because I was so used to working nonstop, I was all over the place. I had so many goals that I wanted to achieve. I was going 200 miles an hour without knowing where I was going. And again, I was super-busy because I was used to it. I was a ‘yes man’; I said yes to everything. I went to every event and every meeting and tried to grab every single opportunity I could get. I was trying to do so many things that kept me busy and bragging that I was Superman.

But being busy doesn’t mean [you’re] being efficient or productive.

The most important lesson I learned is to stay laser-focused​.

The Lesson:

About four years ago, even after I was franchised, I didn’t know how to sell franchises. I realized that I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I really needed help. Things had gotten a little better, business had been a little more stabilized, but still I was all over the place. So I needed some mentorship and coaches.

I was searching the internet and talking to some friends, trying to get help. One of my friends [was] in this wonderful organization called EO. Entrepreneur Organization. It’s a global, non-profit entrepreneur organization. So I did some research and joined, hoping that I would take my business to the next level. That’s what I needed. And that was the best decision I ever made in my life.

We have 150 like-minded people [in EO]. I joined and I realized that I wasn’t alone, everybody was like me. So we shared experiences and all that. Most importantly, because of the group, I attended so many learning events and workshops. And I hired a business coach.

That was about three years ago, and things started to get better with the help of the coach. He started to calm me down and said, “Let’s set a three-year goal, a five-year goal, a quarterly goal.” I managed my time more wisely and more efficiently. I learned how to say no to meetings, calls and events that were not helping me achieve my goal. I started to say no to many opportunities that in the past I would just grab.

Now I only have one goal, and I’m going to stick to it. I know where we’re going in the next five years; I know where we’re going before 2020. The most important lesson I learned is to stay laser-focused. That is super-critical. Just do one thing that [you] really want to do, do it really well and do it with all [your] passion and energy.

Follow the Best in Class Education Center on Twitter at: @BestInClassEdu.

Photo courtesy of Hao Lam.

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