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Are Rules For Keeping Or Breaking In Business?

So you’ve set up in business. Now what? Well depending on your personality, you will either cut your own path or you will run yourself ragged following all the rules and regulations that are out there. More than likely you will fall somewhere in between those two ranges, like most business owners.

  • I’m a believer that the boundaries, guidelines, etiquette or rules are very stretchable and not at all rigid.
  • It is often by breaking them that we learn just which ones are only guidelines and which are rigid.
  • We all change as we learn and develop new skills and it is with that learning that we also push past the boundaries we originally found ourselves in.

Sometimes those boundaries are simply our attitude to things instead of actions. Although, major change only occurs when our attitude changes and it leads to behavioural changes.

Related: Why Being Comfortable Isn’t Always Good

Nelson Mandella

Take Nelson Mandela; forty years ago he was considered a terrorist, now he is considered a world leader. It took pushing the boundaries of our thinking and to do it collectively for the change to come about. It was a fairly slow process as he spent twenty six years in prison.

Breaking the rules is OK

Now take business guides, etiquette, rules and regulations. How rigidly do you stick to those rules and how many of them do you break and for what reason? I’m not advocating breaking the law in anything, simply pushing the boundaries on what others say is and is not okay.

  • For some there is a dress code that must be stuck to,
  • A managerial hierarchy that has just always been that way
  • A customer service code that other companies have always used.

Stepping outside them can be a frightening prospect, especially if you are new to self-employment and everyone else is following those rules. Yet entrepreneurs are known for risk taking, trying new things that others only dream they had thought of first.

They often break well established rules in a bid to go the extra mile because they can see past the rules to the possibilities instead of the punishments for breaking them. At first they are considered mavericks, risk-takers and in the past they were to be observed but not copied (until it was well established that what they did worked).

Famous Mavericks

  • Richard Branson is well respected worldwide for doing it his own way.
  • Seth Godin spoke his mind and has a huge following,
  • Gary Vanyerchuk went against the established way of doing things and people flock to watch his TV station daily.

While we can struggle to maintain the boundaries or etiquettes of the various norms, it can be a worrying path to travel. The worry of the consequences of breaking one of them can be a burden for some business owners. For some staying within those boundaries is very comforting, for others it can be stifling.

Have there been times when breaking guidelines or etiquette have helped your business? Is there a particular guideline or etiquette that you would not break even if it would help your business?

Related: How Seth Godin Turns Browsers To Buyers

Image: “Cropped view of woman wearing mismatched shoes with women in high heels sitting beside/Shutterstock

Mairéad Kelly developed the Cute Honey System - Business training, coaching & mentoring for Mumpreneurs & Mum Biz Owners who want to buzz their business into a hive of productivity while raising young children & often can’t get out to training events, morning or evening network events due to family commitments and/or a lack of finances.

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  • Hi Alan, Not a topic I knew a lot about but thanks for giving me the inside track, I can now see that segmentation in the right hands can be a potent marketing tool, thanks for sharing.u00a0

  • Paula Ronan

    Great article Alan, thanks for sharing.

  • For me the most powerful question in life or business is “why not?”

  • Anonymous

    Great post Mairead.  I’ve just read a few of Seth Godin’s books and the message of going against the grain is great stuff.  In my day job most of my activities are centred around getting people to see there is more to communicating with colleagues than just email.  It’s unbelievable the amount of resistance that this message is met with.  I guess people just feel comfortable in doing things the established way.

    I love your example of Nelson Mandela.  It’s interesting how perception is everything.  I remember reading a biography and being struck by the difference in how he was perceived while still a terrorist versus his status as a statesman. 

  • As my father always reminded me; “Rules are for the guidance of the wise and the obedience of fools”.

  • A great read, thank you Mairead.
    It’s also a  great debate. If the world was full of rules, and we obeyed them 100%, we would be all stifled. However, no regulation would produce a free for all.

    But ultimately, the processes and etiquette that are established around business were never written in stone, and a business owner needs to look into their hearts, question their value system, and then, based on what they truly believe, do what’s right for their business.

    The big issue is when starting out, we often ignore our intuitiveness and gut reactions in favour of learning how things were done before (and what worked for others).

    Compliance and condonation, in fear of doing things wrong may guide us to where  we should not be heading. The abyss may be a frightening alternative, but there were many there before us (some great examples given in your piece).

    So I have come full circle – we shouldn’t follow what always worked, or what was always done, but follow the people who fought exactly that. Ultimately, we should be making our own path in the business world, however, as you state “The worry of the consequences of breaking one of them can be a burden for some business owners” and burdens can weigh a lot!

  • Very true Elaine.  There is also the other side of that coin, the business owner who decides to cut their own page and are so different to other businesses that nobody will deal with them.  I think guildlines are their to help, like you said they’re not set in stone (unless they are law) and deviating from them is a learning curve.

    Social media is a great one, @Niall’s last post is a great example of how changing the rules of engagement can and does work with great results.

  • I didn’t hear that one before Ian, it is certainly be a phrase I’ll be using in the future.

  • Perception is key Frank.  If you feel like you will be berated for breaking the rules and that is an issue for you then you are less likely to do it.  If you have the attitudet that you are forging new exciting methods then you are more likely to give it a go.  Institutionalisation is both comforting and restricting, depending on your perception.

  • After 14 year peddling the corporate hamster wheel (I left to go self employed back in 2001) I am a big fan of breaking the rules, challenging conformity and rocking the status quo in business and life. Not just for the sake of doing it but because it is too easy to run with the crowd but it not be right for you or your business.

  • You do need to go outside the box to be innovative.  I always felt hemmed in as a child without realising that I was a natural rule breaker and couldn’t figure out why I always seemed to be bucking the trend or struggling to.

  • We think alike Ali.  I like to get people thinking and one of the best ways to do it is to rock the status quo and be un-apologetic for it.  Sometimes it’s fun to watch the thought process of some people as the assimilate the new order of that.  There is always more than what we currently know and to access it we need to go way beyond the boundaries of what we know.

  • Anonymous

    Important post, Mairead! It’s so easy to assume that you must fit a certain mode in business. It’s more about finding your mode and letting it fit you instead. It’s also important to know that breaking the rules doesn’t have to be dramatic or loud. It can be simply in how you go about your day-to-day tasks and interactions with other people Quiet rebels have a way of opening doors and inviting people to see things with a new lens. Knowing the rules and choosing which ones (keeping it legal and ethical) to follow is about honouring your own judgement and self.

  • Hi Mairead

    Saddly breaking etiquette will not get you anywhere, etiquette is what works, its what is accepted and endorced by the population.  As far a Nelson Mandel is concerned, he would still be considered a terrorist if he went out today on a bombing campaine even if the cause was right and just the means are the same, why Nelson Mandela and the ANC are no longer considered terrorist is because they conformed to the rules.   

  • Really good idea Helen in terms of how items can ‘make the cut’ for Evernote. Glad you like it and thanks for sharing.

  • I’m an android user,but here’s a few apps you should look into. I’m sure there is a iOS equivalent for all of these.

    Prey – Free security app for finding and tracking your phone

    Pomodriodo – Nice productivity apps for the Pomodoro method

    Sleep as android – Tracks your circadian rhythm while you sleep,and wakes you up when you’re not in deep sleep so you don’t end up feeling groggy

    Aldiko – turns your smart phone into a e book reader

    Mighttext- Not really an apps so much as a chrome add on,but it lets you see texts coming in and reply from your computer

  • Many thanks for reading the post. Great to hear. When your own system is up and running let me know. You’ll catch me on Twitter: @Con_Keppel

  • Hi Nik.

    Thanks for reading. Some great ideas there. ‘Prey’ – we have iCloud which tracks your phone. Comes as standard (thank God – lost too many phones to date).

    Mighttext sounds great. Will definitely try it out.

    Chat soon

  • Hi Aoife,

    I think another point worth stating is trying an application like Rafflecopter uses Facebook to get people to your site to enter a comp using a simple application. It’s also very ‘social’ and clever in that it gets new visitors to your site while building the reach of your social network. Great post and thanks for sharing with us.


  • angelina Dom

    very informative post, one more i got here i think the content of the most must be very important in my opinion in social media content is also very important if you are coming up with unique content and healthy writing then it also my attract the follows on social media.

  • beatricewhelan

    Great post Aoife. I see so many pages running like and share competitions, so many of them get away with it. It would be great if Facebook came down on this a bit more. As you point out, with the free apps it is quite easy to run a competition according to the rules.

  • Great clarifying post Aoife.
    I agree goals are of utmost importance, and that “normal” content should appear “as normal” also – not every fan is interested in the competition!
    Thanks for sharing great tips and highlighting the apps.

  • Wishing all of you a great Christmas! Take all and oh wait…Happy New year too (in advance)

  • Eric Bryant

    Merry Christmas

  • Thank you Donncha & congratulations again….allthough it’s not your first time & my guess is it won’t be your last. Happy New Year, Niall

  • Gilbert Samuel

    I’m glad I made the list Niall, It’s my first though but I’ll try to be one of the most active of all. I hope the readers will find this post helpful too.

    Happy new year

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