Like many seasoned entrepreneurs, Oprah Winfrey views failure as “another stepping stone to greatness.” For her, it has been, and then some.
In 1977, decades before she became a billionaire media mogul, she was fired from her job as a reporter at Baltimore’s WJZ-TV. Her boss said she was “unfit for television news.” She was “devastated,” but she didn’t quit.
The “queen of all media” quickly rose from rejection and found her calling in daytime TV. Then came her eponymous talk show and 25 internationally syndicated seasons of success. The Mississippi native later launched her book club, magazine and TV network. Today, she sits at the helm of a multi-billion-dollar media empire.
“Lady O” is best known as an outspoken TV host, actress and philanthropist, but she’s also an incredibly accomplished founder. The chairman and CEO of Harpo, Inc., Winfrey made history when she became the first first woman to own and produce her own talk show. She’s now one of the wealthiest and most successful business leaders in the world.
There are many inspiring lessons entrepreneurs can learn from her remarkable journey from a “poor, deprived ghetto girl” to self-made billionaire. Here are three:
1. Trust your instincts.
Winfrey is a known to be a big believer in listening to her instincts and honoring them, a skill that she credits much of her success to. Trusting her gut has helped her steer clear of trouble in her personal and professional life, she claims. “I know for sure whenever your gut is out of kilter, trouble awaits,” she wrote in O Magazine. “Your gut is your inner compass. Whenever you have to consult with other people for an answer, you’re headed in the wrong direction.”
During a 2011 OWN Network Lifeclass session, she expanded on why she feels it’s important to mind to your inner voice: “Listening to your life as it whispers to you first, so that it does not have to knock you upside the head with a brick or come crashing down on you as a brick wall, is one of the greatest principles of life.”
Lesson: Pay close attention to your instinctual reactions whenever you’re faced with a considerable business decision. Hearing — and heeding — even the slightest bit of hesitancy from within could potentially stop you from making poor choices that could impact your bottom line, now and in the years to come. In other words, as Winfrey says, “Follow your instincts. That’s where true wisdom manifests itself.”
2. Fiercely protect your brand.
From her namesake talk show to O Magazine, from Oprah.com to OWN Network, Winfrey has worked tirelessly to transform her unique name from a stumper — which once prompted viewers to ask “What is an Oprah?” — into a household name. To legally protect her brand, she’s trademarked every one of her companies and their many subsidiaries, and her legal team actively pursues those who infringe upon her trademarks. Most recently, on May 19, she filed a federal application to trademark a suite of foods and other goods branded under the name “Oprah’s Kitchen.”
Lesson: Strengthen your brand and safeguard it from misuse and dilution by trademarking your business name and logo. Doing so gives you the ability to control how they are publicly used and displayed.
3. Value your fans.
One of Winfrey’s favorite things about her talk show was her famous “Oprah’s Favorite Things,” a sometimes hilariously high-energy segment (check this SNL parody) during which audience members found free goodies of all kinds tucked beneath their seats on set. The popular segment’s purpose was twofold: First, it was product placement promotional gold and, second, it enabled Winfrey to connect with her brand fans in a memorable and public way.
“The surest way to bring goodness to yourself is to make your intention to do good for somebody else,” Winfrey, who gives away millions to charity every year, once said. The concept is simple: What goes around comes around. Do good and good shall be done unto you.
Lesson: Surprise your customers and brand advocates with extra value from time to time, perhaps in the form of coupons, discounts and giveaways. Giving a little extra can go a long way when it comes to locking in their loyalty and repeat business.