What’s a successful entrepreneur’s secret recipe for starting their own business?
For many, it’s the combination of a great idea, a motivated team, the time to invest in the startup (and some money here and there), and a healthy dose of hard work.
That last ingredient—work ethic—is often what makes or breaks a business owner and their company. So to keep you motivated as you start and grow your business, we asked entrepreneurs: “What work ethic quotes keep you and your employees pushing on?”
Here’s what they had to say.
The Best Work Ethic Quotes for Entrepreneurs
1. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
—Thomas Edison, American inventor and businessman
Takeaway: “This quote keeps me motivated because it encourages persistence. As an entrepreneur, you are going to fail and make mistakes. That’s natural and part of the process of developing a company that benefits its stakeholders.
“Mistakes are one of the best ways to learn and improve. The key is to avoid making the same errors repeatedly. As long as you keep trying and adapting to the feedback you receive, eventually, you will reach your goals. It’s important not to look at mistakes as failures but instead as signs on a map that help you get to where you want to go.” —Bob Ellis, owner of Massage Tables Now
2. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
—Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist, political leader, and philanthropist
Takeaway: “There’s always a point in a big project where it feels like it will never be completed, that this is the time when I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. This quote reminds me to stay the course, and that if I just keep moving forward—even though it seems impossible at the moment—I’ll meet my goal.” —Marc Roche, founder of Annuities HQ
3. “Measure twice, cut once.”
Takeaway: “[This work ethic quote] means double-check everything before making a decision because once made, sometimes there is no coming back. ‘Finish what you start.’ It’s simple but effective.” —Krystle Phillips, general manager of Roll Ice Cream
4. “Never stop learning—learn something new every day.”
—Robinson Cano, American professional baseball player
Takeaway: “This is how we stay on top of the market and are able to offer innovative, consistent services that make our clients happy and, as a result, bring success to our company.” —Gideon Lipnickas, founder of New Concept 180
5. “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”
—Henry Ford, American entrepreneur and founder of Ford Motor Co.
Takeaway: “In addition to promoting self-confidence and believing in ourselves, this Henry Ford quote inspires our team to go ahead and do the things that seem impossible. We believe that the key to success is embracing new challenges and tackling them with courage, and we pursue this philosophy in our everyday work where we make our clients’ websites more profitable.”—Sarunas Budrikas, CEO of Angle180
6. “We are all judged by what we finished, not by what we started.”
Takeaway: “This [work ethic] quote sums the values of my company perfectly. We believe that our work should speak for itself, and we don’t make a big deal of promoting ourselves—we just deliver on what we promise, making sure that our clients are happy with the services they receive.
“Working hard to keep our standards high and finishing every project to our clients’ liking is what leads our company to success. In fact, most of our clients come to us nowadays, because they have seen our past work and want the same quality of work for themselves.” —Val Slajus, owner of VIS Exterior
7. “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
—Vince Lombardi, American football coach
Takeaway: “This is one of the most favorite motivational quotes that I even have on the poster hanging next to my desk. It reminds me that everything worth having requires work and effort. In our modern society, a lot of people expect instant gratification for anything they’re doing. The problem is though that it doesn’t work like this in business.
“Often, you put the effort into a project, a traffic source, etc. but you don’t get the results fast. Only if you don’t give up and stay consistent, you’ll reap the outcomes and rewards. That said if you want to succeed, you have to be ready to put in the required work” —Irina Rauchenwald, co-owner of Super Cali Funnel Istic
8. “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
—Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist
Takeaway: “Almost every business will come under difficult times–stress, struggle, and uncertainty abounds. I find this Albert Einstein quote a wonderfully simple way of reminding myself that, no matter what happens, you just have to carry on. Success doesn’t happen overnight, and when it does happen it’s not through lack of trying.
“The important thing for everyone to remember is that whatever obstacles you face in business and life in general, the best way to overcome them is through working hard to carry on.” —Matt Franks, managing director of Dreambooth
9. “Work smarter, not harder.”
—Allen F. Morgenstern, industrial engineer
Takeaway: “That quote has always motivated both me and my staff to find better, smarter ways to get things done.” —Andrew Schrage, CEO of Money Crashers
10. “To progress again, man must remake himself. And he cannot remake himself without suffering. For he is both the marble and the sculptor. In order to uncover his true visage he must shatter his own substance with heavy blows of his hammer.”
—Alexis Carrel, surgeon, biologist, and Nobel Prize winner
Takeaway: “This is a quote we often go back to when we’re trying to create change within our organization. Change is often painful! It’s very tempting to give up and take an easier path, even when we know it isn’t the right choice.
“This quote really reinforces that real, lasting change isn’t easy or else it would have already happened.” —Adam Sanders, founder and director of Successful Release
11. “There is no substitute for hard work.”
—Thomas Edison, American inventor and businessman
Takeaway: “We are a small SEO agency that provides a wide range of services to a wide range of clients. As rewarding as this is, it also means that our workloads can often swell, rapidly. I have this Thomas Edison quote in a frame in the office, because, as simple as it is, it sums up the whole working world.
“There simply is no substitute for hard work—no machine can replace the stress, graft, and eventual satisfaction that comes with working hard to do a job well.”—Steve Pritchard, managing director of It Works
12. “The harder I work the luckier I get.”
—Samuel Goldwyn, film producer
Takeaway: “My father—an entrepreneur himself—always said this quote, and it motivates me because it works. Whenever my business encounters turbulence or lack of opportunity, I double down and work twice as hard. And it has paid off!” —John Kinskey, founder of AccessDirect
13. “”Do not try to become a person of success, but try to become a person of value.”
—Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist
Takeaway: “This old Einstein quote has been tried and tested, and for sure, it works. Anytime a deal does not go our way or a project yields little return or a marketing campaign flounders, I always remind myself that it is not so much about success, but the value we are offering.
“My employees have adapted the mentality as well, and interestingly, the more we focus on offering value, the more success finds us in unexpected ways!” — Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVoIP
14. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
—Samuel Beckett, novelist and playwright
Takeaway: “This Samuel Beckett quote reminds me that failure is often looked as very negative—however, it’s actually a positive. Failure can increase self-awareness and allow both founders and employees to learn things about their business or operations that they would have never learned if they didn’t fail.” —Jeremy Goldman, founder of Firebrand Group
15. “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”
—Ayn Rand, writer and philosopher
Takeaway: “This Ayn Rand quote shows how starting and running a small business is very much like a battle—there are obstacles that seem impossible at times.
“It’s nice to be able to take a deep breath, center yourself, and think about your heroes—the businesspeople and accomplished individuals who’ve succeeded—and therefore remind you that you can, too.” —Michael Mignogna, CEO of Minyona
16. “Work harder on yourself than you do on your business.”
—Jim Rohn, entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker
Takeaway: “[This is] my favorite motivational and inspirational quote that has stayed with me throughout my whole career. I have applied this method of thinking as I allocate my time to my business. It’s important for me to focus on working on myself, developing new skills, finding areas of weakness, and improving on them.
At the end of the day, my companies can all go bankrupt and I can lose everything, but nobody can ever take away my skill level, knowledge, and experience.”—Jason Akatiff, co-founder of Boundery
17. “Work hard. Have fun. Make history.”
—Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon
Takeaway: “I believe that having fun at work is the best. Work can be boring and mundane. It’s important to have fun at the office. It keeps people motivated and engaged. A nice balance of hard work and a fun environment makes all the difference. It motivates everyone.” —Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation
18. “We are stronger together than we are alone.”
—Walter Payton, American professional football player
Takeaway: “What that truly means is that we have to always make sure that we are working together. No one person is better or greater than the next. As a team, we will continue to reach our goal and continue to have success because we see each other as one team together.” —Kay Matthews, founder of The Shades of Blue Project
19. “All roads that lead to success have to pass through hard work boulevard at some point.”
—Eric Thomas, motivational speaker, author, and minister
Takeaway: “There are a lot of challenges that come our way that hinder us from achieving our success and reaching our goals. With this being said, I always remind myself and my team that challenges and hurdles are a big part of success.
“I know that every business and every person in this world is going through a lot of difficult times during their lifetime but this will all be part of their success in the future. We have to openly embrace every obstacle and face them with our heads and hopes high because it will help and mold us to become better in what we are doing.” —Sonya Schwartz, founder of Her Norm
20. “Whistle while you work!”
—Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (song written by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey)
Takeaway: “Inspired by the jolly Seven Dwarfs, our startup’s leadership team uses this phrase regularly to remind our staff that we want them to enjoy and feel great about what they do. People who dread going to work are motivated only by a sense of survival, fear, and obligation.
“They may get the required work done, but they will never have that creative energy that produces innovative ideas and extraordinary results. Additionally, individual mindsets (whether positive or negative) are infectious and can permeate entire departments and organizations.” —Robin Salter, CMO at Kwipped
21. “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle—when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
—Origin unknown, popularized by Thomas Friedman and Christopher McDougall
Takeaway: “This is very important to internalize in the world of business. If you’re not out there hustling and doing the best you can, someone else will be there to run right past you.” —Manoj “Marty” Puranik, founder, president, and CEO of Atlantic.Net
22. “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, writer, poet, and aviator
Takeaway: “As a leader, it’s important to create a vision that everyone can share. This quote shows the power of purpose; how employees that are connected to the organization’s mission will be more engaged and motivated.”—Jenna Alburger, founder of Outlier Creative
23. “Only those who never stand up, never fall down.”
—John Kavanagh, professional mixed martial artist
Takeaway: “This John Kavanagh quote encourages our team to stand up daily, to make mistakes, and to move forward. We know that short-term failure is a key ingredient to long-term success.
“When our team is working on a difficult project, we reference this quote to remind ourselves that it’s okay to fall 100 times—as long as we stand back up 101 times.” —Neil Mclaren, owner of Vaping.com
24. “The difference between greed and ambition is a greedy person desires things he isn’t prepared to work for.”
—Habeeb Akande, British writer and historian
Takeaway: “I always think of this through anything I do—whether its a negotiation—or if I’m ever feeling bad when I take an hour break in the middle of a working day, etc.
“I remind myself I’m working hard to fulfill my dreams, I’m not just thinking of my dreams.” —Antonio Wedral, CEO and co-founder of NOVOS
25. “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.”
—Bob Carter, geologist and philanthropist
Takeaway: “We use this quote to take the pressure off our support team. Our goal is to provide high-quality work. Not shoddy, sloppy work. Sometimes a client calls in with an idea and wants it implemented yesterday. This attitude puts undue pressure on the support team, and instead of doing quality work, they do shoddy work.
“This quote allows them to take a breath and not absorb the rushed energy being presented by the client. We will still do what is needed for the client but only after setting expectations on when it will be delivered.” —Shannon Kuykendall, CEO of Up Automation
26. “Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund.”
“My favorite business quote as it relates to work ethic is German and translates into, “Morning hour has gold in its mouth,” much like “Early bird catches the worm.” It’s amazing how much you can get done in the early morning hours when most people are still asleep.
“It’s also when my mind is the clearest. Take advantage of the extra time you have to make your business rise above the competition.”—Christoph Seitz, CEO of CFR Rinkens
27. “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.”
—Jimmy Johnson, American football player, coach, and broadcaster
Takeaway: “As a small business owner with limited resources, it can be tempting to say that we have done a decent job with the available resources and leave it like that. However, many times we find that going that extra mile can make so much difference in customer experience which results in more recurring business and more referrals.
“These customers also go on to become loyal supporters and the best spokesperson for your business. Eventually, our team realized that resources will always be limited and it is up to the team to get innovative to maximize the available resources and deliver the best for our customers.” —Albert Lee, founder of Home Living Lab
28. “Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”
—Origin unknown, popularized by John Wooden and Art Linkletter
Takeaway: “I started my business 12 years ago and we instantly brought in millions of sales in our first year. But when the recession hit, we got hit hard. Sales plummeted and I had to reduce my staff from 22 to five to make it work.
“Though we have not gotten back to where we were, we are doing fairly well—and hopefully we’ll be back on top in the next years. This quote reminds me and my team that we just don’t give up, and we keep on keeping on.” —Sandy Stein, president of Finders Key Purse
29. “Don’t let your talents get you where your character can’t keep you.”
—Eric Thomas, motivational speaker, author, and minister
Takeaway: “This reminds me to always operate and run my company ethically and with integrity and to encourage my clients to do the same. This is so motivating to me because we see so many businesses fail because of the lack of character of the leaders.
This quote keeps me motivated to always do the right thing no matter what.” —Stacy Roberts, founder of SMR Leadership Solutions
30. “There is no growth in the comfort zone.”
—Jocko Willink, retired U.S. Navy SEAL and author
Takeaway: “[This is a] great one I think of often and keep on my whiteboard and the top of all notebooks. I love this mentality and it reminds me to never allow myself or my team to grow complacent in our business.” —Matt Vetter, vice president of Schafer Construction
31. “Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”
—John Wooden, American basketball player and coach
Takeaway: “While it’s important to celebrate the small victories and assess the damage of failures, this John Wooden quote always reminds me that there’s still more work to do. It motivates me to continue striving for success even after we have achieved it. There’s always a new market to tap or an innovative process to implement—success is never final, so we continue to keep working.
“It also helps me and my team in the times when things inevitably don’t work out as we expect them to. In those moments, this quote serves as a reminder to learn from the mistakes and work even harder going forward—failure is never fatal, so we pick ourselves up and keep going.” —Evan Harris, co-founder and CEO of SD Equity Partners
32. “When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”
—Simon Sinek, author and motivational speaker
Takeaway: “This Simon Sinek quote resonates with me because it’s true—when my employees are satisfied, they put in more time and energy toward improving their performance and productivity. My employees feel their importance and a sense of accountability to their task.” —Lisa Chu, owner of Black N Bianco
33. “I’ve always had a great work ethic, even when I was washing dishes.”
—Leon Bridges, American singer, songwriter, and record producer
Takeaway: “This quote [stands] out and motivates me every day to do the right thing. How I interpret it and get motivated by it is that whatever you do, whether it’s something small or big, do it to 100% of your abilities, skills, and talent. Never half-ass a job, ever.” —Benjamin Nguyen, owner of Full Color Cleaners
34. “Talk less. Do more.”
Takeaway: “While ideas are great, everybody has them but very few take action—which is why I feel this quote is so empowering. I find a great sense of accomplishment and pride when I’m able to look back after a hard day of work and see all that I was able to achieve.”—Matt Edstrom, head of marketing at BioClarity
35. “You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”
—Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator
Takeaway: “We operate in a complicated industry, and there are a lot of players vying for attention. It isn’t just about learning your business—you have to play (execute) better than everybody else. We bring this quote up at every weekly meeting, and it is a great way to maintain direction and vision.” —Jan Bednar, CEO of ShipMonk
Applying These Work Ethic Quotes to Your Business
When it comes down to it, there’s no doubt that starting and running a business requires a strong work ethic—after all, it’s not always easy to be a small business owner.
This being said, after reading about how these successful entrepreneurs have applied different work ethic quotes to their businesses, we hope you can take the quotes that resonate with you and apply them to your day-to-day business operations.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out our list of favorite small business quotes.