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Mining the world for smart small business advice

July 10, 2017
small business advice

Pop up a question in a forum and you’ll soon see a lot of people think they’re qualified to give small business advice. The problem with that is it can be difficult to determine who actually has the right advice and who is pulling it out of thin air.

People like to answer questions. They enjoy feeling clever. But that doesn’t always mean they are.

So how do you spot the hinky small business advice in the crowd? Read on!

Keep tax and legal advice to the professionals

small business advice

Photo: brodie Vissers

Every time someone wanders into the Freelance Jungle (the forum I have started) or into a numerous business groups I frequent asking for legal and tax advice, my stomach shrinks. My teeth are set on edge and a cluster of muscles tighten in my back.

Why do I have such a strong reaction to these sorts of situations? Well, because the small business advice given in relation to tax and law has massive consequences if it goes wrong. It can go horribly wrong and end in fines, business de-registration, court action, huge financial burdens and more.

The worst (and most telling) part of the situation is that when someone gives complete blarney for advice, someone always defends the incorrect information with things like “everybody does it!” or “that doesn’t make any sense!”

Since when does the law or the ATO give a crap about the volume of people getting it wrong? If anything, you’re gift-wrapping yourself in revenue shaped ribbons and bows by using that as your defence.

Common situations where people get it super wrong and then say “but everyone does it!” range from:

  • The hiring of interns and unpaid staff. No, you can’t just decide to have someone do your business work for free due to the vague idea that doing your photocopying is a wonderful life skill to acquire
  • Running like and share competitions on Facebook. OMG. Read the bloody terms of service before you cry that your business page got deleted, please!
  • Naming and shaming. Well golly, Petunia. It’s real gosh darn awful that the person you hired for a website ended up sucking balls but you actually can’t go around slandering other businesses without potentially getting a free trip to court, mmmkay? Besides, it’s a dumb way to deal with problems
  • Spending money on weird stuff for their business. Bob can buy a racing pigeon because Bob raises pigeons for his business. That doesn’t mean you too can also take up racing pigeons. Check with your accountant or the ATO first

And so on.

Your business and situation may be incredibly distinct from the other person. Things like your business setup, what you earn, how you earn, whether you qualify for schemes and assistance, what you do for a living, where you are located, what clients you service and more influence decision making.

Expect to pony up the dough for proper legal and tax advice.

Unless you like fines, extra stress and are gagging for the chance to channel your inner Harvey Spectre. In which case, by all means pluck your legal and tax advice from random strangers with strong, internetty opinions.

Qualify the responses you receive

If someone starts a piece of small business advice with “I think it should be like this…” stop reading and move on.

“I think” is problematic.

As an example, I think it’s ridiculous how much paperwork is involved in securing an Australian mortgage when you are self employed. I think it’s weird that several different agencies all have to see the same documents and identification. I also think it is weird one bank can approve you and your loan in 5 days when another comes back after 5 weeks asking for more information.

I can think this opinion as much as I want. I can get a sexy sandwich board and walk up and down the Princes Highway in Wollongong sharing this opinion with every passing motorist.

But what I think doesn’t change the situation. I still have to suit up for the paperwork colonoscopy and smile while doing it to get what I want.

Humans are ridiculously good at glossing over the fact that the facts of the situation don’t always make sense. The concept of common sense is a furphy. You can’t just pick your way through life bleating “I don’t think that’s necessary!” and have that be the end of things.

When you get advice, look for the quality in the response. The quality comes from lived experiences, expert knowledge, study of the subject at hand, the ability to cite useful resources and a lack of agenda coupled with the genuine desire to help.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions like:

  • What do you do for a living?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Does your advice come from direct experience?
  • What is your interest in the topic?
  • Have you got any suggestion on where I could go for extra advice?
  • How did you arrive at that decision?

And be mindful that a lot of voices yelling the same thing can be an indication of the advice being correct OR it can be an example of group think.

If you’ve ever been in a women’s business forum when someone asks for small business advice, there is a lot of “I think unicorns should be in every backyard!” style statements being cheered on by “YES! I’ve always wanted a unicorn!” affirmations.

That doesn’t mean anyone knows where to get or how to keep a unicorn.

 Hire business coaches that have business experience

If I had a painting for every time I met a business coach that was qualified by a weekend course and had sod all real world experience, I’d have enough of them to fill the Museum of Contemporary Art. Sadly, being qualified to give small business advice and offer business coaching has become as simple as an online course or picking up a show bag after an event on a Saturday.

That’s why there is a running joke in the freelance industry about business coaches being painful, clueless and quite often, poor. You’ve got people with no real business experience getting a fancy website and a couple of headshots flogging what they learnt in their course to others as a service. It’s a pyramid scheme by another name.

And it sucks.  Mainly because you’ve got so called business coaches giving their clients incorrect information about everything from web development to content marketing, taxation and time keeping. Poor trusting business owners swallow the bunkum and end up spending lots of money to be told very little.

So how do you spot a decent business coach in a crowd?

  • Look for someone that owned a business outside of coaching first
  • Seek out people with relevant experience- such as ex human resources managers and/or career counsellors
  • Check out their blog and social media to get a sense of what they stand for
  • Take the time to review comments they may leave for others in forums
  • Ask qualifying questions about their views and experience before you engage them
  • Avoid the scenes that rely on unquantifiable claims. E.g. using terms like “abundance mindset” and “voice of a generation” and think the proof in the pudding is to bang on about Tony Robbins, Oprah and other celebrities

Do your homework. You’re asking for small business advice, not to be caught up in a glossy brochure. Don’t choose the person based on popularity or glitz- pick them based on how they fit with your business ideals and future plans.

Watch for the loud mouth

Small business advice can be a little like religious evangelism. One minute you’re asking about the philosophy behind an idea, the next minute someone is pressuring you to believe exactly what they believe. Because they are right, dammit!

Screw that for a square horseshoe. In my experience, the people bleating the loudest are seeking affirmation that their business ideas and life choices are sound. They’re doing it by collecting more members to the herd.

We all know that popularity isn’t always a great measure of value. Just look at the Kardashians.

If you’re in a forum and someone is intent on sharing their way of as the only way, stop for a second. Most forums have the ability to search content and commentary. If you see Alan the All-Knowing using the same “I’m riiiiiiight, I tells ya!” on everything from business tax to budgie tending, chances are Alan enjoys the sound of his own clacking keyboard.

Grab your salt shaker and some perspective because Alan the All-Knowing may really be Clarry the Clueless in disguise.

Avoid making a mistake with small business advice gathering

Google is your friend. Sure, use straw polls and conversations with friends, questions in forums and a decent business coach to help you get where you need to be.

But use these things as a great starting point or supporting role within your information gathering process. Don’t pin your entire decision making process on what someone else’s opinion of a situation may be. Opinions are biased, based on apparent common sense that isn’t so common. Especially when you consider that it isn’t common sense that informs law and policy, it’s often precedent and design by committee.

Even if you don’t see strong opinions cascading across the floor towards you, it’s always good to do your own independent research.

Need a hand finding the right small business advice for you? If you’re a freelancer or sole operator, check out the Freelance Jungle. Or contact me directly!

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