Who are the wrong people to be giving business advice?
Startups, freelancers and business of all sizes are getting more business advice than we can handle. All kinds of content, coaches, friends, people we meet, suppliers we engage, your mum, the dude at the bus stop who notices the folder you are carrying (yep, true story!), you name it- everyone has an opinion to offer, and it’s not always that useful.
The trouble is, when most of us have the nose to the grindstone, it’s really difficult to work out who the ‘wrong people’ are. And if things are proving a little tricky in the business stakes, we can be tempted to stop and listen to anyone. Even against our better judgement.
So I’ve put together a little guide for navigating the wrong business advice you may receive. It’s by no means complete (amateur business advisors come in all shapes and sizes), but it will help.
Well meaning family and friends
Every time a client starts talking about their wife, mother, best friend or the girls from the aerobics spin class and their business feedback, a true professional cringes a little inside. It isn’t just some misguided notion that you need to know business in order to comment on it, either.
The reasons why you shouldn’t be bringing your friends and family into your business reviews are:
a) They are biased towards you– and will often say what you need to hear to feel better as opposed to what you need to hear to make a sound business decision
b) They don’t know the business as well as you do- and therefore could be missing something of vital importance
c) They may not be your customer- truly useful feedback comes from people who like your product. Not people who like you.
So how can you distinguish well intended from well worth it advice?
What you need to look for are the people who are championing your business endeavours. Look for the people who share information about what you do and are active on your social media.
And go deeper.
Monitor the people who share your latest sales promotion, and who introduce business to you on email, social media and in person. Look for their enthusiasm, and look for the subtle signs of how much they understand your business in the way they describe it, too.
Be smart enough to realise that just because someone likes you doesn’t mean they actually give a toss about your business. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true.
If discussions consist of flattery or negativity and not much else, stop listening. It’s not useful and could be leading you off track.
The misguided rival
Part of me takes a perverse pleasure out of competitors who spend time on the internet or in person telling me what I know works doesn’t. The pleasure doesn’t come from the feedback. It comes from knowing I’m on their radar and I am rattling them.
How cool is that?!
People who don’t like you or think they are competing with you will do their utmost to get inside your head. It’s up to you if you listen or not.
Rivals are nothing more than other business people who find your existence threatening. And while they waste precious attention on you, they’ve taken their eye off the customer.
So don’t let someone else and their weird insecurities distract you from the task at hand. And for the love of all things country, don’t let them shape your business.
Keep working on your business the way you want, keep your focus on your customers, and leave the envy to the other guy.
The earn and burn supplier
Earn and burn suppliers are the guys who don’t give you business advice you need, they just give you advice that gets them a new pool table for the office. To them, you’re nothing but a walking cheque book, baby.
You can usually spot them for their inability to say no, their allergy to offering alternatives outside expensive solutions, and how slick they are as they rinse your wallet.
And the big result is always around the corner. Unfortunately, it rarely ever arrives.
The problem is, most of the time we hire external help because what they offer is not our strong suit. So spotting the deception can be tricky because we may not be across what they offer.
So how do you spot the “earn and burn” supplier?
- Ask questions and take note of the answers- most legit and helpful suppliers will explain what they do and won’t use terms that add to the confusion
- Get a second opinion or quote- it never hurts to research the kinds of different approaches you may have available
- Test their honesty- look for facts, take notes, and if you really suspect they are pulling your leg, make stuff up to see if they play along. If all they care about is the sale, they’ll tell you anything to get it, including embellish your own fake stories
Earn and burn suppliers can cost you thousands. So always make sure the person you work with is genuinely interested in helping you as opposed to genuinely interested in helping themselves to your bank balance.
How can you spot bad business advice?
I could go on with the examples, but you get the idea. There is a lot of questionable advice out there. Yet in the wilderness of multiple opinions and ideas, you can still look for some guiding rules in relation to advice.
Good advice has the following characteristics:
- It’s solution orientated- anyone can identify a problem, but the person who is genuinely looking to help will think deeper and try to suggest a new approach
- It’s honest- there’s no bias or agenda in good advice, and there’s fact, demonstrations and information you can sink your teeth into
- It’s based on understanding– people who care about more than the sound of their own voice ask questions and are not afraid to say “I don’t know”
- It can take time– never discount a person who says they need to go away and think about the best approach to your project. It means they are thinking
- It’s shared freely– a person who knows their stuff will also relish the opportunity to share information and have a discussion with you
How can you protect yourself against bad business advice?
Knowing what business advice is good or bad isn’t an exact science. Sometimes even the best prepared, best equipped and most loyal sources can give crappy advice.
However, you can minimise the risk of falling foul of bad advice by being sure of your business and its future.
- Have a plan, set some goals, and allow yourself to reject advice that doesn’t quite fit.
- Be prepared by knowing your market and bootstrap to bridge your knowledge gaps.
- Make sure you bring a skill to the table that is an asset to your business before you start.
- Don’t be afraid to fail and work at things for a while. Perfection and instant success are illusions.
And keep trying. The more you learn, the more you connect and the more you own your business and your confidence in it, the better your skills at detecting the right business advice will be.
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