7 Popular Pieces of Business Advice You Should Ignore
Business, unlike, say, cardiothoracic surgery, is one of those areas where everyone feels they could be an expert. No one would explain their preferred open heart surgery technique based on the fact that their dad went under the knife back in 2004, but when it comes to starting and running your own business, everyone from your mother to a recent grad with no experience but dreams of being a blogger feels entitled to offer advice.
So what do you do with this bombardment of tips, suggestions and unsolicited opinions? Hopefully, you ignore plenty of them. But which ones? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Don’t start up.
From the moment inspiration hits and you come up with a business idea, the deluge of bad advice begins. Much of this is from the well meaning but risk averse. Sensible caution and careful planning never hurt anyone, but not pursuing their dreams most certainly did. Your first step is ignoring those who tell you not even to start.
"I have lost count of the number of people who told me not to take the risk of starting my own business, or not to undertake a particular project," Michelle Wright, CEO of Cause4, has written. "But whilst it's often not a walk in the park, there is no way I wouldn't have wanted to try."
2. You need a perfect business plan.
Market and customer research is essential, but so is a willingness to start despite imperfect information and flexibility once you get going. "When you are first starting out, there is a 100 percent chance you’ll encounter obstacles and opportunities that no business plan could account for. The only way to deal with them is to be flexible," cautions Jim Belosic of Pancakes Laboratories/ShortStack, who admits to never having a business plan. "The need for a business plan simply doesn’t exist, and I would argue that making one is a poor use of your most valuable resource: your time," agrees fellow business plan skeptic Anthony Saladino of Kitchen Cabinet Kings.
3. Don’t quit your job.
Situations vary, of course, but limping along with half measures is often more about fear than it is about failing to make your mortgage payments. "When you have enough customers to support your minimum overhead, jump to doing the business on an exclusive basis. Only with complete focus will you be able to grow the business to its full potential," iniststs author Barry Moltz.
4. Never say die.
Tenacity in the face of daily struggles and inevitable difficulties is great, but business is full of failure. Holding on simply to hold on is a terrible idea. Sometimes it’s a far better to let go, learn from your mistakes, and move on to something more promising. "This hard fast rule can lead to bankruptcy. Don’t go down with the ship!" urges Moltz, who says it’s far better to know when it fold ‘em.
5. The customer is always right.
No, the customer is often confused, unaware of his true needs, or more trouble than he’s worth. "While the goal of every entrepreneur is to make as much money as humanly possible, saying no to some paying customers may actually get you there faster," Charles Gaudet of Predictable Profits explains. Moltz agrees: "If the customer was always right then it would be too expensive for any company to stay in business."
But it’s not just that some customer demands cost more than they bring in. It’s also that customers are sometimes clueless about the best solution. "While taking client feedback is critical, giving customers what they want - instead of what serves their lives and businesses - is a copout," says Kelly Azevedo of She’s Got Systems, who works "incredibly hard to educate my audience and persuade them. In real life, the customer is not always right."
6. Think big.
While it’s great to dream of changing the world or upending an industry, the truth is most businesses move incrementally, despite management cliches to the contrary. "What can be wrong with reaching for the stars? Plenty. Most really big solutions begin small and build momentum. How seriously would anybody have taken Amazon if it started as the ‘everything store’?" notes a BusinessWeek roundup of management truisms that should be shown the door.
It’s also fine if your business idea is downright boring. "As an entrepreneur we all think we are Steve Jobs. I’m guilty of it as well," writes entrepreneur Dan Norris. "For most businesses, this really isn’t how things work out. Our most successful product WP Curve is boring - we fix websites! But it works because a lot of people need their website fixed."
7. It's the idea (or execution) that matters most.
Some folks say success is mostly about your idea. Others insist it’s mostly down to your execution. Both camps are wrong because both are important. "The truth about ideas is that even the best succeed only when they attract the attention of the people who matter-;and when the timing is right," insists BusinessWeek. "Business ideas are meaningless if you can't back it up," concurs Moltz. But Norris offers an important caveat to this ‘the idea isn’t everything’ wisdom. Execution also isn’t everything. "A bad idea that’s well executed will fail. I know that because I’ve done it," he admits.
Of course this isn’t an exhaustive list. There’s plenty more bad advice out there. What other old chestnuts would you advise your fellow entrepreneurs to ignore?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.