If you are not an entrepreneur, you likely have no idea that the questions and comments you say to entrepreneurs can make their eyes roll. They range from understandable, to curious to offensive. Yet the result is the same: they are not welcomed and don't help them achieve the success they want.
So how do you know what topics or questions to avoid? Here's a list of the things you should avoid saying to an entrepreneur. I've even proposed some alternative talking points you can use the next time you see that entrepreneur family member, friend or stranger.
1. Can I get a discount?
Think about this before you ask your entrepreneur friend for a discount: How would you feel if we asked you to reduce your salary so everyone could get a discount on the product or service your company produces? This is one of the most offensive and unsupportive questions you can ask an entrepreneur.
2. You just got lucky
What you see as luck is actually years of working 80 hours per week, taking on debt, working on "vacations" (if you even take one), flying all over the country (or world), raising money, and laying face down on the floor after missing payroll. While luck does have a lot to do with outcomes, it's certainly not the whole story and luck does not come for free.
3. Have you heard of [enter competitor's name]?
As luck would have it, yes, we have. Somewhere in the 80 hours a week of work, business development meetings, and fundraising presentations, we managed to come across the very company that threatens our existence.
4. Do you work in your pajamas?
If you happen to be an entrepreneur that works from home, then yes - of course we do. But in 98% of those cases, it's because we started working five minutes after we woke up and are now too swamped to put on a pair of pants.
5. You should get a real job
Beyond just the basic tenet that you shouldn't tell people what to do, this is a firecracker you should avoid. We hear this from our parents, relatives and society. We think about it every time our friend tells us about their perks at Google. But guess what? We don't care.
Entrepreneurs work 80 hours a weeks to avoid working 40 hours a week for someone else. Life is about trade-offs. You picked the tradeoff you can live with, let us pick ours. It's that simple.
6. Aren't you tired of working so hard?
Entrepreneurs know they're working hard. They don't need the reminder (we have bags under our eyes and a mirror). Instead, you could say something like this: "I admire how much time you're investing in your dream."
The caveat here is that every entrepreneur should be aware of the sacrifices they make. If you feel that they are sacrificing their life, sense of self, or health, then you should raise that concern with them in a supportive way.
7. Aren't you scared of failing?
We know that failure is a real possibility. It's why we don't sleep well at night and why we work 80 hours a week. We'll be ok if you keep this thought to yourself.
8. Why don't you just do ________?
You can absolutely give us advice, or question our decisions, when you acquire the deep understanding of our market, opportunities and constraints that is only possible from years of working 80 hours a week. Until you do that, just keep it to yourself.
Alternatives you can say instead
If you have an entrepreneur in your life, or you meet one out in the wild, here are some good things to say instead:
Good luck, I'm rooting for you.
I hope you accomplish all your goals.
If there's anything I can do to help, please let me know.
I'm proud of you.
I love you.
We know you don't mean any harm, and we certainly have the thick skin needed to be an entrepreneur in the first place, but it would be nice to consider these comments and questions when interacting with the entrepreneur in your life. Both of you will have a more enjoyable conversation - which leads to a stronger and better connection.