Shawn Freeman - an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member from Calgary - is the CEO of TWT Group, an IT services company. He also writes regularly for IT and tech publications, offering perspectives on cloud solutions and cross-border data security. We asked Shawn about business advice he has received in the past and how he approached it.
When I started my IT services company, I needed to consider extended health benefits for my staff. As Canadians, our basic healthcare is covered by the government, but things like prescriptions, physical therapy, dental and vision are not.
Everyone advised me to go with a pricey plan from an established insurance provider. I did the math. It didn't add up, so I ignored the advice. Instead, I gave my staff access to a health-spending account for the same cost. They have the safety net they need and if they don't use it, we don't pay.
I chose not to do what everyone told me I should do. When you start a business, it's tempting to ask each entrepreneur you encounter for advice. You'll also get advice you never even asked for, often from people who don't know you or your business. It's normal to want to learn from the seasoned professionals who've come before you, but this isn't always the best move.
Your journey will be different. Even if you're seeking advice from someone in your industry, a person who followed a nearly identical path, your journey won't necessarily look like theirs. You'll hit different obstacles and deal with different mental blocks. What worked for them probably won't work with you, simply because you're different people on separate journeys. Respect their wisdom, but don't try to replicate their experience.
There may be a new way to do it better. The way we do business is evolving so fast; today there might be a good way to do something, and tomorrow there might be a way that is 300% better. Don't get pigeonholed into using old ways simply because they are tested and proven. Explore new methods constantly and use these new techniques to beat your competition. Be willing to change a process or product quickly if you find there's a better way, even if the person giving you advice is skeptical.
They don't know your business well enough. It may be nice when other entrepreneurs want to give you advice, but it's generally not relevant unless they intimately know your business. A successful motivational speaker won't know how to counsel an up-and-coming app designer, for example, even if they run in the same circle and share many professional contacts. If they've never been an entrepreneur, they simply won't understand your pain points. Smile and nod, but don't feel compelled to take their advice to heart.
They may project their fears onto you. If you're a millennial putting yourself out there and starting a business using every dollar you've ever saved, your Baby-Boomer colleague may not be able to get behind your venture simply out of fear. Entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff. It's scary. Not every can do it, or is even willing to try. You will face big obstacles in order to achieve massive success. It will take a lot of work, something most people aren't willing to undertake. The person giving you advice may see their own failure when talking to you, and project their fears and insecurities onto you. Know that these fears are about them and not you.
Advice isn't action (and action is the only thing that pays the bills). Sitting around drinking coffee is nice when you're in the planning stages of your business, but when you're up and running, closing deals and signing new clients is the only thing that matters. Taking too much time to ask for advice is a mistake. You risk languishing in the planning and dreaming stage, and never getting anything done.
They may be selling you something (without you knowing it). I've received many meeting invitations from my contacts on LinkedIn. I'm willing to meet anyone for a coffee. Unfortunately, a friendly invitation can quickly turn into an obvious sales pitch or a sneaky way of taking your money. Don't be fooled and don't waste your time.