When you're in business, advice comes hot and fast from all directions. Co-workers. Employees. Business partners. Pundits. Experts. Book authors. Advisers. Workshop promotors.

Many are happy to instruct you on what you should be doing. A good many will have their hands out in one way or another. Some of the advice will be good. Mounds will be awful. And you have to learn to navigate it, unless you want to become a hermit and ply your trade without human contact (which probably means you won't make much money as you'll be off by yourself).

I've been in business for myself multiple times stretching back a significant number of decades. In total, most of my working life has been on my own. And much of that in writing.

There's a skill that is necessary to learn in writing--something that people in the business don't generally tell you about. It's the need to learn how to evaluate and then accept, or reject, suggestions.

Many editors are terrific. Some are even better and can help you transform your work and abilities. And a good number are terrible. They micromanage and try to turn writers into copies of themselves.

Then there are clients, whether publications, contacts at corporations you do work for, or individuals who directly commission you. Some of them will have impeccable taste. Far more will be sure they know best because the customer is always right, even though their opinions will be exactly the opposite of what a piece of writing should be and do.

I'm framing this in writing terms, but the issue is bigger and broader. You have to learn how to take advice. That involves the following things.

Recognize different sources of advice

People fall into a variety of categories when it comes to giving advice. Some are good most or all of the time. They may be professionals in the same field as you or may have a deep understanding of what you're trying to do.

For example, I remember reading a cookbook by the Roux brothers, a pair of famous chefs who operated acclaimed restaurants in London. They attributed much of what they came to know of food to a family in France, where they had grown up, that employed them. These people had generations of experience in food, wine, spirits, dining, and all with the best life had to offer. They could give good direction and knew when something was properly prepared, whether they could do the cooking themselves or not.

Then there are those who might know about certain aspects or have a good insight for whatever reason. Learn enough about business and you will come to sense when someone has a valid point that might be useful. Embrace those times and recognize that it may take time before one of the jewels pops to the surface.

Also know that all these people will be outnumbered by the mobs that will be certain they know better but who won't. It's critical to develop your faculties and taste to recognize such people, whether professionals in your industry or your second cousin, and ignore them unless, on the off chance, they have a lucid moment. But, on the whole, if sifting wheat from chaff is difficult, just ignore them in general. Life is too short.

And be particularly wary of the professional advice givers who want to sell you a book or course or something else but don't seem to do anything outside of that. The more dependent they are on passing on their "wisdom," the more you could consider how much of it they actually have. If they were so brilliant, might they not apply their own insight into making money differently? Like actually doing what they instruct others to do?

Realize when something applies to your business

Different businesses, even in the same space, may have radically different environments, conditions, requirements, or parameters. A piece of advice that might apply to a retail chain with a thousand or more locations might not be applicable, at least outside of appeal to a general principle, to a small shop in a strip mall.

Be discriminating with even the advice you get from the most experienced and relevant experts. Be sure it applies to your situation. Always consider it because even if it doesn't have a direct application today, it might in the future. Or it could offer some principle that, treated differently, makes complete sense.

Take good advice

This is perhaps the most difficult part. It reminds me of the book How to Read a Book. A tome about how to effectively get the most out of a title, it said that if you analyzed and readied a volume of nonfiction and found yourself agreeing with the author's arguments, then you should follow their advice.

The same is true here. If you get what seems to be sound advice from people who either have had a flash of insight or who or legitimately know far more than you, take it. Not all the same day, but start. Eventually you're find who's on the money, what works for you, and hopefully you'll do better and better over time.

Good luck.

Published on: Jan 22, 2020
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