Running a business can be pull-your-hair-out tough, so it's only natural for business leaders to reach out to others who've been in similar situations for advice. After all, successful entrepreneurs love to share the tips and tricks that helped them get to where they are, and who better to offer advice than someone who's been-there-done-that?
But there's good advice and bad advice ... and then there's unsolicited advice. It can be a thorn in any entrepreneur's side. Why? Because other people's experiences often don't translate perfectly, rendering much of the advice you receive as an entrepreneur useless.
While guidance of any kind has the potential to be helpful, it's often unsolicited opinions that end up being detrimental to the health of your business. Here are three scenarios where you should be on your guard:
Beware of the advice if you didn't ask for it.
Although it's tempting to rely on the supposed wisdom of those who've gone before you, it's best to avoid financial advice you didn't ask for.
"I kept hearing 'It takes money to make money,' which I find laughable" says Karen Okonkwo, co-founder of TONL. "That thought process forces small businesses to immediately seek out loans and credit cards to get their businesses up and running. And that's a surefire way to get yourself into debt fast."
There's a lot at stake when starting a business, and a poor financial choice can have major long-term ramifications. Instead of acting on unsolicited financial advice, set out a business plan that includes your profit model. If you need help, proactively choose a verified finance or accounting expert instead of someone who hasn't been vetted.
Just deflect or ignore unsolicited financial advice -- particularly about borrowing. After all, if your business doesn't have a realistic plan for how it's going to make money, there's little chance you'd be able to get out of the debt you're walking into.
Think twice about advice that feels like criticism.
People who offer unsolicited advice may have pure motives, but that's definitely not always the case. Either way, such advice often feels unhelpful or counterproductive, and sometimes it's downright hurtful.
"Early on in my career, someone pulled me aside and told me to hold back: be quieter, don't gesture as much, don't always have an opinion. I thought that people felt I was being overbearing and pushy," says Meredith Schmidt, EVP and GM for Salesforce Essentials.
To Schmidt, this unsolicited advice felt more like criticism than support, leaving her questioning the motives of others. For a month she tried not to be herself. She soon realized, however, she was holding in good ideas -- and making herself miserable in the process. Schmidt walked back that advice with the confidence to be just who she is.
Today she shakes her head about it: "If I had followed that laughable advice, I wouldn't be where I am now."
Ignore uninformed opinions.
While it's often a good idea to gather information before making a decision, it's probably true that nobody understands the ins-and-outs of your company like you do.
For example, when many entrepreneurs start companies, people advise them that investments in technology should only be made if there's an immediate financial return. However, depending on your business model, such investments may be foundational to the company, like the early money you invest in marketing or personnel. You may want to invest heavily in tech from the start, even if it doesn't result in immediate financial gain, because it may help you automate processes or scale quickly with limited staff increases.
The lesson here is that you know what's best for your business, so someone else's experiences don't necessarily apply. Don't let an outsider convince you to take a course that runs counter to your better judgment.
Let it go: Leave the unsolicited advice on the table.
In the business world, unsolicited advice can cause real tension, as differences in opinions carry heavy weight. When advice doesn't feel right to you, it can create frustration (or even resentment) on both sides. The lesson learned? There's little chance you can stop people from offering unsolicited opinions and advice, but when the time comes, perhaps it's best to keep your ears safely shut.