This is a post I didn’t think I’d have to write. For a long time, I lapped up business advice from everyone who was smarter, more successful or better looking than me.
Most entrepreneurs do the same. They never have a problem doing so, because business advice is always good. More is better than less. Until it isn’t.
For a minority – truly successful business owners (like you), business advice can start to become dangerous.
For newbie entrepreneurs, buckets of advice is always good. The brain opens up and advice is poured in. The wisdom of mentors, colleagues, friends, family, bloggers and gurus churns and froths. Some sticks and a lot is washed away.
As a newbie entrepreneur faces the learning curve of a new business, specific advice doesn’t matter much. Moving forward, hitting obstacles and learning from firsthand experience is what counts. The actual direction and strategy (which most “advice” revolves around) is a secondary concern.
Once you’ve built something, everything changes.
You arrive at a place where you’ve created a “real business”. You know, a business that has a predictable (note: that doesn’t mean guaranteed) customer acquisition funnel: A business where you plug effort, time or money in one end and get customers out the other. A business where you start getting referrals, your brand is recognized and there’s a feeling of momentum behind it all.
The vast majority of you, readers of this blog, are in this place. Or at least, the people who I’m conscious of – those who write in to me, comment or tweet.
When you’ve created a real business, good advice starts to really matter.
You’re in a place where you have “first world problems”. You have success, but you don’t feel it anymore. Now you want to scale. You want to extricate yourself from being an irreplaceable cog. Maybe you just want to bust through the financial plateau you’ve been stuck at for years.
If you could do it on your own, you would have already done it. So you turn to someone for advice.
Here are the three ways this goes horribly, horribly wrong:
1. The “Do what I did” trap
Other entrepreneurs have a bad habit of giving advice that follows the “If it worked for me, it’ll work for you” formula. This is one of biggest traps imaginable.
Replicating someone else’s strategy, at an idealistic level, will only produce the same results they’ve already produced. Not a smart game plan if you consider yourself an “innovator”.
Even forgetting the notion of perfectly following their model, you’ll still run into trouble. People have a habit of distorting their past, forgetting the tough parts and the hard work. So when an entrepreneur advises you to do what they did, remember that they’re probably not thinking about the two years they spent “finding themselves” and eating instant noodles.
People simply aren’t honest about what’s worked for them and where it’s really got them.
Best case scenario replicating someone else’s path gets you a copycat business. Worst case, you end up discovering the world of pain they’ve been hiding from you (and maybe themselves).
2. The “Outsource all your weaknesses” myth
This is all the more seductive because a ton of business gurus have been pushing this as The Thing To Do.
The idea is to take the icky parts of business you’d rather not dirty your hands with and offload them to staff. Freelance virtual assistants make this easier and more tempting than ever.
The danger is that this advice started with smart ideas like outsourcing product distribution (yay for drop-shipping) and customer service call centers. Then small business owners started extending the idea to things like “Accounting” and even “Sales”. Yes, I’ve heard it.
Horrifyingly, solo-entrepreneurs are now considering it clever to outsource their sales and marketing, then handing off finances to a book keeper or assistant!
Learning how to sell or understand the numbers behind your business are essential learning curves in the development of your entrepreneur’s mind. Trying to skip it, via outsourcing, robs you of the opportunity to learn what makes business work.
If you’re “weak” at the fundamental building blocks of business, your company is the school that will teach you to be strong. Don’t try to skip the lesson.
3. The “Keep doing what you’re doing, it’ll work out eventually” disaster
This one is tempting to fall for simply because, in the past, it was true. When newbie entrepreneurs start out, a certain amount of bullish tenacity is a very good thing.
Just keep trying and pushing – it’ll all work out!
That stops being true once you hit a certain level of success. You’ll know you’re there when you begin to encounter sophisticated problems. Problems where it’s obvious that keeping on trying will invite disaster. Continuing to carry out the same behaviors while hoping for different results is the definition of insanity, after all.
Twist: Sometimes the person giving you this advice is yourself. This is a sure sign it’s time to search for real advice from an external source.
Behavioral flexibility amongst entrepreneurs is the winning gene. And, in this world of accelerating technology, someone is probably inventing smart solutions to sidestep the problems you’re trying to slug through. Even as you slug away. So stop.
If you or someone else says “Just keep trying”, it’s time to stop. Step back, get perspective and come back to the problem with fresh eyes if nothing else.
If you hear any of these pieces of advice, it’s time to get new advisors. You can start here (best part: It’s free).
What other dodgy advice should entrepreneurs watch out for? Share your thoughts in the comments below.