Once you decide to start a business, all kinds of people are going to offer you advice, whether you ask for it or not. Deciding which advice to listen to is one of the most important decisions you can make as a small business owner.
The problem is: people who want to give you advice often don’t fully comprehend the specific situation you’re in.
The advice we give is often the advice we wish we would have received when we were younger.
As artist Austin Kleon wrote, “All advice is autobiographical.”
Here is some of the best (and worst) advice I’ve ever received about starting a business and running a business:
- “Don’t quit your day job.” Depending on when you hear it, this advice can sound either comforting and well-intentioned, or mean-spirited and condescending. I put this in the category of both the best and worst advice I’ve ever received. On the one hand, it’s great to start a business while you’re already full-time employed, because you have health insurance and a steady paycheck to fall back on while you build up your customer base. On the other hand, there comes a point when you just have to break away from the day job and do your own thing full time. For me, I did freelance work during nights and weekends for over a year before I finally quit my day job. It was a great way to start a business, because it enabled me to make a smooth transition and leave my job at a time of my choosing. Not everyone has this luxury. Many businesses start on short notice as a result of a layoff. So how does “don’t quit your day job” ever qualify as “bad” advice? Only when someone just doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do, or doesn’t want to encourage you, or is afraid, or condescending, or short-sighted about what you can achieve. Try not to let it bother you. When people try to discourage your dreams, their attitude is more a reflection of them than it is about you.
- “You’re not a machine.” You need to take time to rest and recuperate. As a small business owner, it’s all too easy to fall into a trap of working long hours with too little sleep, too little nutrition, and too little time for friends, family and personal recreation. Similarly, when things are slow and you’re not feeling motivated, give yourself a break. You’re not going to be a visionary superstar every single day. Even Steve Jobs probably has an off-day now and then. (Hmmm, maybe not. Steve Jobs is pretty much “on” all the time, I think.)
- “You’ll never make much money doing (whatever it is you do).” I’m a writer, OK? One of the world’s most-maligned professions in terms of perceived earning power. And yet, I’m doing just fine financially. In fact, I make significantly more money running my own business than I ever made working for a Fortune 500 company. So don’t listen to people who say “you’ll never make money” pursuing your own business. Is it possible that you won’t succeed? Sure. But there is a wide array of small business owners who are successfully making a living in all kinds of weird and narrow fields.
- “It’s a scary time to start a business.” When has it NOT been scary to start a business? When hasn’t there been uncertainty in the market? Would you rather incorporate a business in the midst of the uncertainties of 2011, or would you rather go back in time and start your business during the uncertainties of 1929 (stock market crash), 1932 (depth of the Great Depression), 1941 (World War II), the 1960s (Vietnam War, protests, massive societal upheaval and urban unrest), or the 1970s (stagnation and inflation)? When times are tough, people tell you to stay put, conserve resources, keep your head down, don’t quit your day job. But when the economy is booming, those same people will tell you that it’s too volatile to make a move, talent is too expensive, real estate prices are through the roof, opportunity costs are too high…it never ends.
Don’t let other peoples’ fears and worries hold you back from starting a business. If you’ve done your research, if you have a business plan, if you have confidence in your value proposition, then chances are you can find a comfortable niche for yourself within the $14 trillion U.S. economy. The economic pie might have shrunk a bit, but it’s still a pretty big pie.