By Matt Visiwig Oct 13, 2021
What makes advice good or bad?
The answer can be subjective, but simply stated, advice has the power to move you forward in the right direction or push you off course. The worst advice given to aspiring makers and freelancers slows down progress, wastes time and efforts, or leads them astray.
Bad advice consists of assumptions, misconceptions, and poorly thought out rules.
The bad news, even your own thoughts can lead you in the wrong direction just as much as overthinking everything. The good news is that your failures and missteps are part of your entrepreneurial journey, and lead you where you need to be. Keep pushing forward, as words will never take you as far as action does.
Here are 14 misguided pieces of advice that slow your entrepreneurial journey.
This assumes failing is bad
Nearly every business success story suggests otherwise. It’s rare, if not impossible, for a first time founder to navigate it’s way to success without obstacles, missteps, mistakes, or their first business completely failing.
Instead, starting a business is a long process of struggles, failures, and learning experiences that lead founders in the right direction. Most founders pivot and refine many times before finding the winning combination. Even business owners who end up failing and stopping their entrepreneurial journey, leave with beneficial experience.
No one knows about your business
Most seasoned makers know this bad advice, but for some reason new makers fall into this trap like clockwork. Word of mouth naturally happens, but never at the scale needed to make a successful business overnight. It can take a huge effort to get a word of mouth campaign to even happen for some products. Making assumptions is bad for business, and a lot more goes into creating a successful business than building a product. Products don’t sell themselves.
It’s hard to hold a fulltime job and run a business
While I would recommend doing legwork before jumping all in, trying to run a side-hustle while holding down a full-time job is awful. You could burnout quickly or lose interest in pursuing your business idea. I’d update this advice to read “consider your runway”. If you don’t have any savings, getting your business off the ground will be stressful and harder to pull off with shorter margins for error. Switching to part-time might offer the flexibility your schedule needs, while still covering living expenses (rent, food, etc.) before you’re able to secure paying customers.
Being original for the sake of originality is the wrong approach
Similar to “there’s already competitors” or “someone’s already doing that”, this notion suggests that once a company makes a product, it is unlikely another startup could be profitable in the same space. But this is demonstrably false, because there are multiple options for nearly any given product or service. The advice is so wrong, that the opposite is true. Building something so unique that no other company offers anything like it comes with a difficult path. Firstly, there is no evidence that an unproven market is lucrative enough to support a business. Secondly, educating consumers of a new problem takes more effort than targeting customers who already are aware and seeking a solution.
It’s an opinion, not fact
It’s easy to judge an idea as good or bad, but figuring that out takes work. Just read these rejection letters from investors overlooking early AirBNB (https://medium.com/@bchesky/7-rejections-7d894cbaa084). There are a few ways to validate an idea, but stopping when you hear “that won’t work” is not one of them. When an idea fails, it’s not the end. A pivot can change everything. Successful businesses often turn out different then the original idea envisioned, after trial and error, pivots, and lots of refining.
Not all opportunities are equal
When word of mouth marketing works, prospects will approach you with their projects. It’s hard to pass up work when your workload is light. There is nothing wrong with taking opportunities early on, but you’ll want some threshold to filter bad projects. Taking every opportunity will overload your ability to delight every customer and pull your business in competing directions. Instead, mastering a specific set of problems and solutions allows you to attract more of those relevant clients and opportunities.
Trying is how you gain experience
When starting a business, there is no perfect timing and there is no way to guarantee success. The earlier you try, the sooner you build the experience required to achieve success. While you can gain experience in various ways, starting a business is the most effective way to gain business experience. Sure, if you want to open a restaurant it’s ideal to have an inside view of a restaurant working. Understanding your industry is crucial. But do you need to work a job for years before you can get insight on what works or doesn’t? All entrepreneurial journeys require learning as you go, and first hand business experience will take you farther, quicker.
Passions and solving needs don’t always align
Unfortunately the activities you love may not be as enjoyable once money is added to the equation. For instance, I was passionate about music, so much that I was a music major in college. When music became more of a job, it quickly lost its appeal. There is nothing wrong with basing a business around something of interest, it will help you dedicate the energy needed to work on your business effortlessly. However not all business ideas are profitable and sometimes the things that make a business profitable suck the life out of the fun. Lastly, running a business forces you to work in various roles, you may only spend 20% of your time working on the fun parts.
Figuring out everything manually slows progress
In the early days, it is useful to be frugal and keep spending down. Your runway will thank you. However, as you ramp up your business, spending money on business tasks saves time, effort, and makes your business more powerful. Spending your time on the money-making activities will help your chances at success, so it’s important to delegate work when you can afford it. You also want to be smart about it. Don’t delegate talking to customers from the start, as the founder needs to understand the customer well.
Budget customers can be less profitable
The advice suggests that higher prices push away customers from your offering. While true, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You create more work, for less revenue, by attracting budget customers who often require more support. Your price may no longer match the quality of your offering and scare away customers willing to pay more, leaving lots of money on the table. Prices send signals, don’t send the wrong one.
Ideas are worthless without execution
Ideas are the starting point of a business journey. Success has less to do with the starting point and more to do with the journey or process. Ideas are not tangible, until you execute them. After you create a first draft of an idea, you generally need to make changes and try again. Ideas are effortless and take seconds to generate, while execution can take days, months, or even years. Ideas are nothing. Execution is everything.
Not all customers share same needs
Customer feedback is gold. Ignoring your customers outright will allow your business to head in the wrong direction. However, this doesn’t mean that one customer can speak on behalf of all customers and needs. They’ll tell you what they personally want, but it’s up to you to determine if that request fits your trajectory and what you’re trying to solve. Feedback patterns can be good, but beware that most vocal customers don’t necessarily provide the best feedback. For instance, if you make a change that gets some customers riled up, but you notice better KPIs and metrics improve, your changes are warranted.
Running a huge company isn’t for everyone
You can run a successful small operation and that’s ideal for some business owners. Growth and scale add complexity that doesn’t suit all businesses and entrepreneurs. Starting small gives you time to figure out everything before taking on the risk of employees, office space, and constant customer support. Staying small helps you keep expenses and risks minimal, and does not prevent profitability.
Friends don’t want to hurt your feelings
It’s natural to talk to your friends and family about your business ideas, but they‘re generally bad at giving you the criticism you need to hear. It’s hard when you put a lot of hard work into something, and hear a customer rip your work to shreds, spelling out every reason why it’s terrible. But that’s exactly the actionable feedback you need to hear to make your product better and appeal to paying customers. Friends and family are bad at this critique as they have a conflict of interests. They’re supportive in the best way, but you need people who have no reason to hold back.
You can read stories about successful founders and still walk away without any actionable advice. This is because everyone’s situation is different. What worked for one person, might not work for the next. At the end of the day, entrepreneurs need to figure out which advice is worth considering and then act. My recommendation is to get a business mentor. Again, their advice may not always be helpful, but as they stick with your journey, they understand your context. They can ask you the right questions to nudge your process and journey in the right direction.