It’s impossible to know everything there is to make a business run successfully. So we might do what seems natural: ask for advice. And some well-meaning folks come along and share their insights, helping you crack the business code so you can get from where you are to where you want to be.
Unfortunately for us, all advice is not created equal, and there's some downright bad advice out there. Here are three ways to help you sort the good advice from the bad.
It Flat-Out Feels Wrong
You’re camping out for a weekend with friends. You've stumbled from your campsite to the edge of a random cliff and are staring at the gorgeous pool of water below. Everyone says, “Jump!” But the pit of your stomach has other ideas.
The pit of your stomach is smart—because that pool of gorgeous blue water is just two feet deep.
There’s a difference between advice that scares you and advice that unsettles you because it challenges you to take a calculated risk to get to the place you want to be. Both could be classified as scary. When your gut says, "No, no, no! Run screaming the other way," versus, "Man, that would be wonderful, but woah, doggie, that’s a big leap," that’s often a difference worth attending to.
Think of the last time your gut was wrong. Now go back to the top of this section and start reading about the blue water again, and remind me why you don’t listen to your gut more often. After all, it’s there to steer you clear of much of the bad advice that’s sent your way.
It’s Offered Without Context
But what happens when the advice you're getting passes the gut test? Advice can feel right, yet still steer you down a path that’s best not traveled. Fortunately, there’s a quick litmus test: context.
When you’ve asked for advice and the person in front of you starts the advice fountain flowing with little to no context about you, your business, your brand, your needs or your goals, that may be worrisome. I tend to see this most often with service providers, such as graphic designers and copywriters (and this is definitely not a blanket accusation about any of those professions). It’s easy for you to think you want one thing and go to the person who can definitely help you with that one thing. But then it’s up to the person who can provide that one thing to help you determine what you truly need.
A lack of context can often be solved with some smart questions. And that leads me to the final warning sign that bad advice might be looming.
It’s Riddled With More "Shoulds" Than Questions
Don’t assign too much power to moguls and professional advice-givers. Here’s an exchange I recently had in my own business as an example:
Me: I’m exploring potential new revenue streams.
Well-Meaning Soul: You should totally build a product. There’s tons of money to be made in the one-to-many model. Build one, profit forever.
Me: My audience isn’t really the product type. I don’t believe in push-button solutions because all my clients have unique challenges that depend on me asking questions and offering them a custom solution that fits their personality, needs and goals.
Well-Meaning Soul: I’m telling you, you should totally build a product. Sell it for $49.
Me: *head down on desk*
Earlier, I mentioned how context can be the key to sorting the bad advice from the great. Context can usually only be learned when someone takes the time to ask you the questions that will sort out your nuances. Here’s what that equation looks like:
Your business + bravery to ask for help + advisor’s expertise + advisor’s questions to you to provide context = better advice that fits your business needs and goals
When you ask for help and the “should” start flowing, that’s a good sign you might want to be cautious.
The thing to remember is, most people don’t mean to give you bad advice. But in the nearly seven years I've been working with amazingly talented business owners, I’m startled by the bad advice they've received and followed.
By trusting your gut first as your key line of defense, you may be able to help keep the lack-of-context and “should” at bay, positioning yourself to take in better advice that challenges you to rise to the necessary occasion. You might find that advice scary, but it’s the kind that’s offered with your specific business goals, needs and history in mind.
And that’s the best advice any of us can hope to receive.
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This article was originally published on December 23, 2014.