Good Advice: When You Need It And When You Don't

When you’re just starting out in business, it’s expected that you’ll be open to advice from those who have been enduringly successful. It makes sense, too; they will be familiar with your concerns, teething troubles and self-doubt, and have conquered all of these. Hopefully even the most self-confident startup owner will recognize that there is value in having enough humility to listen to the experts.

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After some time in the business world, though, and some early successes, it’s not unusual to become more sure of yourself and to see those successful veterans as rivals, meddlers or dinosaurs. Many business owners view advice from the experts as unwelcome interference, even find it patronizing, and will actively reject it.

In truth, sometimes there is nothing more dangerous than newfound confidence. Success in the early days is just that - early. If you want to reach the top of the tree, you do need to keep it going. The most obvious hazard to that is getting carried away. Being ready to pivot when necessary is not a weakness; it is a survival instinct that could ensure you end up keeping up with the times.

Of course, there is always a “but”, so here it is. Naturally, not all advice is equal. Nobody is infallible and, of course, your situation may differ from another person’s in a number of ways. When someone says “If I were in your shoes, I would do it this way…”, the advice may be welcome. On the other hand, you need to take note of the fact that their tips for success are what worked for them. That doesn’t mean it will work for you, so when is it worth listening, and when is it a better idea to politely decline advice?

The More Specific It Gets, The More Care You Should Take

Say you’re looking at taking on staff, having started well and found yourself with more work than you can handle alone. If you’re a sole trader, your experience of recruiting will obviously be zero. In speaking to someone who’s been through that situation, you may get reams and reams of advice in return, or you may get a single sentence. Often, it will be the latter that is of more value to you.

The former may go along the lines of “What I did was…” followed by a detailed account of how they went about hiring new people. It may sound like a guide from start to finish on how to ensure you make the right choice. It may well seem to be the key to success, but the more specific it is, the better the chance that it only worked so well because it suited them. Another person might say, in one sentence, “Ignore emotion and pick the person who is best qualified”. It takes seconds to say, but sometimes less information can be of more value.

On The Other Hand, More Information Can Be Useful

Of course, business cannot be boiled down to just a few simple rules. If it could, we’d all be running blue-chip businesses. Often, what’s most important is the way that advice is communicated. If you’re making your way up the property ladder, for example, sustained success isn’t a matter of doing A, B and C then waiting for the cash to roll in. A lot depends on how you react to unforeseen situations.

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In this case, a sound idea is to absorb as much information as possible, but not from any one person. Reading everything you can find time to read will allow you to build your knowledge and hone your instincts. Having a bookcase full of the best real estate investing books and reading them in your down time is a great idea. The more sources you draw information from, the more solid your decisions will be.

Beware The “Business Guru”

The explosion of “business guru” shows that have landed on our TV screens over the last decade has led many individuals to change their approach to how they do business. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but it does have its disadvantages.

What you rarely see on shows such as this are the situations where an expert’s advice ends up leading to negative results. Editing can hide a multitude of sins, and because the expert tends to have editorial control, they choose what you do and don’t see. So while they proudly proclaim that “by following my advice, this struggling business is now thriving”, they may be hiding the fact that that happened due to a cash injection you don’t have access to - or that the moment the “guru” left the set, the business nosedived and went bankrupt.

That doesn’t mean there is nothing in the advice that these experts are giving but, as with anything, it’s important to not see that advice as a guaranteed ticket to success. If the secret to success could be condensed down to sixty minutes of TV minus ad breaks, then everyone would do it.

The Best Advice May Be To Trust Your Instincts

When you get right down to it, no-one knows your business as well as you do. So those people who ignore any advice from all quarters aren’t necessarily that far off the mark; it’s really a matter of balance. Your early success is a sign that you have some good instincts, so it may be worth following those in most situations. As long as you don’t assume you’re infallible, you may profit by having the courage of your convictions.

As with any rule, there are exceptions. When you enter uncharted territory in your business, assuming that you can troubleshoot your way out of it may be extremely dangerous. If, however, you hit a bump in the road doing something you’ve done before, then sit and think about it for a moment. What’s different about this situation? How could that be addressed? Deep down, you may already know the answers. The more you learn to conquer problems on your own, the better your business will get.

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