I recently wrote about how inventors and entrepreneurs need to use common sense and strategy when building their business. At the same time I mentioned, but did not address, how to deal with all of the well-meaning advice that comes from friends, family and even random strangers. In the early days of any new business, the energy and excitement of something new tends to draw people in, because they want to be a part of what you are doing and contribute, even in some small way. The problem is when the advice comes from a place of ignorance. I do not mean that the people who are giving you advice are dumb, but just that the advice givers may not understand business, markets, technology, money or a whole host of other things that will be critical to a successful strategy. Taking on too many of those well-intentioned pieces of advice could wind up costing you in the end.
Entrepreneurs face many challenges when starting a business. How you handle this "advice" is a real testament to what type of entrepreneur you will ultimately become. Learning to recognize the type of advice you are getting and having a strategy for how to deal with it can help you find the golden nuggets of genius that can make the difference in jump starting your business the right way.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
Mentors are a valuable asset to entrepreneurs, but only when you meet with them at the right time and place in the process of building a business. The advice that comes from a mentor can be difficult to interpret, they have a lot of experience and you may be new to the business. Make sure that when you meet with a mentor you have a clear purpose, a short synopsis of your business and a specific set of questions for them. Without doing this ahead of time you are not giving the mentor enough information to give valuable feedback.
THAT IS A GOOD IDEA!
When I was building my business years ago, I spent too much time listening and acting on the suggestions that came from my customers, distributors and "helpful" people in my networking groups. As entrepreneurs we can be truly appreciative of their input, but at some point say: "Thank you that is a good idea," while writing it down to assess its potential later. Too often the good idea they gave you might cause you to expand your business too quickly, offer line extension that don't fit with your target customers or some other mistake that that will hurt your chances for success.
CLARITY IS KEY
As an experienced entrepreneur I always advise others to be very clear in their vision and mission statements. That way when someone comes to you with great ideas, you can ask a simple question: "Does doing that help me achieve my vision?" When you are very clear in your purpose and strategy for achieving the vision, it makes sorting through the ideas easier, because you can easily discard the ones that do not fit.
CUSTOMER IS KING
The people you should always listen to are your customers. While it will be hard to hear the criticisms they will heap at you, they ultimately are the best source for making your business better. When they come to you with ideas for new products, never be dismissive of their ideas; always thank them for their feedback and when you can give credit to them for how they have improved the business. A clear vision and mission statement will tell you if it is a change you should implement.
Learning to sort through the noise of "advice" and find the information that is constructive in removing barriers to your success is something that takes time and practice. Fortunately there are resources in Whatcom County that can help you build out your strategy for success and tune into the advice that has potential for success, while turning down the rest of that noise.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lara Merriam-Smith is the program manager for NW Innovation Resource Center, a Bellingham-based organization that supports economic opportunities through entrepreneurial innovation in northwest Washington. It helps inventors looking to take products to market and connects new start-up businesses with resources to help them grow. For more information online go to nwirc.com.