When it comes to business advice, not all advice is solid gold. While most entrepreneurship advice is well-meaning, that doesn’t mean it is good for business. We asked 15 entrepreneurs to share the worst advice they’ve received along with tips on what to do instead. Here’s a revealing look at what they had to say.
1. That’s just standard contract language
“The worst business advice I ever received was, ‘Don’t worry, it’s just standard language in the contract.’ Be sure to read everything and ask questions. Make sure you know exactly what you’re agreeing to when signing a contract.”
David Delinko, Franchisee of The Salad House of Somerville
2. Stick to the plan
“The worst business advice I was ever told was, ‘Stick to the plan.’ In fact, most of my success in running a business has come from being quick to change a plan when necessary. Plans are necessary, but no matter how strong your plans are, there are variables that can quickly derail a rigid plan. When you develop plans for your business, consider the alternative–think about what can go wrong and how you will respond if the plan doesn’t lead to the expected result. Keep your plans agile and flexible and pay attention to the metrics. Use your plans as a general guide, but let the data decide whether you should stick to the plan or pivot!”
Michael Sims, Founder & CEO of ThinkLions
3. Get started on your business idea right now
“Just because you have a great idea, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to bring in revenue. Even the most passionate and industrious entrepreneur can lose a lot of time and money if they don’t put in the proper due diligence. The better course of action is to validate your idea first. In the cheapest way possible, you need to make sure your product or service is going to sell before you dump money into building an expensive website, buying inventory, etc.”
Jonathan Prichard, Founder & CEO of MattressInsider.com
4. You need a lot of capital to make your startup successful
“The worst business advice I have ever received was from another successful business owner who said it would be impossible to compete and get a startup to do well against big brands; and told us to seek investment for 2 million. We wasted a lot of time and didn’t like any of the term sheets we received. We chose to grow slower and bootstrap the venture ourselves. His advice just felt wrong and I decided to follow my gut.
“As long as you are passionate and willing to work hard, it is possible to make anything happen with time and perseverance. There is no such thing as an overnight success story. Behind each success story there is usually 5-10 years of hard work which no ones ever talks about. We launched our brand, debt free from the start built to service over 100k customers and now we have launched in a second country…”
Sam Malik, Managing Director at Medzino
5. Never hire a friend
“If you rigidly follow this advice, you end up hiring people you only know by their interview face, which is never who they really are. The risk is wasting time and energy on someone who simply doesn’t fit on your team. And, all the while, your team is looking at you and saying, ‘Why in the world did they hire this goofball?’
“I only hire people I know or that have been referred by someone I trust. This way, I know exactly who I am hiring and I can set the tone and culture of the company. Hiring unknowns can lead you to a lack of team harmony and alignment. Currently, my company has about 50 team members and our average tenure is over 15 years. We are all close knit and care about one another and pull together well in times of need.
“Despite what everyone always warned me about, I have never had a relationship ‘go south‘ as the result of hiring a friend to work with me. I have hired relatives, friends of school and college, and friends from church and others I know in my community.”
Todd Miller, President of Isaiah Industries, Inc., Piqua, Ohio
6. Do what you love and the money will follow
“The truth is that not all business ideas are going to pan out–not even all of the great ideas. If your passion translates to a mediocre business idea and you believe it will lead to great success simply because you’re passionate about it and think others will be too, you’re in for a rude awakening.
“You need to have a solid plan and know there is a market need before deciding to start a company based on what you love doing. Your biggest hobbies may not be the best for solving actual problems and generating revenue.”
Simon Chatfield, Founder and CEO of OptimumHQ
7. Don’t befriend industry peers
“Sadly, I followed this advice for the first few years of my insurance career, before I started my own agency. I feel this advice was horrible, as over the years I’ve developed great relationships with my competitors, and we all found ways to work together.
“By developing key relationships in my industry, I’ve probably generated nearly $250,000 more in commissions in the last couple of years. Reconsider the viewpoint of your competition as enemies, and think about how you can coexist with them.”
Matt Schmidt, CEO of Burial Insurance Pro
8. Build your product and then find a market
“This is terrible advice because the best businesses in the world are built around people, not products. And by focusing on the product first, you then have to go out and try to find someone to sell it to. Very rarely does this line up to a perfect market fit; and more often you end up with a product or service that nobody wants.
“The alternative, and much better advice, is to first focus on the group of people you want to serve (i.e. your ideal target market) and then try to understand their pains, problems, and frustrations. Create a product or service that solves it for them.”
Adam Erhart, Online Marketer
9. Lower your prices to get more customers
“When I hear that I should lower my prices to get more customers, I cringe. Competing on quality, not price, is the factor that has led me to grow Dallas Maids into one of the biggest, and successful, cleaning businesses in Dallas, Texas. Having slightly higher prices than the competition allows you to pay (and keep!) the best people what they are worth. Simply, it allows you to provide a superior service. You can’t do that with economy pricing.”
Greg Shepard, Founder and President of Dallas Maids
10. Don’t focus on short-term revenue, build toward long-term opportunity
“Multiple venture investors advised me to not prioritize short-term revenue, and instead build toward the biggest long-term vision and opportunity (particularly in order to maximize our valuation). It sounds really nice in theory, but the reality is successful businesses make money.
“The sooner you can be in-market selling a product, actively developing customer relationships, and reducing your burn rate the stronger, more sustainable, and ultimately investor-appealing (or self-sustaining) company you’ll build. Prioritizing vision and valuation over revenue almost killed us, but luckily we were able to pivot in time and start building a real business, not just an attractive concept.”
Chris Bolman, CEO of Brightest
11. The customer is always right
“No, they’re not. The customer is not always right. In fact, most of the time, they don’t know what’s best for them. Yes, you want to please customers and encourage them to make repeat purchases–but not at the detriment of your company culture, limited resources, core values, proper safety, or the experience of other customers.
“Don’t just blindly kowtow to a complaining customer. Instead, take stock of what you can feasibly do to alleviate their frustration without setting a bad precedent and ensure it upholds your overall brand values.”
Gabriel Shaoolian, Founder and Executive Director of DesignRush
12. Create a really specific, long, and thought-out business plan
“While having a solid business plan when going into business is the smart thing to do, focusing too much effort on perfecting that business plan will not only be a waste of time but can also lead you to procrastinate.
“You really don’t need a ridiculously long and specific business plan unless you are going to meet with investors. Other than that, a simple thought-out plan with your yearly goal broken down into actionable weekly steps will usually suffice. Don’t get too romantic with your plan either. A good business plan will allow you to be flexible because things change a lot and what sounded like a solid plan in January might not be where you need to go in June.”
Tim Absalikov, Co-founder and CEO of Lasting Trend
13. Don’t price yourself out of the market
“I run a small litigation law firm in Washington, D.C., and as soon as I hung my first shingle, I was regularly warned not to price myself out of the market. This resulted in me working much longer hours because I was not charging clients a competitive rate. My hourly rate was laughably low, but it remained that way simply because I was afraid of a potential client telling me my rate was too high.
“Rather than underselling your products or services in an attempt to get a higher conversion rate, price competitively within the market. This will ensure that the price reflects the value of the product or service provided.”
Jessica T. Ornsby, LL.M., Esq., Managing Partner, A+O Law Group
14. Withhold negative feedback
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” We have all been given this advice throughout our lives. Mom’s advice might be good for your personal relationships, but it is terrible counsel for business. Learning how to give honest concise feedback about job performance is critical to develop your team and grow your business.
“Withholding constructive criticism makes your job more difficult because it creates landmines of distrust. Approach the situation knowing that you want to help that person grow and ensure your tone and attitude reflect it. Give a detailed example of the infraction. Never say, ‘I feel,’ ‘You always,’ or ‘You never…’ Personal feelings and vague declarations can never be acted upon successfully in a business environment. So we need to stop using these words and instead give quantifiable and specific instances that need improvement.”
Derrick Mains, CEO at AMP
15. Just say ‘no’
“I had a potential advisor many years ago that kept trying to nail the power of saying ‘no’ into my head–to just about everything. I agreed with the sentiment to a point, but saying ‘yes’ is how I’ve gotten this far in my venture. I could write a book about how many things I’ve said yes to that’s lead me to so many amazing opportunities and if it didn’t lead to an opportunity, it lead to a new friendship.”
Lori Cheek, Founder and CEO of Cheekd