With 2020 over, I’m personally very excited about 2021. Not only am I fortunate enough to be part of a business that is going way better than I would have ever dreamed, I’m also hitting a milestone this year of 15 years in business.
I’ve had a lot of ups and downs over those years, but my story follows a pretty clear 7.5 years of failure and 7.5 years of some pretty decent success. There have been many lessons and over a whole range of mediums I’ve written or recorded probably thousands of them. There’s been over 100 episodes of my own podcasts (in various formats), hundreds of interviews on other podcasts, hundreds of blog posts and guest posts, thousands of social media posts, 10-20 public speeches and appearances, hundreds or maybe thousands of emails and 6 books and audio books.
I’ve always liked documenting my ideas and hopefully over 15 years, some of them have stood the test of time. So I thought to start this year, as a personal project, I’d gather together my top 15 lessons in business and do a post on each one. Here’s #15.
Lesson #15 – Default setting: Don’t take advice from anyone
I have a friend who has a brewery in another state, who recently asked me “How the fuck do you sell beer in Queensland as an interstate fucking brewery” (he swears a lot, I think that’s why he’s my friend).
I didn’t give my friend any advice, because I’ve never owned an interstate brewery trying to sell beer in Queensland. I’ve only ever been a local brewery and I have no clue how he would go about doing it. I take pride in not answering people’s questions and not giving people advice when I’m not qualified to do so. But this personal quality of mine is very rare. Most people will spew out advice when they are grossly unqualified, even when it’s completely unsolicited. And surprise surprise, it’s shite advice.
This is true in business and in life. How often do you see people asking advice from others when the other people have no place offering any expertise on the subject?
Think about it this way, everyone has an opinion about everything, but only some people speak up. So if your strategy is to ask for advice, then all you will end up with is opinions from the loudest people. In my experience the smartest people are the ones not talking.
My default setting after a lot of years of trying to make sense of loads of awful contradictory advice, is to not take on any advice. It’s my job as a business owner to make my own decisions and figure out my own shit. That’s the default setting – figure it out for yourself.
There are obviously exceptions and instances where the default setting doesn’t work. If we want to make legal changes to our company constitution I wouldn’t wing that on my own, I’d talk to a lawyer. But as a general rule, I would always try to find my own solutions to things by either:
- Taking my own calculated risks
- Doing things on a very small scale to test the outcome and then ramping things up
- Guessing and hoping for the best
These are all better ideas than blindly taking advice from friends, family and business experts on business matters.
Most people pay way too much attention to the advice of people who are unqualified to give that advice. Entrepreneurs by definition are forging their own path, so it really doesn’t make sense to try to get someone else to give you the answers – you have to discover them for yourself. You have to get out of the habit of permission seeking and into the habit of making your own decisions and owning them.
When to Break the Rule and Take Advice – Qualifying Question #1
Now obviously at times you will have to take some advice to move ahead with challenges in your business. But let’s narrow down the options first. Before taking on advice I ask myself this:
Is it valuable and within reach here for me to discover a good outcome here for myself?
There are some areas and some instances where it makes no sense for you to become the expert and make your own decisions. We recently acquired another business, we had contracts drawn up by lawyers because for me to get my head around contracts and draw up my own, would make no sense.
But in most cases, I would argue it does make a lot of sense for founders to learn more about the topic and discover their own answers. Here are some examples:
- When it comes to design, I don’t get any outside input (other than from the designer who I’ve hand picked and I trust). Instead I’ve put a lot of time in myself to understanding it and loving it myself and I’ll work with a designer 1-on-1 to come up with a solution I’m happy with. Sometimes I’ll ask people inside the company to weigh in on a design but more often than not I’ll just show them as a courtesy when it’s done. I will absolutely never ask anyone outside the company for advice. I’m confident that between my understanding of design and that of the designer, we can do a much better job than some randoms on Facebook. Most founders post 3 options on Facebook and try to please 50 people who reply with ill-informed opinions. Fuck that.
- With the design and layout of our taprooms, I’ve taken the time to try to understand all of this myself and take it on myself. This is a key part of our brand and I want to directly influence it. Plus I feel with enough research and enough scrolling Instagram, it’s within reach for me to get a pretty good handle of it.
- With our systems I will always sign up for free trials, use them myself, set them up and then hand them off to staff if they work. That stuff is worth discovering for yourself, an external consultant will often be biased and have no idea about your business.
- With newer aspects of what we do for finances like crowdfunding or equity crowdfunding, I’ve dug into that and discovered all of that for myself, because it’s within reach and there are no real experts in it. When it comes to serious finances like end of Financial Year financials and complicated debt arrangements like Convertible Notes or Equipment finance, it’s not really within reach for me to manage the whole thing, so I get experts involved.
There are so many things in business that can be tested specifically and quite easily that we often forget this option. When I launched my WordPress support service back in 2012, I did so in a forum and was bombarded with advice about why it wouldn’t work. It was a monthly subscription and it was unlimited. Almost universally, the feedback was that people would abuse the unlimited nature of it and it wouldn’t work. This was a community I respected a lot and entrepreneurs that were way more experienced than I was.
At the time I thought that it’s possible all of these people were right and I was wrong. In fact that is probably more likely than me being right and all of these guys being wrong. But I also realised that it didn’t really matter, because it was something I could test so easily myself. I didn’t have to rely on opinions and assumptions, I could just put up a page with a PayPal ‘Buy Now’ button, sign up a few customers and then observe how they use the service. Within 2 weeks I could see that the natural flow of the service worked and people didn’t abuse the ‘unlimited’ feature.
This one decision was the single most influential turning point of my career. This was the moment where I went from 7.5 years of failure to 7.5 years of success. I’m scared to think where I would be right now if I took on that advice and didn’t figure that out for myself.
Who to take advice from – Qualifying Question #2
If you get here and decide it’s not really within reach and doesn’t really make sense for you to discover an outcome for yourself, then you will have to take on some advice.
The main problem I see with permission-seeking entrepreneurs looking for advice is who they are taking it from. If you want to know whether or not to release a certain product or product feature, getting some advice from someone may not hurt that much unless you get the advice from someone who doesn’t have a clue what they are doing. And that’s most people’s default, get advice from whoever is closest and easiest.
I’m going to say that again because I see this ALL THE TIME!
Most people’s default is to get advice from whoever is closest and easiest.
Here’s the question:
Has this person done this specific thing well? And have they done it recently?
Part of my reluctance to take on advice from the forum members about my business idea was the fact that I knew that no one giving the advice had tried it. In my mind, that disqualified them from giving advice, particularly since it was something we could easily test.
I used to sit in a co-working space office where mentoring sessions occurred outside my office so close that I could hear the discussions. The advice was bloody awful. The mentors were old and their advice reflected that. The business owners would have been way better off guessing and undertaking trial and error experiments, than listening to this outdated advice. But because these people were ‘mentors’ and in some cases had been somewhat successful decades earlier, they lapped up their advice.
Things change way too quickly for advice to be relevant from decades before. Even in our business I think about what we did 3 years ago and if we did it now, it 100% would not work. It’s a different market and things have changed way too much. And as for what would work now? Who the fuck knows? No one has been here, we are all trying to figure it out. That’s what we do as entrepreneurs, we figure shit out.
Even if you do tick these 2 boxes, you can end up with bad advice. Even if it makes no sense for you to become an expert yourself or it’s out of reach and even if you do get advice from someone who’s done it well recently, it can still go wrong. Most people will conflate their success with skill and ignore all the other factors like luck and timing, which are infinitely more powerful and important. Just because someone in their own situation did something recently, doesn’t mean they can now easily do it in your situation.
I think this is why we have entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs have to be the group of people who forge their own path and take their own risks, that’s kind of the point. You can’t delegate that.
Of course there are things I take advice on if these conditions are met. There is currently a grant available to business owners in my area and there are thousands of pages of legal documentation about it. It’s going to be very hard for me to get my head around it and probably pointless. But we have a consultant who made this grant happen for another business last month, and thinks they can get it for us. This is where you engage an expert.
But most of the permission seeking I see, are not specific things like this. They are broad things like what software should I use? Or which design is best? Or how do we crack this market? The advice you are going to get on these things won’t be good, and the most painful thing is when you follow it and it blows up in your face, there is no accountability for the people who give the advice. The failure is on you, after all you’re the “entrepreneur”.
If the failure is on you, the decision might as well be on you. Take your own advice.
Most people’s default setting when they run into a problem is to seek advice. It’s the wrong move, the default should be to figure it out for yourself, because that’s what entrepreneurs do.