7 people to listen to for small business advice

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When you own a small business, everyone wants to give you advice.

“You know what you have to do,” your annoying brother-in-law Sheldon tells you at the family barbecue, “you have to sell everything below your cost; customers will flock to you.

Alright, and soon you’ll be bankrupt.

Unsolicited advice comes from all kinds of sources: friends, family members, neighbors, social media connections, people you meet while walking your dog. Most of them are worth what you pay: nothing.

But many entrepreneurs have a bad habit of not listening to advice, stubbornly sure of their own ideas and stuck in their ways. It’s not a recipe for survival or long-term success. Many people have great ideas and experience that can help you grow your business.

Long-time business people in your industry can offer sound advice.

How do you know who to listen to? Here’s a handy guide:

1. Industry experienced hands. Newbie entrepreneurs often believe they know better than those old cretins who have been in the business for a long time. It’s time for disruption, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. The realities of an industry do not disappear overnight. You can learn a lot from those who have been in an industry, even if you don’t follow their advice exactly.

2. Customers. You better listen to your customers because they are the ones who will determine if you stay in business. It’s tempting to dismiss customer advice because it often takes the form of complaints. Instead, look for ways to gather as much feedback and suggestions from customers in positive situations. Ask for feedback.

Solicit your customers' suggestions in a positive moment.  Don't rely on complaints alone to show you the way.

3. Employees. Your employees can be a wealth of information and advice for your business. Seek it out, listen to it carefully, and use it when you can. Obviously, not all suggestions can be implemented and some suggestions are self-serving rather than intended to help you grow your business. But employees often know the ins and outs of certain aspects of a business better than the owner.

4. Investors. Your investors are, in essence, your partners, so you will need to heed their advice. They may not always understand the ins and outs of your small business, and they may be more worried about their investment than achieving your goals. So it’s your job to help investors know enough about your business so that when they come up with suggestions, they can be informed and well-motivated.

5. Professional Advisors. Lawyers, accountants, human resources personnel, marketing consultants, other consultants. You pay them because you need their help, but you also need their good advice, even (or especially) when they disagree with you. A smart lawyer and a competent CPA are two of the most important advisors any small business can have.

If you have an advisory board, respect what the members have to say.

6. Board and Advisory Committee Members. Most small businesses don’t have an advisory board, but if you’re smart enough to form one, use it. You asked for help, so respect it. Of course, board members (of companies) have legal authority, so board members need to be listened to.

7. Spouse. The support of your spouse is often essential for major business decisions, especially financial ones. If you take out a home equity loan to help finance your business, for example, you must have your spouse’s approval. In this case, they have the right to have their suggestions listened to with respect. Remember, however, that people close to you have their own motivations that color their advice. When your spouse suggests that you’d be much more productive if you weren’t working in the living room, he or she may just want your stuff out of the way.

They are people to listen to, so what advice can you ignore?

Social media trolls. TV business gurus. Brand new MBAs who have never worked in a real company. Your brother-in-law Sheldon.

You can reduce unsolicited advice by not talking about your business on social media. When you complain about problems with a distributor or your employees, you invite Sheldon to give his unwanted advice. When he does, just change the conversation – switch to sports or the weather.

Among Rhonda Abrams‘ recent books is the 6th edition of Successful business plan: secrets and strategies. Sign up for his free newsletter at PlanningShop.com. Twitter: @Rhonda Abrams.

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