When you own a business, suddenly everyone that you know becomes a business expert. And often, with the good advice also comes the not-so-good (or even the downright bad) advice. So, we have asked the CarolRoth.com contributor network of business owners, experts, advisors and entrepreneurs to weigh in with the worst piece of business advice that they have ever received. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
You may notice some similar ideas, but I kept them separate, as something in the way one is framed may resonate differently with you.
1. Wait for Opportunity?
In 2007, while trying hard to be hired out of my admin role and into a management position, I was quietly brought into another department manager's office and told that if I just stayed patient and waited, that opportunity would come to me. I asked if she had me in mind for a position, and she said no, she was just speaking generally and that I should stop looking for better work and wait for it to fall in my lap. Worst advice ever! I started my own business instead and never looked back.
2. Stay in That Box!
The worst advice was from my first literary agent who told me I should only write romance novels (despite my passion for mysteries, young adult, humor, business books, movies, plays, etc.). Such advice was self-serving on her part; romance novels were actually the only genre she knew how to sell. Thirty-one books, 156 plays, and 5 optioned feature films later, I'm glad I didn't listen to her...and wrote exactly what I wanted to.
3. No Biz With Spouse
People told me never to work with my spouse or close relative. They were wrong. My husband and I play off each other's strengths. He is a visionary; I'm the doer. He has the entrepreneurial spirit; I take direction and make things happen. If you are given the opportunity to work with a close relative/spouse, don't run in the opposite direction. Instead, identify yours and their strengths and weaknesses, and then play off of each other for the best for your company and clients.
4. Not Wasting Company Time
As the new Marketing Director, I'd decided to enter my firm in a U.S. National Developer Award. My boss said I was wasting my and his company's time.
Although upset, I regrouped and asked him the next day if I could 'practice' my new pitch. We won the award - ahead of 55 major software developers!
At the award ceremony, editors from all top magazines asked me if I had more stories for their magazines. The company went from no article coverage to cover and feature length stories.
5. Don't Be a Negative Nora/Nick
The worst piece of advice I received is that as a content and copy writer, you need to focus on writing fear-based copy in order to sell products and services. While it’s true that fear sells, the opposite is true as well. If you come from a place of genuinely wanting to help people and you’re a master content and copy writer who understands the target audience, your writing doesn’t have to scare the beejesus out of people. The world is filled with enough negativity. Don’t add to it.
6. Trust Your Gut
Worst piece of advice was to never turn down a business opportunity. Granted, it's always great to meet new people and evaluate opportunities; however, not every business proposition is the best for everyone.
Saying no is the strongest word in the book. Saying yes to everything is the worst thing you can do for business.
Parting ways with clients because they're disrespectful is one of the most empowering things in business.
7. You Can't Say That!
When I was first starting my company, Haralee.Com sleepwear, maker of moisture wicking sleepwear for women who are suffering night sweats from menopause, I was told words that I could never use in the description of my company. These words were: sweat, menopause, hot flash, night sweat, disease, cancer, medication, moist, moisture, and breast cancer. When I asked how I was supposed to get my message across, I was told by 'lingerie experts' to be vague! Glad I didn't follow their advice.
8. Just Stay Where You Are!
The worst business advice I have ever received was from a colleague who knew I had a desire to start my own business. She told me that I was crazy to even think about going out on my own. Her words were "Why would you want to do that? You have a great job and besides, you get to work with me!" The thing that made this the worst piece of advice was that unbeknownst to me, she was planning her launch from corporate America all the while discouraging me! Just stay where you are, but I'm leaving!
9. You Need an MBA to Succeed
There are thousands of successful business owners out there without graduate degrees. No degree? No problem. Don't let someone else's fears hold you back. Go out and do what you love; let your passion drive you. You can always hire a more experienced professional to help you later. After owning 7 successful businesses and coaching hundreds of business owners, I'm glad I didn't believe the worst advice I've ever received, “You can’t be a success as a Business Consultant without an MBA.”
10. HUH? You're Killing ME!
Operation Just One's mission is to empower people to support food banks or soup kitchens at a level that is reasonable, workable, and realistic. Donate JUST ONE CAN.
I was on an Internet driven talk show. An individual called in and asked what should happen if a food drive happens and too much food is donated. Two callers later, another individual called in and asked what happens if 3,000 people bring non perishable canned food and it is all cans of chili. I was called idealistically misguided.
11. Sell on Amazon...NOT
The worst piece of business advice I have ever received was to sell my used books, CDs, and movies on Amazon.com using Amazon's fulfillment system. After spending over 40 hours listing my items and a couple hundred dollars shipping my items to Amazon, Amazon closed my account because two people complained about a CD they bought from me having a cracked jewel case. Now, I cannot sell on Amazon and Amazon has all of my used books, CDs, and movies. My lesson learned was to never sell on Amazon!
12. Quote Him Double!
I had a meeting with a potential client and it would have been a very big account. When I mentioned this to someone who had once worked for him, the advice was to quote him a very high price because he will try to grind you down to about half of that price. So, I made the presentation and quoted a very high price and I did not get the business. Would I have gotten the business at a lower price? I'll never know.
13. The Goof
Listening to certain staff when they inform you that one of the staff has stolen merchandise. Always do your own investigation.
14. No Limits to Knowledge
I was always taught that that working with one's brain was superior to working with one's hands. To that end, I was encouraged to pursue intellectual aspirations and discouraged from mechanical work goals. Now older, and having attained a legal education, I realize that this approach to learning is myopic. True learning should have no limits and knowledge is best approached when one is open to all ideas.
15. No Time is Ever Exactly Right
Way back in 1988 when I was thinking of starting my consulting business, I got this advice, "Make sure you have at least one year's worth of living expenses in the bank before you leave your job."
I was living in New York City in those days. My living expenses were high. If I waited until I had one year's worth of living expenses saved, I doubt that I would ever have started my business.
Not having a safety net pushed me to do whatever I needed to succeed.
16. Operating Against My Instinct
When I began my jewelry business, I wanted to create very personalized pieces of jewelry, amulets customized for each person. I was in my 20s and not yet confident about my decision-making, so when a supplier with years of jewelry business experience told me to forget that idea, I trusted her over myself and made a production line.
After becoming burnt out on the production line and wholesale, I now find myself carving out a niche in making custom talismatic pieces.
17. Sign Up to This Program
Yes, the worst advice I have heard has come from hundreds, perhaps thousands of voices online. "Sign up for this program and you will make money." The fact is that "this program" is somebody else's business. It is designed to make them money, not you. You might make a little money with it. You might even make a lot if all the stars are aligned. But then why not just buy a lottery ticket?
18. "Invest in This MLM" - Oy Vey!
I admit it: I got sucked in by a top MLM goddess, you know, the kind who could sell white to rice. She was so convincing at telling me: "Invest in this MLM. It's not like all the others..." Fortunately, I only lost $500 before I bailed out and the whole thing got shut down.
19. DON'T Fake It 'Til You Make It
A few weeks after I had been hired, an acquisition occurred and much of management fled. That left me brand new in a position with too few people to complete too many tasks. A person high up at the firm said "Just hit as many companies as possible and fake it until you make it." AH! No! No! No!
That was not and is not my style. I think you should do whatever it takes to make sure your employees, especially new hires, are trained well. I was resourceful and did the best I could!
20. Email Is Dead
I've received a lot of advice in the past. Some good, some bad.
One of the worst by far is the idea that nobody uses email anymore.
Email is still the best way to reach your customers and followers. And the data proves it. Studies have shown that an ROI of as much as 4300% is possible with email.
And I doubt that will change anytime soon.
21. Keep It Running...
It's 2007 and my advertising agency has a credit problem with a large auto auction house client (the largest in the country at the time).
My ex-partner and I are at odds since I want to stop airing their commercials again (75% of their leads came from us). They owe us $255,000. They want to increase the ad spend. They talk to him only. I say, "No", he says "Yes."
He says, "Trust me, I looked Greg into his eyes and I trust him to pay up." Four months later they file BK for $425,000!
22. You Should "Pack Up"
"Hi Ernie. Sit down. How's your business? Mmm: How's your cash flow? Mmm: How's your business plan? Mmm:"Take my advice as a business mentor Ernie. Give Up. Find something else to do."
Six years later, I'm here working with large and small companies with my well-being program. I kept going, I worked at networking, speaking and delivering a quality service to executives and staff.
I see the mentor most weeks and he has been quite quiet, a nod and a "Hi"
I'm comfortable with that.
23. The Check is in the Mail...
I followed my bank manager's advice and took out a credit card; this 2900 debt became 29000 within 6 months due to interest and people not paying me on time.
7 day credit, then 14, 30, 60... I fell for every excuse.
Cash flow IS KING...... if you cant afford it, please don't buy it.
Chase debts and remove them from the client list.
My clients now get 2 bills my day rate.... half upfront and the other on day of completion. Can't pay, don't call.
Worked for me for 15 years now.
24. I Wish I Ignored This Tip
"It takes money to make money."
Through strategic relations and barter, I achieved great success without much cash investment. Money can be helpful but in creating a business today, one can outsource to low cost vendors and build a brand though well focused social networking.
25. Bid Low and Get the Job!
These words send shivers down my spine. People forget to tell you that it is not always about price. You bid low, think that you will get the job and someone bids higher and still gets it. WHY? Could be better solution, could be trusted partnership, could be a number of factors. Don't ever think that if you are lowest, the job will be yours. ADD VALUE! Here is the other side of that coin. If you are lowest, you get the job & something goes wrong, are you able to take care of the client? #PROFIT!
26. Bad Advice Gets Mafia Remedy
If you work hard enough, "opportunity will knock."
Opportunity does NOT knock. You’ve got to track Opportunity down like your name is ‘Moose’ or ‘Rocco,' then shake it upside-down by its legs until it gives you exactly what you want.
No two businesses are the same, so why wait for the bigwig marketers to decide what the trends will be? Set & battle-test your OWN.
27. Worst Advice & Best Advice Too
Worst advice...bring your industry back to America where it all began - it was also the best advice I ever got! When people suggested bringing the whole rubber duck industry back to America, it seemed like a good idea. However, it almost killed us. We not only survived, but they are now our most popular items and we're featured in the media weekly. We even have a national TV show filming our story next month and do them for everyone from Harley-Davidson to The Future Farmers of America.
28. Father Doesn't Know Best
Years ago, I got a two-week temp job at a TV show. A few days later, I was asked to stay on permanently. The TV show had to pay the temp agency a fee. My sweet father suggested I offer to pay half the agency fee. “That way they’ll know what a fine person you are.” I offered; they accepted. So, for ten weeks, my pay was reduced. And what my dad saw as upstanding was seen by my employers as someone they could take advantage of. After that, I found other ways to let people know my worth!
29. It's a Dog Eat Dog World - NOT
"Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. It's a dog eat dog world." No, it's not. That's a justification for being stingy and mean. Instead, focus on abundance. There's plenty to go around and we might as well help each other out.
30. Know It All Not Required!
Often, we are told to position ourselves as leaders in our field... but does that mean I need to know it all so I can position myself as the leader in my field?
NO! KNOW IT ALL NOT REQUIRED!
I went around in circles trying to become the know it all in my field, but it's a never ending exercise because learning is continuous... it is unlimited. You can never KNOW IT ALL, so don't try! Believe in what you offer, deliver within the scope of your knowledge & be open to learning more every day!
31. Too Much Enthusiasm
Enthusiasm is necessary, but when it overwhelms wisdom, logic and planning, it can cause problems. We were encouraged to move our business from a manageable size facility to a "GRAND" location with room to really grow. We moved and three years later had to scale back and take some financial lumps. The advice we took was wrong for our business at the time. We should have stayed where we were and enjoyed a slower growth and more profits.
32. Just Do It!
Great advice if you're buying tennis shoes. When discussing business adventures with colleges and friends, I‘ve been given the advice to “Just Do It”. Run from these people and take them off of your Mentor List.
I’m not promoting procrastination, but odds seem better if you think carefully and develop a realistic plan, build your team’s skills, and then ...
JUST DO RIGHT THE FIRST TIME.
33. Smile- They Will Love You
Trusting this statement was like being bait and thrown to the sharks. I believed them until the audience started to eat me alive. This is one of the worst setups that can be given to anyone. It ruins self confidence and can shatter your self image. Do I still use it, yes sir. However, only if you're our competition!
34. No Business Plan Required
The worst advice I’ve received was to make a business plan in order to get funding; I was told it was the ONLY way to secure bank monies. So, I created three business plans for different businesses, including the one I now run, and failed to secure any funds. Bucking traditional wisdom, I chose to ignore the advice, sought out a local credit union, applied for a loan and within one day received a $5000 loan to start my business. No business plan needed.
35. Don't Do it. You Are Not Ready
The worst business advice: Don't do it. You are not ready.
I am a french entrepreneur and with my business partner, we started a new business about ecigs last year. I went to see some people for advice and at this time, we were waiting for the FDA regulation on it. People told me to wait until the FDA makes their announcement- to not jump into the sea now without knowing future on the market. We did not listen to them; the FDA waited 6 months before they made their report and we have been very successful.
Ben Guez of Ophis
36. Ignore Bad Advice; Make Money
Many people told me that cold calling is no longer an effective way to gain business. Good thing I ignored them because 50% of my business this year came from cold calling and next year, I am on track to double my business.
37. "Trust Me"
I had a business partner who was a lawyer. He told me to 'trust him'. How you do think that worked out? Always - ALWAYS - do your due diligence and background checks on people you work with - ESPECIALLY if they are lawyers!
38. "Go With Your Gut."
Experienced entrepreneurs should always trust their instincts. However, young treps usually don’t have the necessary experience and context to have great instincts. That means “going with their gut” is often a mistake. An entrepreneur should have a mindset of doing more and thinking less, but it needs to be honed over time. Young entrepreneurs should learn to act fast, but not without considering their options and seeking real advice from peers and mentors when making important decisions.
39. Forms v. Professional Services
Many people believe that a generic Buy-Sell Agreement will protect both their individual and business interests. Whether a mom-&-pop shop or a Fortune-500 company, it is important for business owners to protect themselves and their companies with a Buy-Sell Agreement that is narrowly tailored to their goals. A canned document is unable to assess the personal dynamics involved when creating a plan to minimize damages of potential issues, e.g. divorce, bankruptcy, disability and death.
40. YES YES YES!
I had a potential advisor last summer 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 of CHEEKD
41. My Worst Business Advice
The worst piece of business advice I have received is "to be myself". In business, you cannot be yourself; you have to be what the market and customers need you to be.
42. Selling Is Job #1
Being a new entrepreneur, I was told that selling was my priority and marketing was a distant second cousin. This was the worst advice because marketing is the first step in the sales process. You can have the best solution, the best price, but if no one knows about you or your solution, you will remain pocket poor. When I realized this advice was bad, I began to invest 1 hour a day studying marketing and that has made a world of difference. PS- I still am studying marketing.
43. Insurance Online? Never Happen
Back in 1999, we started an insurance brokerage in our fraternity house and bought leads via fax. We had this crazy idea that people would go online to look for insurance. So, we took it to our friend's dad, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and he told us that the idea was dumb and no one would ever go online to look for insurance.
44. Profit Measures Succcess?
The one piece of advice that I’m very glad I did not listen to: “Profit is the measure of business success.” This measurement is blind to the entire operational side of business, which is what determines a company’s ability to continue making a profit (at or above the current level) into the future. Measuring both financial and operational metrics gives me a much clearer view of my company from the driver’s seat, and more confidence in making business decisions.
45. A Great Product Sells Itself
Honestly, I never followed it. I knew that there are thousands like me, in the same health & fitness niche, trying to make a name, and understood that in order to stand out, I need to do something outstanding. When you're just beginning, you must not expect people to come to you, say hello and adore you still. Not until you are some celebrity. So, 'til then, go out, shake a hand, and introduce yourself. Market yourself.
In the end, it's the relationships which sells, not the product.
46. Let the Customer Build It
"Put your own opinions aside and build the product based on customer feedback"
This is one of the first pieces of entrepreneurial advice I ever got and it seems to be a pretty commonly held view. I think it's great if the alternative is building a product without customer input. But, I think taking your own judgment out of the picture is also a mistake. Everyone wants something different. And if you try to build it all, what you get is an overly-complex product that doesn't help anybody.
47. Worst Advice I Ever Received
In 2000, a guidance counselor explained to me that IT & business entrepreneurship were unrelated & that I'd be wiser to focus exclusively on business and then hire an "IT pro" to do my work for me. Thus, I took 'Microsoft Word 101' as my technology credit. 7 years later, I regretfully began the long and painful path of overcoming my learning curve. Had I properly cross-trained, I'd have better focused my time & energy growing my business & better known how to evaluate an "IT pro's" credentials.
48. Brides are Like Everyone Else?
Several strategic advisors, marketers, & conversion experts have said brides-to-be behave like every other consumer making a purchase.
Do they provide fake email addresses? Are they being given advice from moms, friends, family & forums about subjects the bride has never dealt with? Are they making some of the most expensive decisions on what to buy with no prior experience? No!
Strategies based on 'normal' car or blender shoppers are just dumb. Knowing your customer is key.
49. Renaissance Man? Think Again!
A lot of my solopreneur clients have spent years trying to follow this terrible advice: "You should be a generalist so you always have something to offer. That way, you'll never miss a sale!" WRONG. I tell my clients that they MUST have a deep and narrow niche. The more specific, the better. Do one thing and do it really well. This is the best way to establish yourself as an expert and earn the trust of potential clients. The world of entrepreneurship is no place for a Renaissance man (or woman).
50. Say What!!
When I started out as a young entrepreneur in my early twenties, I was told that I didn't need a business plan to start a catalog shoe business. The recruitment agent also informed me that no money was needed for the start-up and that the company would give me everything free that I need. If someone tells you that starting a business does not require a business plan or an initial investment (monetary or time) run! A business without a plan is a plan to fail. Nothing is free! Plan to succeed.
51. The Bean Dip is READY!
2 years ago, I decided that I wanted to follow my dream and open up a Hot Dog Stand. Everyone said NO. I was told to save my money. Make sure you have enough cash saved to cover 6 months worth of expenses.
If I had listened to everyone, I would not be celebrating my 2nd year of Howie's Top Dog. We are not the best at what we do. We just want you to think...that was not bad. I will go back.
52. Make Friends, Not Foes
I applied to teach at a newer art franchise in 2010. Having run a studio for over a decade, their questions became directed towards industry processes rather than the job -- they were trying to work me for info.
Their poor advice to me at the end: if I wanted a future in their industry, I needed to become one of their franchisees. Instead of hiring me as an asset and ally, they pitched a sale.
I launched as competition and co-developed over 15 independent studios across the nation.
53. Never Call On a Monday
A Sales Manager "Tom" once told me, "Lilly when it comes to cold calling, do not call on a Monday, Friday or after 2:00 pm. You will never get leads during those times." Luckily for me, I was persistent and stubborn enough not to listen to that advice. When Tom saw my success he said, "Lilly I don't know how you do it. Nobody ever answers my calls. The only two people who answer my calls are you and my wife." Well, now we know why. Tom wasn't calling anyone, but his employee (me) and his wife.
54. Take Shortcuts, Less is More
My old roommate told me this piece of advice and he was my inspiration for starting my business. He told me this in reference to building traffic for a website, and that I should use aggressive SEO. This had terrible consequences for my site, just not at first. I learned to build traffic organically and build customer loyalty overtime so you can have a steady increase in sales. Otherwise, all your efforts can be blown away in one Google update for taking the shortcut.
55. Do Your Due Diligence
I was given advice by a good friend to open a certain type of business, that suited working with and teaching my sons business.
My friend was in this same business, but he himself was not hands on with it. He was very successful in a different aspect of the same type (not same kind) of business
Had I done my due diligence and really investigated what would be involved, on a daily basis of actually running this type of business, I NEVER would have done it!!!
ALWAYS find out for yourself.
56. Don't Quit Your Day Job
For years and years, my grandfather and father and grandmother all hoped that I would become either an accountant or a lawyer. As it turned out, I worked as an executive assistant in a private bank for 20 years. What a huge mistake- all my bosses told me I didn't belong in banking. It took me 20 years to know that I SHOULD have quit my day job... Years ago! Follow your dreams and quit if necessary. You'll finally become the person you want to become!
57. Dress for Debt
When I first started out with my chiropractic clinic, a friend told me to borrow as much money as possible and use it to really make the interior and exterior of my practice pop. While the idea of making a practice look high quality and professional is one I agree with, borrowing tens of thousands of dollars is obviously not a good idea. You can make your practice look amazing through being thrifty, bartering, garage sales, estate sales, etc. There's no reason to go into any type of debt for it.
Were you given a bad piece of business advice that wasn’t included? Please share it below. And as always, many thanks to everyone that contributed to this article!