Simon Slade identifies four pieces of common advice that all business owners should be wary of.
One thing business owners have no shortage of is advice. Everyone has an opinion, and not all of those opinions are worth listing to.
There is no definitive rulebook for running a business. Business owners are required to use their judgement when accepting advice from anyone, but take great caution with these four pieces of advice.
1. “Stick to your guns.”
This is a common refrain among entrepreneurs and business owners who have come up against differing ideas or challenges to the way they operate. Unfortunately, it’s rarely the best course of action.
It is far more important to be flexible than to hold to a single, isolated vision. It can be easy to become narrow-minded about your company’s purpose and how to achieve success, but allowing your company to evolve and change will ensure progress.
While there are certainly some times when a business owner should to hold to his or her vision and values, that needs to be a calculated decision. It shouldn’t be a simple, one-size-fits-all answer: “No matter what, stick to your guns.” Instead, business owners should be prepared to consider new ideas, alter direction and change products for continued success. Adaptability is what keeps businesses—and their owners—from becoming dinosaurs.
2. “Don’t take risks with hiring.”
I was once told that, while risk is an important and valuable part of running a business, I should never take risks on new employees. Instead, I should make safe hires that I knew would do their jobs well and stick around.
I railed against this advice. I’ve brought on what some might call “risky hires”—folks with little experience, alternative schedule needs or even controversial ideas. There have been times where I’ve wondered if a new hire would fit in well with the team or if the new person would cause tension.
The results of this risk-taking in the hiring process has ultimately been a productive exercise for the company. We have learned more about what makes us jive as a team: what works and what doesn’t (or, who works and who doesn’t). We have also embraced some unconventional employees who have provided us with new ideas and new workplace norms. Some of the less experienced staff have grown to be excellent at their jobs.
Furthermore, your hiring process should be such that you can’t take a risk without major fall out. Always allow for a trial period in which you can see if a new hire is fitting well with the team. If it doesn’t work, you can let them go without any hard feelings and return to your applicant pool. Hiring is an involved process, but it’s a bad idea to avoid risk when building a team. Take a chance—an unexpected new team member might just recharge your company.
3. “You have to look like a professional to be one.”
This piece of advice was given to me by someone who had a very traditional idea of professionalism: essentially, a suit and tie in the office every day. This is no longer what it means to be professional. Business owners are no longer expected to appear a certain way or put on airs. One of the most dramatic changes we are seeing in the work place is the increase of casual dress and casual attitude. While many might think this a negative trend, I’ve found this comfortable environment leads to a more fruitful and productive workplace.
Far more important than a suit and tie is your attitude: professionals are easy-going people who put both staff and customers at ease. When you are trying to appear professional, people will only see you trying. This isn’t a good look. Instead, make yourself comfortable, and people are far more likely to listen to your ideas and trust you.
4. “Listen to the experts.”
At some point, no one knows better than you about your business. There is a wealth of advice out there, but it’s becoming easier and easier to be labeled an “expert.” I’d advise business owners to be wary of rinse-and-reuse expert commentary, as it might not apply to your industry or specific business model.
What many people mean when they give this advice is that anyone, in any field, should remember that there are other people who know more. Both within your industry and outside of it, there are others who can offer a perspective and knowledge that you do not have. Listen to people when they speak and consider their viewpoint—whether they are experts or not.
One should always be discerning about advice, no matter who it comes from. Many well-meaning people will approach you with their ideas and everything should be critically analyzed—even the article you’re reading right now.
I’ve experienced success by being flexible, taking risks with hiring, encouraging a casual work environment and being wary of experts. Your experience might be different. Just remember that there is no exact formula for a successful business and no business is exactly like your own.
Simon Slade is CEO and co-founder of SaleHoo, an online wholesale directory of more than 8,000 prescreened suppliers.