When I first started my company it was stressful. I knew what I needed to do, and was working through it. It was a new business, in a new geography, so I had to develop a customer base, get credit from suppliers, get purchase orders, install gear, and support customers. All with a one year old and pregnant wife. There was a lot of shit I need to do.
But almost all the time, when I was talking with people, they’d utter a phrase that really started to piss me off. I’d be talking with someone, and they’d say, “You know what you should do…”
Right at that point I’d want to throat punch them.
It may seem odd that such a simple phrase, which the person saying it probably meant in a positive and helpful manner, should provoke such a violent reaction. But that just illustrates the disconnect between business owners and the rest of society.
If the extent of your business experience is working for somebody and getting a paycheck, then you have no clue, and I probably seem mentally unbalanced to you. But believe me, I take that phrase as a direct personal insult.
Before I started my business I gained a lot of experience, studied and thought about things, did financial modeling, then risked my family’s life savings to start my company. After I started I kept learning and refining and making things better. Every waking hour was spent thinking about how to make my business the best it could be.
We were on a defined growth path. I was building a Cisco VAR. I knew exactly what I needed to do and I didn’t need some jerk telling me what they thought I should be doing. Just about everyone who told me what I should do was talking out their ass because they had never been where I was, starting a business, trying to get purchase orders in, watching my cash burn rate, or anything else that was actually important to making money and growing revenue.
There were people that I would take advice from. In fact, I wanted them to tell me what to do. I listened to customers. I listened to employees. Professionals like lawyers and accountants whom I paid advice for got my full attention. Experienced people who had been through it, I loved listening to them. There were a few people that offered to help, and some of them even did. I listened to them.
But most people thought they were being helpful by telling me what to do. I’ve checked with other business owners and asked them if they had the same experience. They knew exactly what I was talking about.
I was talking to the barber to cut my son’s hair. She has a bunch of empty chairs in her shop. I asked her why, and she said she’s tired of having loser employees to deal with and can stay in business just fine working by herself. So she works in her barbershop all alone with seven empty chairs. She’s happy.
I asked her if anybody ever tells her what she should do. She laughed, “All the time!” She said she used to try to be nice when people told her what to do but said it’s hard to keep the sarcasm out of her voice when she attempts to good-naturedly reply to them as they spout off their nonsense about how she should run her business.
A business owner friend of mine is going through an expansion. I told him if he ever wants to talk business, I have some experience and I’d be happy to talk. I offered to prepay for the services he provides me to help fund his expansion. I went over to his new place to help clean it up before he moves. I know what it’s like. I don’t tell him what he should do.
If you’re talking to a small business owner, or someone who’s starting a new company, keep this in mind. They don’t want to hear your bullshit advice on what to do. They want help. They want paying customers. If you have some kind of professional expertise and you willing to offer it to them at a reduced cost while they’re getting started, that’d be great. If you can make an introduction to a good prospect or potential employee, bring it on. If you can pitch in to set up their office or IT, then do it.
But unless you have skin in the game in their business, don’t tell them what they should do. They already know.
Author: Rolf Versluis
Published at Priority Queue