Thoughts on starting and running a small business

Advice

I’ve been thinking about advice – both giving and asking for it.

When it comes to sharing advice, the rule is simple…and impossibly difficult to follow.

“Don’t”

If you haven’t specifically asked for my advice, you don’t want it – and honestly I don’t want yours.

We give advice at every turn. It just makes so much sense to me that my son should eat better, that Andrew should not u-turn on Yonge Street and that Marilyn should wear boots when she comes to Canada in February. But none of these people want to hear any of that and I don’t need Marilyn’s advice to make fresh cat food for Betsy.

The biggest drawback to advice-giving is that it makes us stop listening. Once the nugget the other person needs to hear has taken hold in our brain, we’re just waiting for a chance to share our epiphany with them. Problem!

When it comes to asking for advice, I’ve been asked for more of it as a business owner than ever before in my life.

Mostly these requests come from people who request a meeting to talk about their business idea. I’m always happy to do this if time permits and in so doing, I’ve realized there are 3 types of help people are usually seeking:

  • motivation and affirmation
  • my opinion on aspects of their plan
  • specific questions based my knowledge and expertise

I wish I had the ability to help on type #1 and #2 but I’m not sure anyone can motivate a would-be entrepreneur or provide an opinion that is worth too much. Motivation- especially for a business venture- needs to be from within, a desire to bring to life a vision that only you can see. That sounds woo-woo but as Andrew likes to say, a new business is created “from air” so at some point it is just an idea that is a very long way from seeing the light of day.

And my opinion on the potential success of another person’s venture, the ideal colours for  their shoe line, the best logo design or whether they should sell only online or in a store…really, without an in-depth review of the research, forecasting and the  person’s vision (again), my opinion or anyone else’s is not nearly as important as their opinion.

Type #3 however is a great thing to ask for: specific questions about things I may know about that will  help them get traction. Where do I get commercial ovens? How do I find out all the licensing requirements? Where can I start to research packaging? How do I get a butter permit? Do you have only one supplier? Questions like these I can answer easily and I think my answers will be helpful to someone wanting to start a commercial food business.

When I was working on the PGB logo in 2010, the  first batch Christina sent me included 40 different ideas in two separate colour schemes. I sent the entire array out to a group of people asking for their opinion…and of course everyone came back with a different opinion, none of which were really what I wanted to do. I asked myself why I had asked for so many opinions when really the  logo had to come from me. After that I realized that although it’s essential to have a small trusted group to bounce ideas off, there’s no way to sidestep the tough task of setting your own course.

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  1. Kelly Crewson
    Kelly Crewson03-22-2017

    Jean, you are bang on! I receive unsolicited advice almost daily on what I should or shouldn’t be doing. Once the culprit(s) start I usually tune out or get PO’d and in the end they sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher! You have obviously put a lot of thought into this blog, thanks!

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