The Three Worst Pieces of Advice Entrepreneurs Get Told
This kind of stuff will only slow you down
If you google “how to be an entrepreneur,” you will find roughly 275,000,000 web pages, several books, how-to guides, and YouTube videos in the results. This serves to illustrate the fact that there is a lot of advice out there on how to build your best life, doing what you love, dodging all the obstacles and nay-sayers and focusing on living your dream.
Lots of people, whether genuinely because they want to help you get to where they are, or whether they want to sell you on whatever course they have, will try to guide you to their way of doing things.
The problem arises, of course, when you realize that there is no blueprint to success. What worked for one person may not work for another. Even worse, it’s always possible that someone succeeded despite doing this one thing, and they think it’s all because of doing this one thing.
I’ve run into so much bad advice about how to start, run, and maintain your own business, but these three lessons are the worst I’ve encountered.
Find Ways to Share Your Hobby With Friends
One podcast I listened to featured a man who’d successfully built up an empire of some kind. He was undoubtedly successful and he seemed happy. But he had questionable methods.
He was asked what he recommended doing if people were having difficulties finding the time to maintain their friendships while also growing their business. Without missing a beat, he said, “Find ways to bring them in! I know a guy whose friend is also an entrepreneur, and they find time together by brainstorming ideas.”
I can’t believe I have to spell this out, but it’s important to have time with family and friends that’s on neutral terms. If you jam your budding business into everything you do with people, you may find they make excuses not to spend time with you anymore. Plus, it’s good to have time that’s away from work — that’s true for a 9-to-5, and it’s true for your own business, too.
Friends and family are crucial for getting away from your work-related duties and just enjoying yourself, building relationships with them that have nothing to do with financial gain.
Press-ganging a pal (especially if you’re not like this dude, who seems to be surrounded by entrepreneur-only dudes) to help you with your business and dressing it up as spending quality time together is a crappy thing to do to any friend. You’ll burn out faster than ever if you only spend time on your business, and have no friends left to share things with.
If You’ve Invested Already, You Have to Keep Going
There’s a common fallacy I see all the time in my day job: we’ll spend hours and hours of valuable work to persuade a potential client to join us. Instead of realizing it’s a lost cause and moving on to other prospects, our management has a bad habit of telling us to chase it. “You’ve spent so much work on them already — it would be a shame to lose them now.”
In colloquial terms, this is known as “throwing good money after bad,” but there’s a name for it in logical theory too: the sunk cost fallacy.
Psychologically speaking, the more we spend on something, the less willing we are to let it go because our monkey brains are bad at recognizing opportunity cost. But the fact is, the longer we spend chasing a dead-end, the less time, money, and energy we have for things that might actually help.
In other words, you’ve made the investment, you’ve seen the result, and now the only possible positive outcome is to cut your losses and move on. It is so tempting to keep trying, fearful that you need to recoup this loss and the only way to do it is to continue to throw yourself and your resources against it, but it’s not going to help.
Early on in my writing career, I learned that when I spent hours working on a story, I’d always be tempted to keep going. I’d see the word count — 600! 800! — and think it’d be worth it to keep grinding against it and publish it.
But I also learned there was always a better story inside of me that was waiting to come out if I left the old, tired draft alone and focused my energy on my new purpose.
Do Whatever It Takes to Make It Happen
There’s this hustle mentality, the idea that in order to succeed you have to give everything you have to whatever your thing is. That unless you’re staying up till midnight, up at six, working away, you’re a failure.
It’s simply not true.
One of the biggest misconceptions about being an entrepreneur is the lie that you have to be ready to sacrifice everything in order to follow your dreams. Leave your day job, your friends, your family, your hobbies, your sanity all behind because when you finally, inevitably, are successful, it’ll all be worth it.
First of all, success is one of those nebulous, tricky-to-attain concepts. When will you be successful? If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that success has shifting goalposts. It’s much better to think of success as a process rather than a single number, achievement, or conclusion, because chances are when you get there, it’ll no longer be enough for you.
Secondly, this idea leaves out the pretty big factor of luck. It’s possible to make all this happen and not get anywhere simply because the conditions weren’t right, your work didn’t get seen by the right eyes, or you don’t have the right connections. Entrepreneurs both established and hopeful play down the luck factor. The former because they want to believe they did it all on their own, the latter because they want to believe they will achieve it if only they work hard enough.
Unfortunately, while you have to be talented to be successful, you also have to be lucky. There are no guarantees no matter how hard you work.
Finally, there are so many examples out there of folks who made the effort, sure, but within reason. They dedicated long and hard hours of work, but with boundaries meant to keep their normal lives in place. I think as a society, we love the idea of a meteoric rise to fame, but it’s much more sustainable and achievable if we do it slowly.
You can be successful without throwing everything out the window to make it so. What’s more, you’re far more likely to find success if you have a normal life, normal friends, normal hobbies there alongside you to bolster you when you fall and celebrate with you when you succeed. An all-or-nothing approach will cause more harm than good to your burgeoning career as an entrepreneur.
The takeaway? There’s this long-standing notion that in order to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to do whatever it takes to make it happen, whether that’s forcing your friends to work alongside you, continuing to plug away at a lost cause, or devoting yourself entirely in pursuit of this one business.
All of this advice is well-meaning but ultimately counterproductive. We work best when we have a happy, balanced life with multiple components. We need to rest and recover in order to live our happiest lives. And success means something different to everyone: trying to copy the footsteps of those who came before you is no guarantee of their success.