Business advice – good, bad and useless

Lots of random people give me advice. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because:

  1. I really do try very hard to listen to other people openly and,
  2. I go out of my way to meet new people.

Neither of these traits come naturally to me and I have to put a lot of effort into it. I’m not an extrovert by nature. Given a choice between sitting at my computer writing a new macro to automate reporting and going to a meet-up I would pick the former 10 times out of 10. It turns out, though, that to meet people who will hire you, invest in your company or work for you, that you first have to meet people. I tried the alternative of staying in the office, waiting for someone to drive by and throw a bag full of money through the open door and it didn’t work out for me.

Here then, in no particular order, for those of you still sitting in the office, is some of the advice I have received.


  • Everything is a numbers game – sales, investment, even learning about statistics or programming. The more people you meet, the more likely you will meet someone who will hire you, that you want to hire, who knows about a statistical technique or code library with which you are unfamiliar but that can be the solution to the next problem that comes up.
  • Fake it until you make it – by this I do NOT mean lie about your credentials. I mean if you feel uncomfortable pitching to investors, writing research reports, programming in SAS or javascript, whatever it is, just do it. Get a job doing it, volunteer for some project at a non-profit, get up at a pitch camp, make up your own side project to create a database for all of your DVDs. Just do it. You’ll get better.
  • Hire for character first. Everything else is secondary. – A good friend of mine who is a very successful businessman told me that and I still think is the best single piece of advice anyone ever gave me as a small business owner. The value of our company IS our people, probably even more than most businesses given that 90% of the work here would be characterized as “knowledge work”. I can teach people skills. I can’t teach them honesty, persistency, reliability, initiative.
  • You can learn from anyone, especially the people who disagree with you. Listen. This was from my advisor in graduate school. He said people who don’t like you, are jealous of you are the ones most likely to point out your flaws personally and in your work. So what, he said. They’re still flaws. Fix ’em.


You can’t afford not to …  almost anything that begins with this phrase turns out to be bad advice.  We can’t afford not to update our website, invest more in marketing, hire an attorney, increase our business insurance, etc. Actually, we’ve done pretty well keeping overhead as low as possible. I’ve written my own contracts for 27 years. I think I lost $500 once because a client didn’t pay. I wrote them off as people never to work with again and went on. I think we’re more likely to get in trouble by running in the red. Bad decisions are made in desperate circumstances.


Google/ Microsoft/ Facebook did – almost everything that starts with that is useless. First of all, maybe they did and maybe they didn’t. Often I have no evidence other than the fact that the speaker says so. Even if they did, so what? Maybe Google gave free lunches  to all of its employees, but so did eToys and Pets.com and they both went bankrupt. (Actually, I have no idea whether any of them did or not, see how that works?)

I know I’ve been given a lot more bad and useless advice, but it’s the good advice that has stuck with me. If you had any advice of any kind to contribute, please do.

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  1. Good Advice –
    1. “When you buy someone’s opinion, you buy their lifestyle.”

    2. “You can’t influence those you offend.”

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