Getting your business out of a rut is an incredibly rewarding and enlightening experience. For many entrepreneurs, this experience is so enlightening that they feel the need to tell their peers about the solution it took them so long to find.
But, despite their good intentions, these entrepreneurs tend to forget two things: One is that their solutions might not apply to every kind of business. The second is that in order for people to understand your advice, you must be extremely detailed in your explanations.
Both mistakes could cause readers to take actions that don’t work for their audiences and dismiss key tips because they sound too generic. They ultimately make the act of running a small business seem unrealistically easy. If entrepreneurs heeded these common mistakes, they would add legitimacy to their claims and do a much better job of getting their points across.
Here are three popular pieces of entrepreneurial advice that can actually be misleading:
1. ‘Focus only on strengths, not weaknesses.’
Lots of entrepreneurs encourage their peers to focus almost entirely on improving their strengths, as opposed to fixing their weaknesses. I see where they are coming from: They want their readers to embrace what makes their businesses unique, rather than conforming to the standards of their larger competitors. Trying to fix your weaknesses, these entrepreneurs often warn, risks destroying your strengths.
Going overboard with this advice, however, presents a number of risks as well. For example, a smaller business might not have to dramatically expand its team to be successful. But that doesn’t mean the business shouldn’t bother creating and filling important positions that are particularly crucial to growth. If your website is outdated, should you just forget about it?
My company provides funding and strategic guidance to growing businesses. We frequently tell our clients that it’s only sensible to focus mostly on your strengths when it’s abundantly clear that your weaknesses aren’t your biggest obstacles to success.
2. ‘Market yourself by telling your story.’
I hear this all the time. A common struggle of new businesses is standing out and connecting with their audiences. Many successful businesses have accomplished this by telling their personal stories. Their websites and marketing content emphasize their motivation for starting their businesses or the roots of their unorthodox business models.
But this only works if you have a truly interesting story to tell and your audience consists of the kind of people who care about personal backgrounds to begin with. Some audiences care more about price, convenience, image, etc.
I’ve found that if telling your story proves to be an effective marketing strategy, it’s usually because your audience favors other businesses that take this approach. There are plenty of other ways to market yourself, and audience data will likely determine your decision.
Before putting money and effort into telling your story, research your audience’s spending habits, along with the status of your industry. In my industry, which is business financing, my top competitors certainly didn’t get where they are today by simply telling their story.
3. ‘Set high goals.’
One of the most regurgitated pieces of advice from entrepreneurs is to set high goals and think big. Seems pretty easy, right? But then you actually start a business and discover that having a “big” vision isn’t enough. Your vision must also be clear and highly detailed.
The most successful entrepreneurs knew exactly what their products and marketing content would look like. They each had a similarly lucid vision of their business’s futures and were fairly sure of what they’d have to do to reach each stage.
I believe that if more aspiring entrepreneurs understood the importance of a clear vision (as opposed to just a “big” vision), they would be able to recognize that maybe they aren’t truly prepared to start or grow their businesses just yet.
Entrepreneurs who don’t have clear visions often end up hitting roadblocks when beginning major projects. They’ll say they want to design a new website or landing page, but they only have a vague idea of what the finished product should look like.
I relay these experiences to my company’s clients before they outsource the services associated with these projects. Unless you’re prepared to answer every question your new hire will have about details and the overarching theme, you might not be ready to get started.
If it’s important, don’t be general.
Advice from other entrepreneurs can be very helpful, but only if those entrepreneurs explain the full scope of the situation. The reader needs to know why the idea worked so well and be wary of the additional factors required for a similar outcome. Running a small business is complicated, so there’s no point in making the winning formulas sound too broad or generic.