The 10 worst business advice entrepreneurs receive

May 12, 2021

Worst advice that entrepreneurs received

Whether it’s well-intended or not, bad business advice can cost you a lot of money and even lead to complete failure. Today, in the era of self-proclaimed business experts, mentors, coaches, and so forth, every piece of advice should be taken with a dose of precaution. 

Often, the worst business advice comes from people with zero business experience, or people who brush off digital transformation and new retail trends as unimportant.

The worst business advice to listen to if you want to fail

When you enter the entrepreneurial waters, you’ll get plenty of unsolicited advice. Sadly, most of the time it’s going to be bad business advice. But how do you tell good from the bad?

Ten successful entrepreneurs share the worst business advice they’ve ever received and explain why you should never fall for it.

Just keep trying

The worst business advice I ever received was ‘just keep trying’. Yes, you have to be persistent, but not everything you try is going to work, even if you keep working at it. You need to recognize when something isn’t working and have the bravery to step back, pivot, and throw your everything into that.

Roman Grigoriev, CEO and Founder of Splento

Get a proper job

There is lots of bad business advice and it has come from people with zero skin in the game. Here are three examples:

  • The customer is always right – No they are not. There are occasions where unreasonable requests need to be met with a firm “no”.
  • Pay for success only – A healthy business insists on being paid for the value immediately provided. A reckless business is one that willingly agrees to be the banker for often larger businesses with huge balance sheets (paid on success only). Lawyers, accountants, and a great many other professionals require money upfront as a sign of joint commitment, why shouldn’t you?
  • Get a proper job –  A refrain from corporate friends, who are addicted to a paycheque and believe that their job security is superior to my freedom.

James Berkeley, Managing Director at Ellice Consulting

Stick to your business plan

I was once told, “Never deviate from your business plan”. My idea for Say It With Champers when starting out was to provide Champagne gifts for all the usual gift occasions throughout the year to the general public. After a few months, a corporate client asked me for a bespoke label design for their business. This made me realize it is a potentially big market and now roughly 80% of my turnover comes from corporate clients!

I also provide personalized mini-Prosecco on top of the Champagne that I originally started selling, so if I had stuck to my original business plan from just 12 months ago my turnover would be approximately 10% of what it is now! For me, you need to be flexible and adapt to what the market wants as long as it doesn’t compromise your core business. Corporate Champagne and mini-Prosecco complement mine perfectly.

Didier Penine, Founder and Director of Say It With Champers  

You are too young to start a business

I think the worst business advice I got when I wanted to start Kaizen was that for years, several people around me were convinced that I was setting up for failure. I wanted to launch my business at 21, but people twice my age and older bosses all tried to tell me I was too young, too inexperienced, and arrogant.

Retrospectively, I think whilst what a lot of people thought would be ‘helpful’, actually stifled me from what I wanted to do. This notion of not being ready, or not ruffling feathers meant that I delayed starting my business by four years. Despite this happening, I am incredibly proud of my journey and now lead a successful business.

My advice to any young entrepreneur is ‘don’t let people cloud your judgment or project their doubts onto you – take the leap and let your work do the talking.

Pete Reis-Campbell, CEO and Founder of Kaizen 

Settle for second best

“Just take on the new person you’re thinking of for your team. You can collect references or give them a trial later on. Just set them to work right now.” This advice can, and does, have massive consequences if the person has talked a ‘good game’ and turns out to have a different set of skills from the ones you thought and ‘hoped’ you were engaging.

The wrong person, in the wrong role, at the wrong time can have a massive ripple effect within a business. That ripple can have far-reaching consequences across your business for months and sometimes years to come. The problems you’ll face include cleaning up their mess after they have left or you have got rid of them; spending extra time (sometimes a lot of time) in managing them or micro-managing; trying to make them ‘fit’ the role or hoping they’ll change; sometimes disruption of company culture; lowering of standards etc.    

What you want to do is to take on outsourcing or hiring the very best talent matching their skills and attitude to the role or project you want them to work on. One person doing one thing. 

In the words of Dan Hill “Hire slow and fire fast”.

Sheila Holt, Founder of Sapphire Lending 

Listening to old-fashioned advice

For the last 9 years, I have run a unique and independent fashion brand. Right from the start, I went for advice to the recommended on the highest bodies, such as UKTI (now DIT), UKFT, BTAA, and others. Most of the advice I got there was old-fashioned and wrong. I lost tens of thousands of pounds following them.

Everybody who works for such organizations is not business savvy themselves and not up-to-date at all. All their advice is based on somebody’s 15-20 years old experiences and today, in the digital age, when everything changes almost monthly, all their knowledge is less valuable. 

  • Trade exhibitions? Waste of money.
  • Agents? No way!
  • Distributors? Only in Japan and Golf Region.
  • PR and press? Only digital and you can have it almost for free.
  • Influencers? Only if you REALLY know what you are doing.
  • PPC? If you are not a reseller of cheap goods from China, there are much better places to put your money at.

Irina Bragin, Managing Director at Made of Carpet 

Just keep going and it will happen

The worst business advice I’ve ever been given or seen given is “Just keep going or keep grinding and it will happen”. 

Truth is, many fledgling entrepreneurs aren’t skilled at realizing when they may need to get a part-time job to fund their new venture or they vastly under-forecast the cost of marketing and sales. This advice lures people into thinking ‘the harder I work, the quicker/better it will come’, when in fact they need to slow down, step back, and properly assess why they aren’t progressing.

Never just keep grinding. Always plan, measure, and assess.

Paul Sullivan Founder and CEO of BIAS 

Customers with outstanding invoices are a business asset

The worst business advice I’ve ever received is that customers with outstanding invoices are a business asset. Money isn’t money if it’s not in the bank, and all SME owners know how important it is to have funds in the bank. I never consider customers who aren’t paying their bills an asset, because if they go bust, we have nothing.

Michael Fontana, Director at Optionbox 

You don’t belong there

The worst business advice I received was given to me by a business adviser in 2008:

“Don’t go into the video game wholesale industry, you’re young, black, and have an attitude problem. Go into coding and development where the crowd is younger, diverse, and not all white 50-year-old men who won’t trust you and won’t let you into their inner circle.”

Fast forward 12 years, I still run PhenomGames today, which now operates only in Europe. It survived the recession, and even me losing the ability to walk. I’ve started well-being for a performance coaching company to help others on their journey, and I wouldn’t be here today if I had taken that advice.

Lee Chambers, Founder and Coach, Essentialise 

Build a great product and the customers will come

This is very misleading advice as it is trying to say that value brings customers but investing in building something before you actually test the market is extremely risky. I would have preferred to be told ‘build a prototype or simply showcase the vision and release it to the market’. This way you will measure how exactly are your customers and gather a little fan base prior to launch. 

Irina Georgieva, Co-Founder and CEO of Enterprise League

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