As an entrepreneur and an “OG” digital marketing professional, I get a lot of advice.
Something about marketing makes many people feel like an expert. Even though they would never give their accountant unsolicited advice, most feel comfortable doling it out to a marketing professional. I regularly get tips on where to advertise, what color schemes to use, who to target, what copy to try, amongst endless other suggestions.
I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m going to get plenty of advice on what I do. While I’m never going to use some of it, other times, I’m going to find a tip extremely useful. The trick is knowing when to take it and when to ignore it.
While I can’t say exactly what advice you should and shouldn’t follow (as it’s very subjective), I can share the questions I ask myself to help make that decision.
1. What am I looking for?
Before asking for advice, you want to know what you actually need help with. Understanding your own motivations and goals makes the core decision you’re grappling with crystal clear.
Being this aware requires a good amount of self-reflection because, sometimes, you may simply be looking for someone to validate your opinion. Other times, you might subconsciously be hoping someone shoots down your idea because you don’t really want to do it.
If you’ve ever given friends advice about their relationships, then you know what I’m talking about. They generally already have a perspective about what they want to do. So they’re either looking for you to validate their decisions or secretly hoping you tell them the opposite.
Basically, there’s a good chance you’ll go looking for the advice you want, consciously or subconsciously. Understanding your own motivations can help you take a more objective look at the advice you’re receiving—and decide whether or not to accept it.
2. Is this person an authority on my problem?
The best advice comes from authorities on problems or topics.
But before reaching out for expertise from an authority who has “been there, done that,” you want to think about exactly what niche or market that person has mastered.
For instance, marketing is a broad field. If I needed an authority’s opinion on network marketing (one of the few niches I haven’t dabbled in), I’d ask someone who specializes in that niche. I want to make sure I’m getting qualified advice.
But from time to time, you’ll actually want what I call “unqualified” advice, which comes from someone who isn’t an authority.
One source of unqualified advice that’s absolutely essential is a potential customer who may buy the product—but who isn’t an authority in the sense of marketing, building, or creating the product. If you’re selling headphones and every potential customer says, “I would never buy those because…,” you should listen to what they’re telling you. This insight is gold because consumers are the ones buying it (or not buying it).
It’s then your job to interpret that information and use it accordingly. Remember, these aren’t business people. They’re looking at it from a consumer lens, but their “advice” is still crucial to your success.
3. What is the background or bias involved?
It’s common for people to latch onto the advice of one or two successful people—and then take everything they say as gospel.
The problem with this approach is that two people can become successful, even in the same business, by taking very different paths. They might have had fundamentally different experiences during their careers that both led to success.
Maybe you come across an entrepreneur who had a terrible time fundraising. He tells you that you shouldn’t raise money. “Why would you want to be responsible for someone else’s money? You’ll have investors hanging their investments over your head. It’s not worth it.”
But you can also find someone else who had a great experience raising money and tells a different story. “I used someone else’s money to build something I never could have on my own. The choice to take the money was life-changing.”
Listening exclusively to one or two people—and basing everything you do on what they say—can be a slippery slope.
Instead of sliding out of control, work on decoding the advice you’re hearing. What experiences and biases are people bringing to the table that might influence their perspectives on the topic?
Considering others biases helps you separate opinions from facts.
4. How long have I been getting advice on this?
Getting advice from a variety of sources is a good idea—up to a point.
You can only use a limited amount of information. If you get advice from 27 authorities in one field, and they all share different tips, you’re going to feel overwhelmed. It then becomes difficult to make any decision because you have too much information to sort through. That leads to frustration, and a lot of people will simply put off making the decision indefinitely.
At some point, you have to choose a path you believe in and commit.
If you get advice and are still having trouble making a decision, it can be helpful to write out the advice you’ve received and the options available to you. Sometimes a visual representation—whether it’s a ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ list, a mind map, or a hand-written note—can clarify your thoughts and make the decision easier.
At the end of the day, any advice is supposed to help you do one thing: make the best decision possible. But it’s up to you to decipher which suggestions to act upon and which to ignore.