For most small business owners their business is a large part of their life. They may have given up a 40-hour-week job to work 80 hours a week on their business. As such, either the business owner wants to talk to family and friends about their business, and/or friends and family want to talk to them about their business. It’s only natural – after all, friends and family are your support structure and care about you – and they are going to have an opinion whether you ask for it or not. Now, that may be a good thing as advice can be a way of expediting your learning process and avoiding obvious mistakes. There is, however, good advice and bad advice and you can’t always pick what is going to come from whom or even which advice is correct.

Family and friends want you to succeed but can end up being the bearers of well-intentioned, terrible advice. You also might not be able to see a carefully hidden agenda no matter how careful you are. Your best friend since childhood may not tell you your business that you’ve dreamed of running since primary school is a money pit and you should cut your losses. Conversely your parents may advise you not to pursue a great idea you have in a new technology or disruptive market because they don’t really understand it and don’t want to see you fail.

So before taking advice from friends and family consider the following.

  • Do they run a successful business?

  • Is their business truly profitable? Has it got some history? Are all their obligations up to date? Or, if they don’t own a business, then have they got other financial credentials? For example, have they paid off their mortgage or set themselves up to retire comfortably, or do they have a mojo account? If the answer is no, or if they have tried previously and been unsuccessful, then it may be best to take their advice with a grain of salt. You wouldn’t ask me for medical advice or a graphic designer to do advanced financial modelling. So why would you listen to tax advice from your brother that has a mate that ‘gamed’ the tax office? Foolhardy at best, downright dangerous at worst.

  • You’re not Ellen

  • Even if your friend or family member, let’s call them Ellen, ticks the experience and skills boxes, you’re not Ellen. They may have run a successful business, but they made the right decisions for their circumstances and at that time. They might have had a great business network and you might not, they may have had equity in their business, and you might only have debt. The world might have been quite a different place for them – think of the technological developments in the last 20 years.

  • They project their experiences

  • My mother-in-law was telling me about how she hates that some shops have self-service machines, and how it is terrible that all the jobs in shops are disappearing. “My kids all worked at the checkouts at the supermarket when they were at school and university,” she said. You can imagine then her recommendation to a retail business owner to make sure they have plenty of people in a shop, or that online selling is terrible. The ‘guidance’ would have more to do with her, than the person receiving it. People are different – your family or friends may hate whatever choice you’re making – but that doesn’t mean you will.

  • They are biased towards ‘safe’

  • I was teaching my daughter to ride a bike several years ago in the days before balance bikes, so I had training wheels on her bike. She started riding around quite well and I went to take the training wheels off, to much protest from my daughter. I remember (and she does too) telling her that if there is one thing she can count on is that I will always try to protect her from harm. It is instinctive for family and friends to protect the people they love, but while this is beneficial to small children, you are not a small child. You are putting yourself out there and have to be willing to face rejection or failure, make mistakes, and learn along the way. If you asked most parents, they would rather their child find a well-paying job, in a stable ethical company than their child investing everything they have – money, time, and energy – to pursue a dream of running a business. Why? It’s perceived as safer.

    In addition to solicited advice, you might also receive unsolicited advice from friends and family. You’re having a nice dinner out with friends and the conversation then turns to your business. Within a few seconds, you begin doubting your latest offering and second guessing your prices. So how do you deal with unsolicited advice?

  • Managing your mindset

  • I ran an exercise at a graduate program once where I set up an indoor putting hole and a bucket of balls. I selected one person to practice putting from a metre a way for ten minutes while I went on taking the graduate program with the others. After the ten minutes I asked the person putting what their success rate was. “100%,” they said. I then got everyone to hover around, making noise, and stuck a microphone in their face, and asked them to putt again. They missed. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that mindset is key to success. Negative comments from people you care about is the quickest way to derail positive energy. Find a way to interrupt negative comments. It might be something silly like putting an elastic band on your wrist and pinging it when someone makes a negative comment or doing something that clears your head like going to the gym, or as I do, go ‘Zen’ fishing.

  • Are you inviting comments?

  • Check in with yourself and see if you’re actually inviting unwanted feedback. Are you oversharing your business? I have found there are two types of people – those that at the end of the day need to shut the door to their business and focus on something else (that’s me), and those that come home and need to articulate their day back to someone (like my wife). Don’t tell your family and friends everything about your business unless you’re prepared to hear potentially unwanted advice.

Once you’ve ensured you’re not making it easy for your friends and family to be unsupportive, look at some strategies to counter their negative comments. Try these:

  • Focus on the positive. If you are asked how your business is going, smile and say, “It’s going great, thanks”. Tell them about a win but remember they don’t need to hear everything – warts and all.
  • Turn the question around. Try a reply like “Business is awesome, thanks, and how’s everything in your job/life/business?”
  • Completely change the subject. This is useful when you know someone is likely to trigger you. Practice saying something like “Everything is going well, thanks. Have your kids started back at school yet?”

One thing though that all business owners should remember is that it is important to have a safe place to share successes and get feedback on challenges. Consider joining a group of like-minded entrepreneurs. One such group is Business in Heels aimed to provide such a place for support for female entrepreneurs. Consider a business coach to help you navigate the ups-and-downs. Otherwise, remember your business is not other people’s business – trust your experience and your wisdom. You’re living and breathing your business every day, so you know what’s best for you.

And a final thought – I reckon it was probably 10 years after I qualified as a chartered accountant that my parents actually considered me as an accountant. It was only after I wrote my book Run Your Business Better that my family and friends actually had any real understanding of my business. (It probably just meant they could tell their friends I was an author rather than some business person that talks on the phone a lot). So, make sure your friends and family are oil to water for your business.