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May 23, 2018

Small Business Advice

Firms should weigh carefully the advice they receive

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." ~Beth Cross, CEO, Ariat International

Jerry Osteryoung | 12/9/2013

Managers and entrepreneurs receive so much advice, it is often hard to know which to follow.

I have seen some entrepreneurs get conflicting advice and keep on asking the same questions in hopes of finding a clean solution to their problem. The trouble here is that we cannot discern good advice from bad if we have not established criteria to evaluate its validity.

The first step to getting good advice is asking the right people. Your family, for instance, is normally not the best place to seek advice because they are going to tell you what they think you want to hear – which is not always what they really feel. Beyond that, they may not be qualified to give sound advice. For these same reasons, you should not be asking your staff for advice on critical business matters either.

Your best source is going to be a professional who has experience with your issue and is not a member of your staff. When working with outside consultants, make sure they will keep confidential any information you share with them.

It is also important to like and trust the person you ask for advice.

I am chairman of the First Commerce Credit Union, and one of our board members, Rivers Buford, is one person I count on for great advice. He always has a different take on the issues we are facing and adds much to our discussions by making the entire board aware of both sides of every subject.

Now, let us assume you are asking the right people for advice. The next step is being able to evaluate its worth. Just because a person is qualified to give you advice does not mean the counsel you receive is always going to be good. Sometimes it may not feel right, in which case it is probably a good idea to pass on this advice.

I call this the “uh-oh feeling.” When this happens, your body and emotions are picking up signals that something is not quite right. In my experience, it is best to go with that feeling.

In all my years of coaching entrepreneurs and managers, I’ve been able to note when the person I am advising is having an “uh-oh” response to some suggestion I have made. In these cases, I just ask the person what they are feeling, which helps me understand what emotion I have triggered and how to address their discomfort.

Another clear warning signal is when you just don’t feel proud of the recommendation. This is a surefire sign that the advice or the adviser is not worth following. You should also be aware that if the advice you are getting is contrary to what the majority of folks are saying, it is worth a second thought.

Finally, if the cost of the advice seems out of balance with the projected benefits, it might not be worth the investment. Most good advice does cost money, but the cost must be reasonable.

Now go out and make sure you are getting super advice. This starts with finding the right adviser, then vetting their recommendations to ensure they are relevant and in line with the way you manage your organization.

You can do this!

Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here.

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

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