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5 Famous Pieces of Business Advice You Shouldn’t Follow

In the internet’s vast and crowded sea of useless rubbish, the only thing that outnumbers business advice is pictures of cats doing stuff. Whether it’s “What I Wish I Would’ve Known Before I Started My Business” or “25 Entrepreneurs with Mustaches” or “Lean In, Pivot Up, Twirl Around Wildly,” everyone is an expert and everyone wants to tell you how to run your small business.

We’re not going to do that. In fact, we’re going to do the exact opposite. Rather than bludgeon you with stale aphorisms about boxes and the importance of thinking outside of said boxes, let’s take a look at some common business advice that’s probably worth ignoring.

1. Never Give Up

Everybody loves the story of the plucky underdog who just refuses to go away, who tries twice as hard as everyone else, and who, against all odds, succeeds in the end. Which is to say, yeah, Rudy was a pretty cool movie.

In business, this mentality can be poisonous. It can lead to throwing money and resources into a doomed project until it spreads its rot through your whole organization. It can lead to keeping bad employees around because you see some slim glimmer of competence. It can lead to bankruptcy.

Conversely, when you jettison your bad ideas, you might hit on something truly remarkable. Take Rovio, for example. They’re the folks that made the Angry Birds games that briefly ruined your life. That game was the 51th game Rovio churned out. They were on the edge of bankruptcy. They abandoned their mistakes—they gave up. And they’ve been wildly successful for it.

2. Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Let’s go back to our Angry Bird friends Rovio for a second. Their success wasn’t just that they gave up on their bad ideas or that they created an wildly addictive, all-ages puzzler. It’s that they saw the future.

Rather, they guessed that smart phones were going to take over our pockets. And they were right.

The point here is that waiting for trends to become apparent just puts you in a group of late adopters, clamoring for attention in an increasingly competitive market. Amazon was savvy enough to realize they could sell books online when most people had dial-up and AOL. They were ahead of the curve. And that’s not to say you can’t adapt to existing trends or that being early is equivalent to being successful. It’s just to say you get more return when you place your bets early.

3. The Customer is Always Right

Most customers, like most people, are downright lovely folks. They have reasonable expectations, they treat employees like human beings, and, at the end of the day, are the reason you have a small business in the first place.

That said, we’ve all been there, sitting in some restaurant, listening to a red-faced diner bray insults at some poor bus boy who dropped a fork. Or in a salon, wincing as some harpy shrieks at her hairdresser for keeping her waiting an extra ten minutes. These are sad people, people who communicate IN CAPITAL LETTERS and who are used to getting their way, regardless of how illogical or downright rude they happen to be.

These customers are not always right.

They are, in fact, not the people you want coming into your business. They’re the ones who demand refunds when none are deserved, who call your customer service line five times a day, who demand to keep speaking to everyone’s superior until you eventually relent, thinking, “fine, just go away. Here’s a free bucket of thorazine on your way out.”

There’s a reason you see those “We reserve the right to refuse service” signs. Some people are just more trouble than they’re worth.

4. Do What You Love

Like our last adage, there’s a bit of wiggle room here. There’s really nothing better than getting paid to do something you love and for those of us fortunate enough to do so, going to work is actually pretty enjoyable. Whether you’re selling bagels or playing professional baseball, if you love your work, you probably treat Mondays a lot differently than most Americans.

But if you’re starting a small business, sometimes the recipe for success isn’t “do what you love.” It’s “do what everyone else hates.”

Think about it. There are hundreds of restaurants, music labels, and chocolate shops in the world. Those industries are crowded and noisy. Making a name for yourself can be difficult, if not downright impossible. But if you want into the trash business? Well, your odds just improved.

Cleaning companies, plumbers, accountants: they all do things that most people would rather not. A lot of successful small businesses do that, from roofers to butchers. And, as most people who’ve worked in a variety of industries can attest, you never know exactly what you’ll end up enjoying. Some people love waiting tables, some people love drilling on teeth. If you’re lucky enough to love doing something everyone else hates, get that LLC paperwork in and start taking your treasure baths.

5. Nice Guys Finish Last

Who came up with this one, anyway? Whether you’re fixing clogged pipes, providing car service via smart phone, or simply bringing people the food that they ordered, service is part of every business these days. And doing it well might be the thing that makes you outshine your competition.

A simple example: you go out to dinner tonight and you order a hamburger like a red-blooded American. The waiter brings out some pressed-bean, vegan equivalent. You bite into it. You’re sad. You call the waiter over and politely inform him that this isn’t what you ordered.

Your waiter is apologetic and unfailingly nice. “I’m really sorry about that,” he says. “I’ll place your order again and put a rush on it. Can I get you a drink, on the house? Maybe a free dessert?” You feel good about things because, well, mistakes happen but here’s a reasonable person trying to make it right. You get your burger quickly and you leave a smiley face next to your tip.

Now, on the other hand, your waiter could tell you “Yeah, bro. That’s what you ordered. Enjoy,” and not check on you for the rest of the meal. You eat your joyless quasi-burger and fume. You get home and blast the place on Yelp.

What we’re saying is, when you treat people well, they become evangelists. It’s like that speech from the beginning of Roadhouse, the Patrick Swayze helmed, American masterpiece: “Rule number one is: be nice.” No one expects you to be perfect, but they do expect you to take care of mistakes with a little class. You don’t have to be a sap or a pushover (see #3, above), but the less people who actively hate your company, the better off you’ll be. Businesses need evangelists.

Which is to say, if the motor vehicles department was a business, it would be bankrupt.

We know it’s not easy to run a small business. Our goal is to give you simple and affordable tools you need to keep it legal. Visit our small business legal center to get started.


  1. johnteetsarchitect says:

    Hard to believe anyone who thinks the brightest and most precised mind on the SCOTUS is bad, but the guy otherwise makes some good points. BTW, I’d lay off the Tombstone.

  2. Paul Lee says:

    Never giving up goes hand in hand with being willing to make a mistake. There is an important difference between making a mistake and learning from it and making a mistake and continue to make the same mistake, trying to force something into working that cannot. Being able to recognize when to let go of a project is very valuable, as long as you can learn from the experience and put that lesson into doing better work in the future.