When to Ignore People's Opinions in Your Business (and When to Not)

One of Academy of Handmade's Signature Events (in caps because that is what we are now calling them) is our Product & Design Roundtable (hat tip to #ahasmember Miriam Dema for thinking of it!). We sit around and discuss things we are working on including everything from packaging to websites to new products.

These events often include a fair amount of advice giving by everyone at the table. And of course, that is why you are there-- to get feedback and advice about what you are working on. But one of the things we always, always, ALWAYS make clear about being there is that you have to take none of the advice. Zero.

You rule your business and not only know what's best for it, but also get to make the decisions because you have to live with them. Which is why, sometimes, you should totally ignore other people's opinions about your business. 

We give you a few examples.

Friends & Family

Not to sound like a jerk but about 90% of what friends and family have to say about my business is worthless. It's well meaning and the ideas aren't always bad-- they just aren't right for my business. Your family and friends want what is best for you. Which means if it seems like you are struggling in your business and they see things are hard, they often want to make any pain go away.

So their advice skews toward wanting you to be happy and removing pain from your life (often this will come in the form of "Why aren't you making more money?" type questions which are rooted in their fears about your ability to take care of yourself). And this is very kind. But when you're an entrepreneur it is not always helpful and could possibly cause you to be overly risk averse or miss opportunities.

That said, we will assume you have loving friends and family and so, they actually do have some good things to remind you about. 

Here's when the opinions of friends and family can be helpful: 

  • Knowing how you've changed from how you used to be to how you are now
  • Remembering things/people/activities that you used to enjoy or stayed away from
  • Helping you stay to true to your values and real priorities in life
  • Remembering self care

Business Experts

We are Academy of Handmade Artists AND SUPPORTERS for the very reason that we believe having other businesses who support handmade businesses are extremely vital to the success of makers. That's why we even have a whole series for members learning about how different experts (like financial organizers, lawyers, accountants, coaches, graphic designers, etc.) can help their businesses.

In this series we always ask "When is it time to call in an expert?" Because invariably you will hit a wall with some aspect of your business that you can't DIY out of.

Unless someone is one-on-one coaching you and getting to know your business, people who are experts are generalizing in their blog posts and sometimes courses. They are giving out advice based on a very broad set of experiences and likely not all businesses they've observed look like yours. 

And I know most people who share business advice that are good would agree. They don't want you to blindly take their advice and opinions. They are giving best practices and are looking to you to tweak something when it doesn't make sense for your business. There are always exceptions to the rules and you need to see how that advice best fits with your business.   

For instance so much handmade business advice right now is all about Christmas and the holidays. But what if you make Day of the Dead products? Or Valentine's themed? Maybe this isn't your busy time. So a lot of that advice is probably not working as well for you as it will be for others. Or it's advice that should be applied differently.

Same thing with pricing. A lot of advice on pricing is very much a rule of thumb. A good place to get your bearings. But some products can just command more money. And some have a much lower threshold on what the market will bear. Figure out how that advice works for you.

More than anything, I always look at who is friends with an expert, what people are saying about that expert and who is saying it. 

Peers: Other Makers

We believe having a peer community of makers is extremely important and beneficial.

But here's the thing about the opinions of other makers: they will vary wildly depending on the person's own background, their goals for their own businesses and also what they make. When another maker gives you advice, make sure to consider that.

Things that work for ceramics cannot always be applied to jewelry. You all know this. Apples and oranges as they say.

But here are some good ideas that can come from other makers:

  • Where to sell and local businesses to approach
  • What shows are good/bad AND why (generally... again their product might not be the same as yours so you will need to dig)
  • Creative product ideas that are out of the box
  • How different business models and practices have helped them
  • Better ways to source materials and supplies
  • Spotting how trends might affect your business

Kinda Peers: Other Small Business Owners

A big reason we exist is that we felt like makers had special business needs that just weren't being addressed in other creative communities or small business support systems. I've worked in co-working spaces and gone to my fair share of peer-based networking events.

But to be frank, I find myself explaining what I do over and over again in these settings and people kind of getting it. Their advice is usually just a little off. Largely because they aren't in my industry so they can't understand how that would function and what the need for it would be-- and oh, yeah, they like the word "monetize" a lot so didn't see how this would net investors or the kinds of money they were after. My reasons and goals for my business were very different from theirs.

That said, these are communities and peers are great for:

  • Seeing what's happening with other business models or industries
  • Getting support 
  • Finding potential collaborators
  • New ways to approach your business
  • Understanding business basics
  • Learning to be OK with running a business totally different from others

So, what about you? How do you handle the advice that everyone seems to readily give? How do you judge what's good advice and bad advice? If your'e interested in being part of a group that tries to keep the unnecessary and unhelpful advice to a minimum, you can sign up for our member interest list here and be notified about when we open membership again.

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