Lessons From an Eavesdropper: How to Filter Well-meaning Business Advice


Lessons From an Eavesdropper: How to Filter Well-meaning Business Advice

In a café last week, I overheard a conversation between a young woman and a couple who I presumed to be her parents.

Without interrupting them to ask my own questions, I got the impression the woman was having a tough time getting clients, and the male in the group was suggesting new programs she could develop and different ways she could market. The young girl nodded thoughtfully at some of the suggestions and dismissed others with a clear comment on why they wouldn’t work for her.

Quite randomly (in my opinion as an eavesdropper), the older woman piped up with a suggestion that started with, “Well I don’t know why you don’t just …” And ended with, a look of astonishment on the young girl’s face, as the ‘suggestion’ was conveyed. I didn’t hear the actual comment (I really do wish people would speak up) but the young woman leaned across the table stating firmly, “Do you have any idea of what I even do?”

The incredulous look on her face was somewhat familiar, and I pondered that thought until my own company arrived.

I’ve often heard people share advice and ideas on what others ‘should’ be doing. Most were well-meaning, but occasionally there were those whose lips just needed to keep moving. And while there will always be people who just won’t listen, the problem might not always be theirs.

Here are three things to consider that might reduce the not-so-helpful input:

1. Are you clear about what you do?

Before you can explain your business to anyone else, you need to be clear about it yourself. Most businesses start off with a wobbly vision, that’s clear in the centre but a bit blurry towards the edges. Others change direction quite radically several years in. Ranges of products and services broaden and narrow, and there are opportunities to expand and times for downsizing. There will always be aspects of your business that are under development or being trialled, but at the core of your enterprise, there must be clarity. What do you do, and why do you do it? At any given time, we need to know the direction we’re headed in, and what’s important for our business. It helps us prioritise, and we are less likely to be side-tracked.

2. Can you describe it clearly?

Once it’s clear in your mind, can you convey it to others in a way that leaves no uncertainty? If you had to describe your business in one or two short sentences could you do it? If I tell people I’m a lawyer, it gets them into the right industry but doesn’t really explain what I do. Telling them I focus on small business law, gives them a better picture, and anything I say after that has a context that they understand. What context do you provide? Do people nod their head as you speak and ask relevant questions, or do they seem puzzled and unsure of how to respond?

3. Does your marketing align?

If we’re clear about who we are and what we do, is that conveyed by our marketing? Does our online presence reinforce the message we want our customers to hear? Is our branding consistent across the various platforms and is it carried out face to face? As businesses develop and grow, it’s not uncommon to have older logos and taglines floating about on marketing material or websites. Do a Google search of your business and take a look at what your prospective customers are seeing. Is your business communicating well or are there mixed messages?

The young woman I observed, appeared to have a good handle on which ideas could provide a pathway forward, and those that might otherwise be a waste of her time. And although I couldn’t ask her (because that would be rude), I’m sure it was her own clarity that helped her sift efficiently.

Next time someone makes a random suggestion for your business, ask yourself, “Why?” There could be many reasons but don’t rule out the possibility that your own message just isn’t clear.

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