Here's one thing that separates real small-business life from the small-business world you see on reality TV. TV contests requires a lot of humility. Part of the drama on many shows, after all, is watching the experts tell you how your business idea/cupcake/hair salon/dress design fails to measure up.

And what can the business owners do? Nothing but suck it up and take it.

It may seem masochistic, but really these entrepreneurs are doing something more business owners should do. They're seeking mentors and listening to their critique. Yes, they're doing it in a weirdly public forum, but at least they are getting feedback on how to improve their business.

When they get it, the smart owners even apply it. Often, the feedback helps them win the contest -- and probably end up with a better business.

For instance, on TLC's Craft Wars, a trio of crafters compete each episode for a $10,000 prize by creating craft projects they're challenged to do in a short time with only the materials provided by the show. Once they've whipped up a gym bag or whatever it is, they're on to the public humiliation round, in which they get to have their creations ripped apart by judges Tori Spelling (who knew she had a crafting line?), Erica Domesek of crafting firm P.S. I Made This, Stephen Brown of giftware company Glitterville Studios, and Jo Pearson of the Michael's craft-supply chain, which is also a show sponsor.

The comments are withering, but the contestants listen closely and usually express gratitude for the feedback.

"Rah, rah, sis boom blah!" jeers Domesek in reviewing one sports-themed gym bag. The creator responds simply, "Thank you, Tracy."

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One crafter runs into technical trouble when she uses spray glue on a piece of fabric she then intends to sew. The glue gums up the machine and affects her ability to execute her design. When the judges point it out, she can only nod. If she'd hoped to cover up the problem, now she knows mistakes like that would be visible to a customer, too.

When one finalist explains that the odd squiggle trim she's festooned her playhouse with is a visual signature she likes to put everywhere, Brown brings her back to reality.

"You can't put a doodle in everywhere!" he tells her. And hearing it from an expert, you can see the light dawn in here eyes. She needs to temper her own artistic impulse with what works for the piece, and its intended audience.

It may be harsh to get critiqued in front of a national TV audience, but it beats operating your business in a vacuum and never learning how you can make your business better for customers.

Do you seek criticism of your business? Leave a comment and tell us where you get feedback.