5 Tips for Seeking -- and Weeding Through -- Other People's Opinions About Your Business

5 Tips for Seeking -- and Weeding Through -- Other People's Opinions About Your Business
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I started my first business at the ripe old age of 25. The upside to my youthful naivete was that I was strongheaded enough to think I could do it. That is to dive headfirst into the payment-processing industry, a crowded, competitive and shady arena.

The downside was that this zeal had me forging ahead without seeking or taking in the advice of others. Fast-forward to a couple of years later when my company nearly went under (twice) and I realized it was time to look around me for sage counsel.

If you don’t want to find yourself in a position like I was, blindsided and basically starting over to rebuild the company, it may be worthwhile to consider that you can’t know it all.

One of my favorite expressions is “You can’t see the spot on which you stand.” But those around you can. Throughout the course of the growth of your business, there will never be a shortage of people with opinions. They’ll have ideas about the product or service, your managing style, pricing, operations, office space, sales strategy -- you name it.

So how do you cut through the noise and focus on the right chatter? Here are five tips for specific ways to weed through the feedback:

Related: Why CEOs Need Mentors -- They Accelerate Learning

1. Define a road map.

It’s imperative to have a clear map before you let too many voices enter the conversation. While your route may change, start with a clear definition of your company’s mission, vision and goals, so you can use them as mile markers when you begin to let in trusted advice. 

2. Open up.

Admitting to yourself that you can benefit from outside advice is critical. Unless you’re open to the suggestions of others, you’ll ultimately waste your energies and likely burn bridges if you can’t take in the advice you seek out.

2. Identify weak points.

While you may love to think you have no weak points, if you're honest, you will begin to recognize that perhaps you’re not so great at accounting, employee management, recruiting and online marketing. And maybe you don't know how to keep a modicum of balance in your life.  

Think about the tasks in the day that you hate doing or that cause you to procrastinate: These tend to be your areas of weakness.

Target trusted advisors who can share valuable advice with you because that’s their specialty. This might include consulting a paid executive coach or those who are generous of spirit and just willing to share their wisdom freely.

According to a Hay Group study in 2010, close to 60 percent of executives in the world's "most admired" companies use one-to-one coaching. It’s not bad to be vulnerable and admit that you have areas that can be improved and then to seek out counseling to do so.

Related: Hiring a Consultant? Shun the 24-Hour Turnaround and Other Hype.

3. Manage relationships.

Once you’ve begun to identify the holes in skill sets, make arrangements to manage the relationships you’re beginning. You may invite these selected people to be on your board. You could join or create a mastermind group and participate in a professional organization with people with the strengths you’re lacking or hire a coach or employee.

You can create structure for the conversations you're seeking out as well as set up accountability systems so you progress in sync with these teachings. Don't seek advice from anyone if you’re unwilling to carve out the time to do something about it. In many cases, the expression of gratitude comes with the follow-up.

3. Rethink mentors.

The term “mentor” often evokes images of a white-haired sage behind a big oak desk imparting advice to a younger individual.

I generally think of mentors as people to whom you naturally gravitate, those who can offer resources and advice. In many cases, there's never an official defining of the mentoring relationship.

Perhaps you turn to someone when you’re in need of guidance. It’s a gut reaction and a natural chemistry. Continue to invest in relationships like these because the deeper someone like this gets to know you and your business, the more likely they are to offer sound feedback. 

4. Get out the Weedwacker.

Unsolicited feedback may arrive from lots of directions -- from family, friends, employees, customers and even vendors. Each source should be responded to individually. You'll have to recognize the intention behind each piece of feedback and weigh how it fits into your company’s goals.

If you allow all these voices to have a seat at the table, you’ll become overwelmed by analysis paralysis. You won't be able to make any decisions because you’ll be weighing everyone’s inputs.   

Family and friends will often speak from a place of concern for you and this might align with fear. Their best intentions result in prompting needless concern or doubt on your part.

Choose where to create boundaries. For customers, create intentional feedback loops that allow for their sharing with you. Decide beforehand when and how you’ll respond and what you’ll do with the information. Sometimes it’s best to select time frames for soliciting this advice like during an annual survey. Determine what you’ll do with remarks that come through your website or via social media.

As with anyother part of your business, have a game plan.

Rrecognize that some vendors are simply trying to sell you something on their agenda whereas others truly will have your best interest in mind. Ideally, you’ll pre-identify your inner circle (perhaps with your attorney, banker, accountant, bookkeeper, financial advisor) and then be able to choose which, if any, of the other inputs are useful to you.

Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, recommended writing the names of people whose opinions matter to you on a small note card and keeping it in your wallet. Include the people who love you despite your imperfections, she said. Otherwise, some people end up steamrolling over opinions that do matter and focusing on those that don’t.

5. Seek referrals and outsource tasks.

You’ve already identified the areas that cause your procrastination. So ask for a referral from a trusted person in your inner circle and get an issue off your plate! The moment you give that task away to a trusted employee or outside vendor, you’ll be able to reallocate time and brain space to something else in your business.   

If you don’t have a firm understanding of your company’s goals, mission and vision, you’ll be more susceptible to the input of those around you. Just because someone in your circle is a customer or works for you doesn’t give them license to tell you how to navigate your ship.

Once you have that defined, open up to the idea that there's room for personal and business improvement. After you’ve identified those points, seek out counsel in a number of ways and refine how you manage those relationships. Lastly, identify what to do with the extraneous commentary that will inevitably abound and create boundaries. This approach to feedback will help your confidence grow and your business will benefit.

Editor's note: This piece has been updated to directly reference Hay Group research about coaching, noting that nearly 60 percent of the world's most admired firms use the one-to-one variety.

Related: Richard Branson's Guide to Finding a Mentor