Startup Advice

The 5 Worst Pieces of Advice I Got While Building a $100 Million Company

The 5 Worst Pieces of Advice I Got While Building a $100 Million Company
Image credit: shutterstock
  • ---Shares
Reader Resource

Join us Dec 20. for our free webinar on attracting top talent, fueling productivity and building a brag-worthy culture. Register Now »

Want to know the number-one way to attract unsolicited advice? Tell people you’re launching a business.

It’s not that all the advice is bad, but often times because of the sheer volume of the advice you get as an entrepreneur, much of it is useless. Worse, some advice is bad and can hurt as you’re trying to launch and grow a business.

Related: 6 Ways to Kill Your Startup

Don’t get me wrong. Without a lot of sage advice along the way, I could not have built Infusionsoft into the company it is today. But a huge amount of advice that any entrepreneur receives should be taken with a grain of salt.

Below are the five worst pieces of advice I ever received as an entrepreneur.

1. Don’t get emotionally attached to employees.

I’m not talking about romantic relationships here. In essence, the advice I was given was to not develop strong friendships with people I work with, and to keep a safe distance. There is some wisdom in this, but it didn’t sit well with me.

In my view, one of the most rewarding things about starting and growing a business is that you develop relationships with amazing people. Work is much more enjoyable and meaningful when you spend your days with people you like to be around. Don’t rob yourself of the rich personal relationships you could develop by thinking you have to be “all business” with the people around you.

2. Move away from your target market.

Infusionsoft is solely focused on serving the small business market, but there was a time a few years ago when pressure was mounting to expand the scope of our offerings to larger businesses.

The advice I was given was to move away from the target market and serve bigger customers. My reaction to that was that we couldn’t change who we are at our core. We have people here with a passion for serving small business, and I didn’t want to dilute that.

I put my foot down on this issue, and eventually won others over. I had to go with my gut, and I’m glad I did.

3. Automate customer service.

In the tech industry, the prevailing advice is to take as much human touch as you can out of the customer experience, so you can grow quickly without the complexity of a large customer service department. While this may work for companies serving larger businesses, our small business customers need our help and are willing to pay for it.

Be careful. You can easily overdo it when it comes to automating customer service -- and the result will be unhappy customers.

Related: 6 Common Mistakes First-Time Business Owners Should Avoid

4. Don’t involve family and friends in business.

When I was starting Infusionsoft, I would tell people that I’m in business with my brothers-in-law, and they would roll their eyes. There seems to be a belief that if you go into business with your family, then it will never become more than a little “family” business.

Especially in small businesses starting out, I think that working with friends and family is a good thing. Do I mean crazy Uncle Bill who has an idea for a time machine? No.

However, sometimes the trust you have with friends and family is what gets you through the toughest of times. There’s immense value in that. And when you start a business, you need all the support you can get. 

5. Don’t take on any debt.

I’m a debt-averse person in my personal life, but in business, there are reasons to leverage other people’s money to grow. If you can accelerate your growth by borrowing, it might be a good idea for your business. Think about it -- if taking on a reasonable amount of debt will allow you to better serve your customers, employees, partners and shareholders, it’s your responsibility to seriously consider it.

I routinely see entrepreneurs with $500,000 to $3 million in annual revenue who shy away from taking on debt. I think most of the time, that’s a mistake that hamstrings real growth. If your business is on solid ground and growing steadily, the thought of taking on debt to grow even more shouldn’t be a scary proposition.

Sorting the good advice from the bad can be a tricky thing for entrepreneurs, and no one gets it right all the time. Even the bad pieces of advice I’ve written about here may be good advice to some entrepreneurs and companies.

In the end, don’t take anyone’s advice as gospel. Every business is different, and as the founder, it’s ultimately your gut that you need to trust the most.

Related: The Best Career Advice I Didn't Take