Spilling the Beans?

Learn how to reveal just enough about your business idea to get the help you need.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the November 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Every entrepreneur I meet is somewhat reluctant to talk about his or her new business idea. Some are hesitant about being judged or rejected, while others are shy. But all have one thing in common: the fear that someone will steal or ridicule their ideas. As one entrepreneur told me, "It's a self-imposed double-edged sword. I want help, but I also don't want to reveal too much."

Successful entrepreneurs know they need to involve others to achieve success. If you want people to buy your product, they must hear about it. If you want to be mentioned in a newspaper article, reporters will need the facts about your business.

The secret to sharing your idea while protecting yourself is simple: Stop assuming that people want to know everything about your business. About 99.99 percent of the people who can help you grow your business don't need- want- know the intimate details. They just need to know your goals and understand the benefits you provide so they can share their knowledge and experience with you.

You can achieve success and protect yourself by becoming "silently smart." Have a conversation where you share just enough information to inspire people to provide you with the contacts and resources you need to succeed. Here's how to reveal only the most necessary details:

1. Realize that your business idea is difficult to replicate. Your passion, creativity and vision are uniquely yours. Just because you share information doesn't necessarily mean anyone else has the same drive and unique insight to make your idea a success. Unless you're divulging the recipe for your award-winning baked goods, chances are success will be achieved only with your involvement and participation.

2. Set a goal for each conversation. Before you speak about your business, determine your goal. People appreciate it when you get to the point. Do you want to make a sale, obtain a customer referral or discover great marketing ideas? Be specific. Then direct the conversation toward achieving that goal. Once you've achieved it, either end the conversation or set another goal. This prevents you from disclosing more information than necessary.

3. Speak, then listen. When you speak about your business, you may feel the more you say, the better the person will understand your goals. Instead, give your listeners a chance to respond and share their knowledge by training yourself to stop speaking before it seems natural. Cut yourself short, and disclose information only as the conversation progresses. Begin by telling people about your business and stating your goal- become quiet. Let the person absorb what you've said, and give them space to offer advice. You'll be amazed at the information you'll receive just by listening.

4. Protect yourself legally. Protecting yourself is often expected in formal situations, such as negotiating a distribution contract or revealing financial information to potential investors. Signing nondisclosure or confidentiality agreements can help you protect yourself before you disclose any secrets. Nondisclosure agreements vary in format, but they always contain a definition of what is and is not confidential information, the obligations of the receiving party and the time period covered. However, these tools are often only as effective as your willingness to go to court.

Be diligent about not revealing everything, but don't let the fear of sharing too much hold you back. You'll benefit far more from the ideas you receive than you'll be hurt by the risks you perceive you've taken. Staying silently smart and sharing high-level information about your business will inspire others to help you succeed.

Speaker and consultant Romanus Wolter, aka "The Kick Start Guy," is author of Kick Start Your Dream Business. Write to him at romanus@kickstartguy.com.

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