Why You’re Probably Getting Business Advice From The Wrong People

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A longtime friend reached out to ask me for advice the other day. “Evan,” he said, “I’m looking for a career change and I was wondering if you’d read over my resume to let me know if I’m coming across the right way to employers. I’m trying to join a start-up and I know that’s your world.”

My first reaction was to say “of course.” After all, he’s someone I care about. And, I have created and worked with many start-up companies. But a moment later, something occurred to me: I was the complete wrong person to ask.

As I began to think about it, I realized that I actually have a very narrow business skill-set that consists of the following:

• Attracting targeted traffic to websites through thought leadership and SEO
• Being the CEO of a passion-driven online marketing company
• Giving actionable speeches to business leaders
• Writing business books

I have never applied for a job at a start-up, nor do I review the resumes that come in to my company; therefore, I’m not qualified to give advice to someone applying to a start-up. Additionally, note the specificity of my strengths: although I am great at attracting targeted traffic to websites, the ways I know how to do so are thought leadership marketing and SEO. I am not the person to ask about attracting targeted traffic through online display ads, for instance. Similarly, if you wish to start a professional services business in the online marketing world, I am probably your man. But if your concept is for a dry, systematic business without a strong passion component, we’re beginning to veer out of my territory.

Think of the people from whom you get advice and ask yourself a simple question: have they personally succeeded in the area you are seeking advice in? And of course, by “succeeded” I mean achieved success by your definition of the word. For example, if you’re looking for advice on raising a round of venture capital and you’re talking to a founder who has raised the size round you’re looking to raise, you’re in the right territory; but suppose this founder had gotten his equity badly diluted in the negotiation process, resulting in a deal that worked better for the investors than for the founder. That’s probably not your guy anymore.

I know it may seem difficult to find a person who has achieved exactly what you are looking to achieve. And to that I say two things: 1) Have you really tried? Have you done the obvious and searched around on LinkedIn and Google? Have you asked people you know for introductions?; and 2) If you can’t find a model of the success you’re looking to achieve, that’s fine. But take the advice you do get with a grain of salt.

Just food for thought. In an age of infinite content, there’s lots of advice flying around. Whether you’re the giver or receiver of that advice, remember to ask yourself if there is direct experience to back up the “wisdom.”

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