Has someone ever given you unsolicited business advice that hurt you rather than helped?
For instance, comments like…
“A recession is going to hit any day now. You may hate your job, but maybe you should consider staying for the security. After all, what if you don’t make any money?”
“Are you sure you’re experienced enough to go after that client?”
“Aren’t you scared to do that? Maybe you should try something else, just to be safe.”
Entrepreneurs and freelancers hear comments like this all the time.
I bring this up because I have a doozy of a real-life example to share with you — and yes, yet another rant (but trust me — you’ll be ranting with me after reading this story.)
Here’s what happened…
One of my coaching clients had a great chat with a prospect. And then, she got the “you charge too much” note with a steaming helping of “helpful” advice.
Her prospect said her hourly rate was too high for someone without an office — especially since her real expenses were “just a laptop and phone.” Then, his email went on to explain how she should structure her client load, how her rate was more than a senior software engineer’s (side note: not even close), and what her actual rate should be.
The implication was clear: You are greedy for asking for this much money.
OF COURSE my coaching client felt like poo after reading this. Although she’s been a writer for a long time and can command a higher rate, she’s newer to freelancing and weird client whims. This kind of note was demeaning and demoralizing and unfair.
(As a side note, can you imagine telling your dentist, “I think your hourly rate is too high?” Or your surgeon? Or your accountant? Why is it OK to question freelancers about their rates?)
I told my client to walk away from the prospect and consider herself lucky. She doesn’t need those kind of people in her work life.
And neither do you.
Here’s the deal…
Nobody has the right to give you unsolicited advice about what to charge, when to start your business, and how to manage your operations.
Especially when their “helpful” advice is nothing but a big load of B.S. Even if the advice-giver thinks it’s heartfelt and well-meaning.
Why do people feel compelled to tell solopreneurs and entrepreneurs what to do? There are a few reasons:
Sometimes, people do it because they’re feeling insecure — so they project that feeling on to you. For instance, your partner may say things like, “Are you sure you’re ready?” When what they really mean is, “Your business move is bringing up my own issues and I’m afraid.”
Sometimes, it’s because they don’t know any better. They think they’re helping when they actually have no clue what to do. It’s like non-parents who give parenting advice. What they say may be great in theory, but in real life…not so much.
And sometimes, it’s because someone is just mean. They don’t care how they hurt you. They’re doing it for their own evil purposes. I once had a prospect tell me that I was the “most expensive vendor by far” in an attempt to get me to lower my rate.
As you may imagine, it didn’t work. And I still got the gig, too. ::insert evil laugh here::
But, how do you decide if the advice has merit?
One of the most powerful coaching questions when something gets into your head and doesn’t let go is: “How true is this?”
In most cases, the answer is “not very.” People start successful freelance businesses all the time. Other people probably charge WAY more than you. Sure, going after that big client is scary — but, getting out of your comfort zone is how you grow and make more money.
In my coaching client’s case, it was obvious that her prospect had never freelanced. In his calculations around how much my prospect should charge (yes, he included actual calculations!), he assumed a full 40-hour billable workweek (which is rare — most freelancers spend of good chunk of their time doing non-billable work like client acquisition and administrative tasks.)
Additionally, the prospect’s calculations didn’t include things like retirement, vacation time, software expenses, hiring help — even making a profit.
The answer to “how true is his advice?” is “not very.”
This technique even works when you hear helpful advice from a friend or partner (which is always harder to discount — especially when they tell you that they only have your best interests at heart.)
If it’s not true, it’s OK to let it go.
There are many ways to respond to folks who feel compelled to “help.” Depending on the relationship, you can walk away — or dig in and ask what the real issue is (especially if they are a friend or a partner.)
Plus, it’s entirely fair to thank someone for their concern, tell them you have everything handled, and let them know that you don’t need their advice.
Especially if their advice drags you down every. single. time.
But, what if they’re right?
Having said all this, sometimes, “helpful advice” has a small peppercorn of truth embedded in a whole bunch of baloney. When something pushes my buttons, I’ve realized it’s time for me to take a step back and to think about what the other person is saying.
It doesn’t mean that they’re right. But it does mean that they gave me something to consider.
What do you think?
What’s the worst piece of “helpful” advice have you ever heard? Has someone else’s offhand comment caused you to stall out, change directions, or totally doubt yourself? Leave a comment and let me know.