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  • Aaron Zaslofsky

Consider the source: Business advice worth following

Not all advice is created equal. Especially when you’re a new entrepreneur sifting through the different philosophies and guidance that so many people are kind enough to share. You not only have a business to build, but also habits to engrain. These habits, in large part, depend on the counsel you seek and what you choose to apply.

I’ve come to realize that my personal context is what determines the counsel I embrace. With this in mind, here’s the best advice received in my first few months as an entrepreneur. I’ve left out what might be considered “common sense” guidance like always showing gratitude, having a business plan, or understanding what really gets you going. Apply your personal context and see what sticks for you:

Don’t take what the market gives – make your own market. A fellow consultant I admire greatly decided that prospective clients and network members weren’t plentiful enough within existing industry groups. Then, he discovered that senior-level people wanted a place where they and others like them could discuss common business challenges unencumbered by job seekers, junior-level professionals, or, frankly, consultants. So, he created his own group of senior-level corporate professionals that he organizes and facilitates. He found a hole in the market and moved on it for the benefit of all involved. That’s advice worth following.

The more you charge, the more access clients will expect. First, I agree with the colleague who shared this axiom. I believe it’s fair to expect that rate equates to access. It also equates to perceived value, which should be demonstrated at the time and place of your client’s choosing. Clients hire you to meet their needs, meaning yours are secondary. Expect to be more accessible the higher you travel up the rate scale.

Speak the language of business, not your specific discipline. It’s dangerous to assume that others understand the language of your specific discipline. I’ve made the mistake of using communications industry language when talking to others outside the industry. For example, people outside the field don’t use the term “communicator” to describe a communications professional. That’s inside baseball and what I showed by using this seemingly innocuous term is that I didn’t understand the context of the person with whom I was speaking. I’m lucky someone called me on it.

Don’t start anything you can’t maintain long-term. This is also known as “don’t write checks your butt can’t cash.” Very early on, I received some phenomenal advice about avoiding a common trap – seizing on a good idea without understanding the required commitment. An example would be a blog, which takes constant care to keep fresh and relevant. Short-term thinking can be perilous, especially for an entrepreneur.

Don’t spend too much time in your head – write it down. This advice was provided by a highly accomplished executive I was fortunate to meet when I started my company. In a conversation we had, she sensed my reluctance to risk imperfection by putting half-baked ideas on paper. She taught me that the simple act of writing thoughts down can help you move ideas forward. Confidence also increases when you write and realize that your product is only what people can observe. Keep it in your head and you keep it from everyone else.

Professional development depends on context. When I worked on the corporate-side, I had the resources (and budget) of my employer at my disposal. As an independent consultant, training and education are completely on me. When I spoke to a fellow consultant about this, she said something simple and wise, “Ask yourself what skills clients need you to have to understand where your professional development time and money is best spent.”

The best answer is sometimes one that doesn’t involve you. It’s easy to think that you’re the solution to a given problem. Why? Because it could mean more business. In actuality though, I’ve learned time and again that engendering yourself to others depends on your willingness to position someone else as the expert. This selfless act puts the interest of a client or prospect before yours. People see this and realize that you’re in it to see THEM succeed. This is the type of friend, employee, or consultant that we all want around. Know when you’re the answer and when you’re not.

I’m truly fortunate to be surrounded by a network that generously imparts wisdom – both solicited and unsolicited. But, I now realize that the value of advice is in the counsel itself AND how it applies to your personal context.

Now, go get some advice from the many people who want to see you succeed and will go out of their way to help.

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