Sitting in the dim outdated lobby of a 1970’s office building, I found myself nervous, excited and hopeful all at the same time.
It was summer of 2007. I was planning to launch my first full-time entrepreneurial venture that coming winter—an eco-friendly clothing boutique—and I was waiting to meet with the small business mentor that I had been paired with by a non-profit organization. Even though I (naïvely) thought I had this whole business-thing figured out at the ripe ol’ age of 25, I had heard that having a mentor as a business owner would be an invaluable asset.
My new mentor called me back to his office and asked about my business. I shared that I was opening an eco-friendly clothing boutique where I would be selling all types of “green” sustainable clothing and accessories made from organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and recycled materials.
Strike one! You’re out.
I’d lost this guy on my business concept in the first inning. Game over for this meeting.
After that, I wasn’t receptive to considering any advice from this older gentleman who looked less like the creative, adventure-driven entrepreneur that I was seeking and more like he’d been stuck in the corporate world just long enough to go stale.
This man doesn’t have a clue what I’m trying to do, I thought. He doesn’t get me. He’s as outdated as the furniture in this place. Someone might as well give him a job posing as a fossil in the dinosaur exhibit I saw at the museum last week.
Following that meeting, I became very protective of my business idea—I built a wall of defense around it. And I only let in my “yes” friends who were constantly reinforcing my idea: “Yes Laurel! Your idea is amazing! You are going to be so successful!!” Then I kept everyone else at bay.
No one was going to poke holes in my defenses. During that time, I didn’t seek out any more advice or better-suited business mentors. I was determined to open this retail store and turn it into an outstanding success no matter what, so why did I need anyone’s advice?
Today, when I look back with my astute 20/20 hindsight glasses on, I cringe at my naïve behavior. In retrospect, my first business idea had A LOT of holes in it. There’s no doubt I would have greatly benefited from some sound business advice (from a different person, of course) if I hadn’t been so freakin’ hard-headed.
But what I’ve learned in the seven-year span of time since then is this:
Don’t get attached to your business idea.
Your idea is just that—an IDEA. It should be malleable and flexible, not rigid and closely guarded. Don’t build a fortress around it, hide it from advice, and then expect it to be instantly successful when you launch it.
If you get too attached and protective of your business idea in the beginning, then you run the major risk of crashing and burning down the road.
It’s kind of like that asshole you were attached to when you were younger—all your friends told you it was a bad idea to be together, but you didn’t listen. You defended your relationship, told them all the good stuff, and proceeded to ignore all the red flags. Then what happened? Inevitably, you came back crying to your friends when the person cheated on you and your relationship goes down in dramatic flames. That’s what happens when you’re overly attached to something.
If you find yourself defending your idea and instantly rejecting any outside feedback, chances are you’re too attached. You’re too close to your idea to see any flaws. But there are flaws. There are holes in it. That’s just the nature of an idea. And it’s better to find out what they are now (so you can fix them!) than later when you’ve cash in your life savings or put a second mortgage on the house.
First things first: Step back for a moment, put down your defenses, and try to figure out why you’re so attached to your idea. Answer these questions…
- Why is this specific idea so important to you?
- What would it mean for you if you couldn’t pursue this idea?
- What other business ideas you could implement if this one didn’t work out?
- Why is it important to you to execute your idea in the exact way you’re envisioning?
With my retail store, I figured out that I was attached to my idea because it was the only lifeline I had in place to escape my corporate job. Therefore, if someone tried to poke holes in it, it was like telling me, “Sorry Laurel. Thanks for playing, but you’re doomed to stay in corporate America forever.” I couldn’t handle that forecast, so I held strong to my idea and pushed forward to turn it into a reality.
Why are YOU so attached to your idea?
Once you figure out the root of your attachment, it’s easier to view your idea from an objective point of view (note: I said easier, not easy). Then you can take the following steps to ensure you’ve covered all your bases before you launch your business:
#1: Team up
Find a business coach or mentor who you trust—someone who believes in you and understands your vision—and work with them to perfect your business idea and/or your business (if you’ve already launched). Always be open to new points of view, helpful advice and honest feedback. You don’t have to tackle business challenges as an army of one.
If you find yourself explaining to a random person that “green” means sustainable, not the color of Kermit the Frog, it’s not time to give up, it’s just time to find a better mentor.
#2: Recruit the best opinions
Don’t reject other people’s opinions—filter them. In order to uncover the gold nugget pieces of advice that are critical to grow your business, you’ll need to sift through the mounds of opinions/advice/feedback that are piling up all around you.
Consider these two factors when listening to another person’s opinion:
(1) What is the objective of the person giving the advice?
(2) What qualifies that person to give advice?
For example, if your neighbor is giving you unsolicited advice on your business idea, he probably knows nothing about business and is not invested in whether or not your business succeeds. Use your filter to take his opinion with a grain of salt, smile, nod and move on.
On the other hand, if Seth Godin is your neighbor, go get a tape recorder and a notepad.
#3: Only fire when ready
Don’t push to launch your business idea before it’s ready. That’s like publishing a book before you let an editor review it—it’s going to have a massive amount of typos and won’t last long on the bookstore shelves once customers find out.
Take the time you need to tweak your idea until it’s right. Remember—you’re not desperate. The world is not ending tomorrow. No one is going to launch a competitive product in the interim.
At the same time, I want to make the distinction that this DOESN’T mean you have an excuse to stall or procrastinate on launching your business until everything is perfect. This will never happen. Just find a way to learn as much as you can, seek feedback on your business, research similar businesses, and then take a shot and launch.
In the end, just because you’re attached to your business idea doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. But if you’re too attached to it, you’ll never know one way or another. Use the tips listed above to make sure that you don’t strike out in the ninth inning merely because your business idea wasn’t ready to go to bat.