Terrible business advice you’ve been given but shouldn’t listen to (and what to do instead)

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Being in the business of coaching coaches and coaching a lot of woo woo types (woo woo’s, I love you, and I say that term with endearment), I hear a loooot of reasons why they don’t want to do this or that in their business. Or conversely, why they DO want to do things a certain way. When you’re a sensitive, feelings kind of person, it makes sense that you’d want to run your business that way too. The crappy part about this is, there are “business coaches” out there egging it on.

I blame the fact that there is whole sea of life-coaches coaching people on their businesses, who don’t have any actual business experience themselves, who are telling people to do what feels good, to leap and the net will appear, to feel the fear and do it anyway…  instead of teaching them tried and true business strategies.

And I’m all for people running businesses that feel good for them (that’s kind of the point right?), but all too often, this advice is being taken as gospel and it almost turns into a rally cry of sorts, shouting out to the world about how you are living life and doing business YOUR way, with other new coaches jumping on the bandwagon, so that you have a whole band of coaches who are touting the same message, with very few of them actually achieving much success in business.

A few of the rally cries include things like:

I’m doing business on MY terms.

I only do it if it’s a HELL YEAH.

I’m following passion and I know that will get me where I want to go.

And sure all of that is great and to a degree, these strategies can work for you and help you make some of the intricate decisions involved in the day to day running of a business. Things like trusting your intuition and finding your own unique way of bringing more of yourself to your business are essential skills in business.

But as blanket advice that applies to every part of your business (and especially to STARTING a business)? Are you kidding me? No. Just, no.

 

Here are the top 5 pieces of cliché advice out there that I do NOT recommend taking, and what you should do instead.

 

Bad advice #1: Follow your passions

This one needs to stop. The reason this advice doesn’t work is because as humans, we have MANY passions (note: the word ‘passions’ can be replaced with ‘interests’ here too). How are you possibly supposed to follow all of them? This is what leads to a business that doesn’t make any sense (or any money). We’ve all seen it – the life coach who also sells scarves and who teaches cooking classes and who loves animals and talks about how your pets can teach you about branding. No. The other reason this advice sucks is that we’re talking business here, not hobbies. And as much as I wish they could, not all of your passions are gonna get you paid. It’s amazing that you love working with underprivileged teens to help them with body confidence, or that you have a lust for travelling to far away places… is there someone willing and able to pay you for these things?

What to do instead:

Choose one area of interest that provides an intersection between something you love, something you are GOOD at, and something people will pay you for. Sometimes this means leaving some of our passions as hobbies – and that’s ok. In fact that’s GREAT!  We all need more than just our business to maintain our sanity. If the passion that you absolutely MUST turn into your career won’t get you paid directly with clients, you may need to bite the bullet and find a job that lets you do it. Working with an organization that already offers the services you want to offer is a great way to do work you love without having to worry about how you’ll pay your rent.

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Bad advice #2: If it’s not a HELL YEAH, don’t do it.

Again, I understand the basis of this advice, but if you run your business this way, not much is going to get done. When you’re starting a business, you need to learn a million and a half different skills. All of a sudden you’re a marketer, and a web designer, and a writer, and a social media strategist, and a bookeeper. Unless you can afford to hire it all out right away (more power to you if you  can – do it!), you are going to be doing a LOT of stuff that is the exact opposite of HELL YEAH. And the advice of “don’t do it unless it feels good” usually keeps people stuck, because not a whole lot is feeling good… which means not a whole lot is getting done. As much as we all want business to be fun and give us the good feels all the time, that’s not how it works.

What to do instead:

Get over it, and get used to it. Really, that’s some of the best advice I can give you. Sometimes business is just business. It’s WORK. And while it’s still awesome work that lets you help a lot of people and do something you enjoy, it’s still work. Find ways to make the crap work FUN. Play your favorite album and see if you can get all your social media scheduled before it ends. Do sets of 50 jumping jacks in between lines of bookeeping. Make it fun. And if all else fails, hire it out. Eventually you will want to get to a point where you are hiring out anything that you a) don’t want to know or b) don’t know how to do, and I understand that we don’t all start with that kind of money to invest. But even early on in your business, if you find a task wearing on you and sucking all your energy and time, it’s MORE than worth it to pay someone else to take it off your plate. And for everything else, get used to the fact that there will always be parts of your business that you don’t love. Let go of the expectation that everything needs to feel good.

 

Bad advice #3: You need to be different

I wrote a whole post about this a while ago, but I’ll sum it up here again – trying SO hard to stand out and do something different takes you further away from what you actually want to be doing. Not to mention that if you’re doing something entirely different that no one has ever done before, you should be worried about the viability of your idea.

What do to instead:

Just be YOU. Stop worrying about whether it’s been done and how it’s been done. Start to worry more about how YOU want to do it. Bring more of your personality to your work, bring all your ideas and beliefs and opinions, and let your business be fully YOU. It will, by nature, end up different than what’s out there… without you having to try so hard.

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Bad advice #4: Your marketing techniques need to be innovative and new and exciting

This is a hard one to disagree with but I’m gonna go ahead and do it. I hear this all the time from clients, “I don’t want to do  ___ to market my business. That doesn’t work for me. I want to do something else”, to which I ask whether they have TRIED doing ____… to which I get blank stares and excuses as to why they haven’t tried it.

And I get it. We all want to be beacons of light in an oversaturated online space, we want to be noticed, and we want it to always feel like a hell yeah (see point #2). The truth is, some of these “old, boring” techniques are done over and over again for a reason – they work. Things like blogging, guest posting, getting promoted on other people’s sites, being interviewed as an expert, creating a freebie to get when they sign up for your site – this shit works. And unless you’re a huge company with an equally huge advertising and marketing budget, it’s unlikely that you will be able to actually pull off a new and innovative way of marketing.

Sure, you don’t HAVE to do every list building technique under the sun (let’s all promise to cut tele-summits off that list right now, shall we?), but you do at least need to do a baseline of online marketing in order to get anywhere. Not to mention that all of this is FREE, which is every new business owner’s BFF word.

What to do instead:

Keep it simple. Keep it boring. And be consistent. Pitch a new guest post every week to a publication bigger than yours and see how your numbers grow. Get yourself interviewed on 5 podcasts this month. Make an amazing free thing to give to people and then promote it to everyone you meet. These methods are tried and true and don’t cost you a thing. The businesses that end up successful aren’t the ones that are the best at what they do or have crazy marketing techniques – they are the ones who are consistent, who show up, and who do the boring work that others aren’t wiling to do… and they do it until it starts to work. Be one of those people.

 

Bad advice #5: You don’t need a niche

I’m gonna keep this one simple – if you want your business to get off the ground at faster than a snail’s pace, then yes, you do. It’s just SO much easier when you know who you’re talking to and can be specific about how you help them.  And I don’t know about you, but life and business can be hard enough already, I’m all for taking the easy approach so I can actually make money to live and buy overpriced superfoods and pay my ridiculous Toronto rent. Wanting to make a good living isn’t selfish, and it doesn’t have to be so hard. We’ve all seen businesses out there that seem to have no niche – they focus on a broad topic like love, or personal development. All well and good, but go check how long they have been in business, how they started, and how long it took them to make any money. You’ll see that those businesses took a long time to get to the point where they were generating income. If you have years to spare and want to experiment with your business  as a hobby then staying broad is a-ok, but if you want to be able to afford to live off your business, niche in.

What to do instead:

Niche doesn’t have to mean a specific demographic, and niche doesn’t mean that you need to know exactly what kinds of shoes your ideal client wears and whether she drinks red wine or beer (we all know the kind of exercise I am talking about right?). Niche just means that you are clear about what problems you solve for your clients, and you know who generally has those problems. If you can nail down your specific problems and the specific results you get for people, you’re golden. Stop worrying about picking an arbitrary age range, and challenge yourself to get super clear about what problem your business helps people with, and all  your marketing will become to much easier.

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Read 38 Comments & Leave Yours

  1. Haha! This is such an awesome list! Made me chuckle with joy and relief that you put it out in the open to discuss. I’ve seen the advice “you don’t need a niche because it will limit you” dolled out and I just scratch me head in disbelief. Maybe that’s cool if all you want is a blog, but if you want an actual factual business that makes actual factual money, then you better niche down and be prepared to work. I really don’t believe there is another way. Great post Becca!

  2. Lucy

    Great post, Rebecca! Thank you for giving us all a sanity check. It’s good to get away from some of that woo-woo advice!

  3. Delight

    I like it Rebecca! Especially the part about not trying so hard to be different and just being yourself. I have been worried lately that everything has been done before and nothing I’m doing is unique. But that’s not true! And I will do it differently than others, because I’m a different person with a unique voice. And I reach out to new people who need this info and have never seen it before. :)

  4. Ricki

    All great advice, but thank you so much for #5 “What to do instead”! I’ve been hitting my head against the wall with “that” exercise, and every time I think I’ve got it, someone from a completely different demographic hires me! Focusing on the problems alone–whoever has them–is so much more feasible. :)

  5. Janice

    This is totally brilliant. I am SOOOOOO incredibly sick of all the life coaching business “advice” floating around out there. It has kept me frozen in place for a few years not knowing which way to turn, who to believe, what to do. I have spent a lot of money on the kind of crap that you talk about in this post. I wish I hadn’t as then I would have the money to hire you!!

  6. Nenne

    I love this so much! Especially #3. I’m all about standing out, but standing out buy just being yourself! There’s no one who can do what you do they way you do it.

  7. Nenne

    And I can’t spell today. I mean “BY just being yourself”

  8. I LOVE this post and will apply your do’s/don’t TODAY to my work. Thanks Becca. Keep being awesome.

  9. Rebecca Tracey

    Thanks so much Deana!

  10. Rebecca Tracey

    hehe, you’re welcome Lucy! It’s hard because I GET where that advice is coming from but I think it holds a lot of people back from doing the actual work in business!

  11. Rebecca Tracey

    Absolutely! Also, if something hasn’t been done before, there’s probably not a good market for it. #foodforthought

  12. Rebecca Tracey

    Yesssss Ricki! “that” is a great exercise for branding and getting more clear on the style and vibe of your work, but it can really hold people back in getting clear. Focus on the problems and know hat all kinds of different people might have those problems, and that’s ok! A certain demographic and type of person will naturally be more drawn to your work.

  13. Rebecca Tracey

    Aww Janice, I’m sorry to hear that! I LOVE life coaches (I come from a life coaching background myself), but when they start giving business advice without having built a profitable business, I get weary. Let me know if I can help you in any way — shoot me an email at becca@theuncagedlife.com

  14. Rebecca Tracey

    #truth Nenne. I get the whole “you need to be different” thing, but people take it way, way too far and lose themselves in the process.

  15. Rebecca Tracey

    MEG! Hiiiiiii! Omg, it’s been forever. Thanks for reading, and super excited to go check out your website! xx

  16. Great post, thanks for the honesty Becca! Its so refreshing and totally true, we need a bit of hard graft mixed with tried and tested techniques. I am getting totally bored for the number of Facebook ads from coaches who will show me how to reach 6 figures in a month, seriously?! I’m all for meteroric rises but most of the time I think they are ust jumping on the bandwagon!
    Becs x

  17. Maren

    I was just cleaning out my inbox and axing the crap that teaches me nothing and clutters my life – and, Becca, you’ve made the cut. I needed this today. Thanks.

  18. Karen

    “Sometimes business is just business. It’s WORK. ” No shit. Those people that say you must love every client/project/gig or you must fire them never had to pay bills I guess. Yeah every aspect of business isn’t sunshine and roses but it pays the bills and I have the freedom to work from home. So hell yeah to that.

  19. Rebecca Tracey

    #honored!

  20. Brilliant as always and well said!!! Thanks Becca!

  21. Rebecca Tracey

    Riighhhtttt! Yep. To me, the lifestyle is equally (more?) important than the work that I do. Yes, you have to love the work, but you have to want the lifestyle even MORE to be able to get through all the bullshit parts of your business!

  22. Rebecca Tracey

    Thanks Kimberly!! How many days til Belize!?

  23. Jemma

    This would have to be my favourite blog post of yours! Loved it!

  24. Can’t wait!!! May take a poll of the group where my travel takes me after too, lol! You’ve got Rox and I visualizing all the time about what we will do there, but more importantly KNOWING the HUGE IMPACT it will make in our businesses! We are so pumped! I’m even putting REAL WORLD biz practices to be in place right after, ANTICIPATING the impact on my business following that trip. Jet fuel!!! Total jet freakin fuel!

  25. Callie

    I love the part about just being you rather than worrying about being different. The funny thing is, just injecting our own personality into our business is what makes it unique.

  26. Aly

    Hit the nail on the head again! Thanks Rebecca for always giving clear, sage advice in a world of often convoluted messages :)

  27. LOVE this post Becca! There is sooo much confusing advice out that and as someone who is running 3 businesses and has helped many others bring theirs to a profit point, I will say that some of the advice IS shit. Not everything feels good ALL the time and you will not always feel passionate about what you are doing in said business, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t/won’t/can’t have an amazing (and profitable) venture!

    Worst advice I got was from my first big time coach who told me to keep at my business until I hit a certain level of success (I wanted to sell it, start consulting and travel the world). I plugged away at it for a few more months, but then I sold it, paid off debts and started moving towards a life and a business that was exactly what I needed at that point. Essentially, I knew in my gut it was time to move on and she really wanted me to stick it out.

  28. Once again, you share your brilliant and timely, no bullshit advice. Thank you for helping me to keep my feet on the ground ! I have heard every. single. piece of the above dictated to me . Also, thank you for what you said about niching. As long as I know what problems I solve and how, then I’m golden.

  29. Nikki

    LOVE this! The follow your passions one has bit me on the ass a few times that’s for sure! Now I’m back to the “what I’m good at and people will pay for” things are making traction again!

    I’m sharing this for sure!

  30. Melanie

    Fantastic list!!!

    Life coaches giving business advice is just … bad… and frustrating!

    My all time biggest irritation – “if it’s not a hell yes then it’s a no!” Who teaches this????

  31. I don’t even have a business and I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said – it’s so transferable to just blogging too, and that’s super awesome. I’m considering contacting a few of bloggers who’ve got a larger audience and working on guest posting, both on my own blog and doing it on others which I’m really excited about. I love these tips and I’ll be keeping them on board, as well as sharing them with my followers too! Thanks Rebecca!

  32. I like to buy overpriced super foods too, LOL! Keep it simple, boring + constent love that. One thing I learned in this online biz world is that a lot of coaches like to over complicate things — It all goes back to the simple fact that building a service based biz is about building relationships!

  33. Yes, yes, and hell yes. Thank you for being so honest, Becca. I feel that so many people are on the feel good train that they don’t balance it with reality. Thank you for telling it like it really is.

  34. Awesome list of advice, Becca! Ditto to the points you’ve made. Great post!

  35. Hilda

    Danielle Laporte, I believe. And she has a phenomenon business

    But that’s because Becca totally took that phrase out of context.

    That phrase doesn’t apply to web design, accounting, social media etc

    That phrase is meant as a gut check for decisions that may feel icky to you. Do you really want to take that course? If it’s not a hell yeah, then no you shouldn’t…chances are you’re wasting your money and won’t do the work. Do you want to work with that particular client? If she’s fan-fucking-tactic but you need to create a special payment plan for her and you’re gut says hell yeah, then do it. If you get an icky vibe even though they will pay you upfront, then don’t do it.

    Totally different than what Becca is implying here. Maybe a better title is, “Build a team as soon as possible even if you don’t have revenue to cover them” which is advice I see going around lately and aptly applies to what Becca was talking about in that sectio.

  36. Daisy

    Thank you for sharing this much-needed info! Some of these (particularly 1, 4 & 5) have also been my pet peeves when I talk to people who want to start something new & make life changes.

  37. victoria

    Love this list. Spot on. Particularly liked your points about ‘be yourself’, great way to differentiate yourself without having to work too hard

  38. Jayne

    Great list, though I have to admit I have no idea what the woo-woo references :) I have a brick and mortar shop and a website/blog ecommerce site. I sell new to antique furniture and am also a DIY boutique type shop so I “coach” folks thru their design and furniture make-over projects. So I’ve been applying all your great info/advice to my type of business and you’ve been spot on, thank you!