Its been a pretty good weekend. The sun shone. I watched our resident vixen and her six cubs gambolling and scrapping on the front lawn. A game of golf with good friends and a decent score. A long run in perfect peace on Fenwick moor.
These are times to reflect and think about ambitions for the future. A lot of positive thoughts spun through my head. One topic which stuck is advice. I loved Vicky Brock’s Entrepreneur Agony Aunt podcast on the subject of Telling Good Advice from Bad. Leah Hutcheon is one of my favourite people and its a question which nags at me.
Almost every week I listen to an entrepreneur describing some bad advice they have received on the journey. And I have spent most of my career giving advice. So I feel I should be able to help. Its a difficult thing to get right and I have no doubt I have pointed plenty of people in the wrong direction over the years. (I was going to write there that its a tough job but in all honesty, its not.)
So how do you tell good advice from bad? There is no answer to the question. Thinking about the people and the context will help you decide.
The "bad" guys
Its kind of obvious that bad advice comes from bad people. If you are dealing with someone you don’t trust then ignore their advice. In fact, don’t deal with that person full stop.
Most times its not that easy. I see four situations where bad motives lead to bad advice.
The "good" guys
With the exception of the rare first category, these are not bad people. But advice with the wrong context or approach does not help your business. So how do you spot the people who are right to help you?
Here in Scotland at least the good news is that love is all around you. Scotland is a great place to live and work so we have more than our fair share of smart, experienced business people. And I know there are plenty happy to help anyone on the entrepreneurial journey.
But advice is a two way street. Finding a good advisor is half the solution. You also need to ask the right questions and listen to the answers the right way.
The right kind of advice
First you need to seek the right kind of advice. Kind of obvious - sorry. There are two basic types. Specific advice from an expert on a defined topic. And mentoring, problem sharing advice that helps you make better decisions.
At the risk of sounding like the script for a four box model, there are also two types of advisors out there. Some are old guys like me that have been around and giving advice for a long time. The other type are successful entrepreneurs. There is no doubt that people who have been there and done it, often more than once, have a unique and valuable perspective.
Its quite easy to define a specific professional who fills a gap in your knowledge and can suggest how to proceed. Lawyers, accountants and so on are in the phone book. Take a little care to look into specific experience and pick someone relevant.
Mentoring is sharing
Finding a mentor is much harder. Mentoring is a personal relationship. For me it is also a two way deal. I learn at least as much from mentoring someone as they can learn from me.
This is why I talk about being lucky at this stage of my career. Working with people like Leah Hutcheon, the Mallzee founders and Paul Reid is a great learning experience.
Don't forget the insiders
In addition to the two types, there are two others that too many people ignore. The best advisor just might be your customer. Or it could be someone on your team. Your customers and your team are closer to your business than any advisor.
The Chairman's View
Advice is only advice. Its an opinion on the best course of action not an instruction manual. You still need to make the decisions. There are three top tips to keep in mind:
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.