Business Advice You Should Never Follow (And One Axiom I Live By)

My grandfather was a great guy. He was a hard working German butcher with an amazing work ethic and a strong sense of family. All assets I value and try to emulate in my own life. However, I think it’s fair to say, grandpa did not have a cheery outlook on life. While he might not have been an optimist, he was I think a realist.

When I hear the ever popular business advice “Do what you love and the money will follow” I invariably think of him.

My wise grandpa used to tell me the more fun the work is for you to do, the less money you’re going to make at it.

Now that is some good business advice.

If everybody wants to do it, the market’s going to be oversupplied, and that drives down what you can charge. What if you love surfing? Sure, it sounds incredible to run a surf shop in some sunny locale. But chances are good you’re going to be competing with many other people who also love the idea of offering surf lessons in paradise.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t seek out a career that brings you happiness. You should. There’s a lot to be said for being satisfied on the job. The happier you are, probably the more productive you are, the more opportunities you can create for yourself, and so on. Just don’t count on there being a one-to-one relationship with doing what you love and what sort of income you’re going to generate.

There’s another truth buried here. Don’t do it for the money.

While I do think building success is more about hard work and planning than doing what you love, I also think it’s a mistake to start a business, or pick a career, solely for the paycheck. I have learned that the more passionate I am about what I’m working on, the more I’m going to get out of my work life.

And it turns out that a lack of passion can be disastrous for your work life satisfaction.

According to a recent Gallup report that polled 230,000 workers from 142 countries, twice as many workers in the world are “actively disengaged” versus workers who love their jobs and are “engaged.”

Man holding a red woolen heart concept for valentine's day, busiSo what’s missing for these people? One thing is a sense of passion for their work. In this poll, only 13% of workers felt that deep connection to their job.

That leaves 87% of workers worldwide who either sleepwalk through their workday or who full on hate their jobs.

The U.S. boasts some of the better stats among the countries polled, with 30% passionate about their work, 52% feeling checked out and 18% who actively detest their jobs.

The happiest workers live in a country I’ve become recently interested in: Panama. There 37% love their jobs, 51% are not engaged and 12% are very unhappy.

That brings me back to my grandpa. When he retired, did he let his own advice stop him from pursuing his dream? I am happy to report no he did not. The idea he loved was running his own bait and tackle shop on Lake Huron, money or no money.

This next business advice may sound counterintuitive to what I just wrote, but bear with me. This is advice I’ve personally received, and definitely glad I ignored.  “Don’t do that. It’s already been done so many times before.”

I counter that advice with some of my own. “Just because everybody is doing it, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it too.”  Two key examples of this come from my own career: hamburgers and pizza. I cannot tell you how many times somebody, probably with the best of intentions, has said to me something like “There are so many people already selling hamburgers <or pizza>. Why would you get into that over-crowded business?”

I’ll tell you why. Because lots and lots of people like hamburgers and pizza. There’s so much demand for these products, for all kinds of occasions.

According to the USDA, for adults 20 years and older, pizza is primarily a dinner food, but adults eat pizza for breakfast, lunch and snacks too. In fact, Americans eat approximately 100 acres of pizza a day or about 350 slices per second, and more than 5 billion pizzas are sold worldwide each year, according to pizza.com, a clearinghouse for all things pizza.

worst bus advice chart v2

And burgers? Well, according to McDonald’s, the chain sells 75 burgers every single second of every minute of every hour of every single day. Americans eat nearly 50 billion burgers a year, which translates to three burgers a week for every single person in the United States.

So yes, I think there’s room for more business opportunity even if you aren’t the first person to market. The fine line is you have to come up with a new take, something that doesn’t already exist. Essentially, your business idea needs to be so good you’re actually disrupting the market because your product is so much better, or different, than what was already out there.

Here’s another piece of advice you should definitely ignore when you’re building your business. “You have to be the cheapest out there.” No way is that true. Don’t do that to yourself. Can you name three situations where you’re glad you bought the cheapest product available? No, probably not.

Don’t focus on cheap. Think instead about value. Consumers define value as a combination of variables, it’s not just price. Of course price may be a component in the minds of your customers, but really it’s what people believe they get for their dollar. Your customer is going to weigh what they get from you and what price you charge them.

Value is a personal perception, so for your business to offer value, you need to determine what those variables are in the minds of those you want as customers. For example, in the quick service restaurant world, value might be seen as a combination of price, quality, quantity and menu flexibility.

Low angle view of determined male athlete jumping over a hurdlesI’m going to close with a piece of advice that I do take to heart. “Try, try again.” There’s a plaque in my office that I turn to when I need some inspiration.

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

— Theodore Roosevelt