Seems like I’m getting a new flow of e-mail lately from well-meaning people asking for “tips on new business” or “tips on starting a business,” as if there were some storehouse of generic tip treasures that are waiting to be distributed.
Here are two examples:
I ran across you on [the web] and wanted to send you an e-mail and see if you would offer any advice in, well, any part of this new direction I am taking. I read your “About Me” section on your site and you have seen it all! This is something completely new to me and I am looking to do better than most right out of the gates. Anything you can offer would be appreciated!
I have been working in my field for more than a decade now. I believe I am quite adept at meeting challenges, too, but I get numb when it comes to starting up a new venture or business of my own. Basically, lots of ideas just scatter away. I always get this feeling that a paper plan is good enough only if it’s simple, actionable and time bound. What do you think? I need some sound advice and tips from a man like you who has seen it all.
How do I answer requests like those? As soon as I start to even think about it, the obvious platitudes well up in my brain like a flood of useless, boring, obvious advice: Give value. Be true to yourself. Do something you like doing, something that people will pay for. Buy low, sell high. Bootstrapping is better if you can get away with it, but can be bad if you end up stifling a business that might have prospered with more capital. Don’t spend more than you take in.
Business, and particularly startup business, isn’t generic. Every case is different. I like answering questions–you can see a bunch of my answers at Entrepreneur.com and at bplans.com–but I don’t have a stock answer for a request for general generic wisdom.