Warning to all future entrepreneurs: You’re going to be hearing a lot of criticism. It should be part of the job description, in fact: Start a company you believe in, work long hours, and spend half your time listening to people question your business (or sanity).
Most of the time, you should be open to that criticism in order to address holes in your business strategy you may be too close to see objectively. It’s usually hard to hear, but taking criticism to heart can be the difference between building a business that’s strong and successful—and one that quickly fails.
But, there are some negative things people have said to me that do much more harm than good—things that, over time, I've learned to ignore. And if you’re doing or building something you love, I suggest you do, too.
Here are four criticisms I’ve received—and how to deal with them if you’re on the receiving end.
1. “But, you’re so young. I mean, did you even go to business school?”
Says the (obviously bitter) guy at the bar who’s still paying off his b-school loans.
First of all, I take the first comment as a compliment. Yes, I’m young, but last time I checked, there wasn’t an age requirement for entrepreneurship. The real factor to measure when it comes to potential for success, I believe, is guts: Do you have the guts to throw yourself all in to this business?
Same goes for business school. I’m not saying it isn’t valuable—it absolutely is, especially if you can afford it and have the time. But your ability to go to business school shouldn’t determine whether or not you get to start a business.
There are a few important things to keep in mind if someone questions your age, expertise, or level of experience. One, consider the source. If someone reacts to your youth in a negative way, try not to get defensive—it only plays into the childishness you're being accused of. Just kindly remind this person that fresh ideas come from a fresh perspective, which can naturally come from fresh faces. Right?
If your expertise is in question, brush it off if it’s not something you’ve got under your belt. The passion in your heart for the mission, though cheesy, is just as crucial as the brainpower you’d acquire from b-school books (and it’s what’s going to keep you up way past your bedtime in order to make your business a success).
2. “Is there money in that?”
Says a well-established lawyer in my family who simply can’t fathom earning a living outside of a traditional career trajectory.
My answer (dripping in sarcasm): "Oh no, not at all. I’m just kicking around an idea and seeing if it sticks after spending all of my time and resources trying to make my dream a reality while living in the only attic space I can afford in NYC. #Yolo!"
Again, there’s something to be said for well-meaning friends and family trying to play devil’s advocate, but when you’ve spent weeks of your life doing market research before deciding to dedicate your life to bringing a business idea to fruition, this can be incredibly frustrating.
Rather than shoot a death stare across the dinner table (followed by a Beyonce-worthy hair toss), I’ve learned that the best strategy is to come up with a canned response to sweetly tell everyone. My go-to, sugar-coated version is to highlight the various press outlets I've been featured in: “I sure hope so, or else Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and Inc. are all wrong.” Then whip your hair back and forth in your head.
3. “Don’t you think you’re being too targeted?”
Says the entry-level assistant account executive who has zero experience outside of her pastry client who literally targets everyone who eats breakfast (a.k.a., everyone).
My answer: Yes, I do. And, that’s why I think it will be successful. People have so many options in highly competitive markets, so in order to cut through that clutter and carve out a loyal customer base, you must create a niche for yourself these days, especially when you’re starting out. No, you won’t please everybody by being an incredibly targeted brand. But you will enamor a strong-willed group of people dying to be understood by brands. Just look at companies like Warby Parker, The Art of Shaving, and Urban Decay, which almost have die-hard cult followings—in a good way.
If someone questions your approach, niche, or target, I recommend answering the question with an even better question: "What would you recommend instead?" Usually, you’ll get a surprised look, followed by some inaudible mumbling and darting eyes, begging you to magically forget about this conversation altogether. If someone does come up with a good argument, let him know he's made a great point, then present your opposing argument. Lastly, close the discussion playfully, saying, “Hey, guess we’ll see who’s right soon enough, right?”
4. “So, have you thought about what you’ll do if this doesn’t work out?”
Says the man I’m no longer dating.
My answer: Nope, not a clue. Why? Because in my mind, there is no other option beyond making this work. If my business idea isn’t successful, it doesn’t mean it’s time to jump ship. It just means it’s time to shift my tactics to reach the same objectives.
Plus, I’m so busy making this work that I don’t have time to think about what I’ll do if it doesn’t. It hasn’t even crossed my mind (until you brought it up, so thanks for that). When people ask me this question, I usually give a sincere shocked reaction—wide eyes, a long gasp—and say, “If you had a business, you wouldn’t dare let it fail would you?”
And, of course you wouldn’t. So, there you go.
OK, I’ll admit it: I’m not fully over the sting of some of these critical questions. And, maybe I was even a little overly sensitive and possibly took them the wrong way.
But maybe that’s a good thing. In my experience, the stings are the stokes to the fire that keep you going. If you’re pissing people off, it’s a good indicator that you’re doing something right. And, if your response is a sturdy argument for why your idea will work, it will reinforce your determination to prove them wrong.
TopicsEntrepreneurship , Syndication , Constructive Criticism , Starting a Business , The Rookie's Guide to Starting a Business by Megan Broussard
Megan Broussard is the creator of the career-lifestyle site ProfessionGal, based in NYC. It’s your treat for the workweek if you’re a young female professional or entrepreneur with a craving to get ahead and have a sweet spot for office style. Connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Quora, and Google+.More from this Author