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Entrepreneurs share the worst business advice they ever got

By Jacqueline Mahugu | October 24th 2018

When you decide to become an entrepreneur, you’ll get a lot of people giving you a lot of ideas about how to run your business. And most of what comes your way, you won’t have asked for.

While there’s no law against trying to glean as much insight from others as you can to avoid making mistakes, you can’t act on all the information you get. Do what’s best for your business, what’s in line with your vision and what feels right to you. At the end of the day, the buck stops with you. 

We asked seven business leaders what the worst advice they ever got is.

Christopher Madison, Kenya CEO at Dentsu Aegis Network

1. Christopher Madison, Kenya CEO at Dentsu Aegis Network

The worst business advice I ever received was ‘do what you love’ at my New York University graduation commencement.

I have since learned ‘do what makes you money’ works much better for me personally. I know, I know – it’s not exactly the stuff that makes a good Instagram post. And on one level, this approach goes against everything our culture tells us we should do with our careers.

But there’s something to be said for financial stability. To a greater extent than most of us want to admit, you’re only as principled and independent-minded as your bank account allows you to be.

‘Do what you love’ is probably much better advice for someone who’s born rich or holds a tenured academic position than it is for the rest of us 99 per centers. And are we really so sure that the best thing to do with passion is attempting to monetise it, anyway?

Why assume it’s easier to turn passion into money than it is to turn money into passion? Why not side hustle for love, and enjoy your career to make money?

Jayne Okoth, CEO of Rapunzel Hair Affair Salon and Porsh Hair

2. Jayne Okoth, CEO of Rapunzel Hair Affair Salon and Porsh Hair

The worst business advice I ever got was someone telling me that I was in competition with someone else, and I should do something about it.

It’s bad advice because when anyone opens a business, you have your own business model. Your actual competition might not even be in the same business as you are.

I admire five-star hotels, so those are the companies I consider to be my competition. I want my standards to be the same as those of a five-star hotel. So the kind of hair services you can get at Villa Rosa Kempinski, for instance, you should be able to get from my business.

Just focus on your own business model without worrying about what the competition is doing.

Pamela Gatwiri CEO and Founder of Pam Nail Polish

3. Pamela Gatwiri, CEO and founder of Pam Nail Polish

The worst business advice I ever received was when someone told me to run my business along with my day job – basically, to not to quit my great job to start a business.

Well, this can work for some. For me, however, it wasn’t an option as I believed it’s important to fully focus on my vision and learn the industry, and this takes a lot of dedication and time.

Looking back, I wish I’d quit my job earlier to start my business. You don’t have to tell people what you’re doing – just go ahead and do it.

James Karundu, CEO of Passionbiz Academy

4. James Karundu, CEO and founder of Passionbiz Academy

The worst business advice I ever got was when I was told to charge low prices for my services to attract customers. People still tell me that even now.

However, from experience, it doesn’t work. I followed that advice and would charge low prices for my seminars and then wonder why people were not attending. I’d reduce the price further and further, even to as low as Sh1,500 and nothing changed.

I realised that if clients don’t want what you are offering, it doesn’t matter how cheap it is.

When you’re starting out, you’re anxious and not sure what to do, so you have to work on having confidence in what you’re offering. Know the value of it and have the courage to charge what your service or product is worth. It takes time to learn this.

If you charge too low, the people who come on board will not be the right clients. Cheap and good don’t go together. It’s a journey, and along that journey you learn how to value your product or service. You also cannot do your best if you’re paid too little. 

David Tanki, Executive Director of Lan-x Africa Limited

5. David Tanki, Executive Director at Lan-x Africa

The worst business advice I ever got was ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’.

That’s terrible advice when you’re starting out, because when you get into business, you don’t want to be scattered. You need to focus all your efforts on one thing, otherwise by trying to get too much done at once, you risk killing the goose that laid those golden eggs.

So put all your eggs in one basket and guard it very well until it reaches autopilot, where you don’t have to be watching it all the time. Then you can diversify to other baskets once your initial business can stand on its own and you’ve learned the ropes. 

Tony Sahni, Securex Agencies (K) Ltd

6. Tony Sahni, CEO at Securex Agencies (K)

The worst business advice I ever got when I was starting out was that to cut on costs, I should not invest significantly in training my staff. Training was seen as an unnecessary expense with little return on investment.

Fortunately, I didn’t take this advice because nothing could be further from the truth!

Over the years, I came to learn that finding the right people and investing in their training not only makes work more efficient, but it lowers your costs of doing business in the long term. It also means that as the founder or CEO, you can trust your people with more responsibility and free up your time for other matters.

Manyara Kirago, Managing Director of Financial Counseling

7. Manyara Kirago, Managing Director at Financial Counselling

The worst advice I got was when I used to have a column in the newspaper, which didn’t pay much. Someone asked me why I was wasting time with it instead of focusing on my business. I followed their advice and quit the column. Boy, was that a mistake!

I didn’t know that this column had been my marketing platform. When I stopped writing, people forgot about me. The column was given to someone else and it took me years to get back to where I’d been when I had the column.

Now because of platforms like YouTube and social media, I can get people to know about me and my business. Being constantly visible to people is very crucial. That’s why even if everyone knows about Coca-Cola, they never stop advertising. Now it’s fairly easy to build visibility thanks to the Internet.

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