By Huw Moxon

Filling gaps in the market is the modus operandi of budding or established entrepreneurs. If you can identify it, you can fill it (& profit from it). This is no less true for business advice. At some point, in a feat of near ironic entrepreneurial spirit, someone recognised and filled the hole in the market for business advice (providing it at a price). And now, it’s difficult to avoid it. There’s a plethora of literature available. Thankfully it’s not all behind a paywall anymore, but with so much, how do you know how to discern the good from the bad? How, as an aspiring entrepreneur can you avoid traipsing down an endless rabbit hole of business information?

So why is there so much? The key lies in the word ‘entrepreneur’. It’s too ambiguous. Taken literally, ‘entrepreneur’ clumps together anyone that takes risks to set up a business. As an operational definition it’s fine. But as an emerging business owner looking for assistance, this is problematic. How can ‘entrepreneurial advice’ encompass that which suits someone in the midst of setting up a carpentry business and someone who is generating a not-for-profit app? One is by no means lesser than the other, but what may be great advice to one could be fateful advice to the other. This is especially true if a business idea doesn’t fit into standard business plans. If you’re fulfilling a new business sector niche, what could anyone really know about what is good for your business?

To be clear, this isn’t to say that business advice in itself is a bad thing. Lots of advice, even the vaguest of recommendations, serve as great starting points for business men and women. However, when taken at face value, much business advice available is too reductive and implies that all entrepreneurial spirit is equal in the success of a new business. In reality, when we’re formulating a new business there is no universal approach.

And here, if you’re a careful reader, is where you recall the title of this piece and spurn me for my hypocrisy. But – it’s in the emphasis:

The only advice you need as an entrepreneur is to think critically.

This is for two main reasons:

1: It allows you to identify and follow only the advice that is suitable for you.

Of course, nobody providing business advice is aiming to mislead (hopefully). But an umbrella level approach naturally becomes less appropriate the further into specific sectors you go. Blindly following advice from a single source could be disastrous if it turns out to be something wholly unsuitable to your field. A budding entrepreneur that fosters an analytical attitude is better able to distinguish between vague, potentially harmful advice and that of tailored specific recommendations that can have a strong, positive effect on the trajectory of their business plans. This is particularly apparent in blog posts that the bad advice once received by successful business men and women. The common theme is not the content of the advice these accomplished entrepreneurs received, but that they were each able to identify that the advice they were given, albeit well meant, wasn’t suitable for their plans. The takeaway from these examples is not to ignore advice or thoughtlessly follow, it’s that successful business owners have thought diligently about the potential outcomes of following the advice they have received. For you, too, this is vital.

2: Cultivating a critical attitude has ramifications throughout the rest of your business life.

Being an entrepreneur doesn’t end as soon as your business is off of the ground. Throughout every stage from the conception of your business idea to years of running a successful business, you will frequently encounter situations that necessitate a critical mind – beyond the advice you receive. Developing an analytical approach during the early stages of your business can not only help you to get your business off of the ground but can also help to prepare you for times when you will need to make decisions that can maintain the success of your business.

If you are already far enough along the road of turning your business idea into a reality that you are looking for advice, the chances are that you are already most of the way there towards thinking like a critical entrepreneur. You will have already toyed with the possibilities of the shape and form of your business, and will have carefully rejected those that are unrealistic or undesirable. The next step is to read wide, specific and non-specific advice alike and to gather all the available information you can even if it isn’t directly pertinent to your plans (all the better if it is). Then, crucially, engage yourself in critical thought by asking yourself: ‘Is this really directly applicable to me?’

Huw Moxon is a marketing manager at Informi. Informi is a free online resource for small businesses and sole-traders. Informi provides guidance and technical support on everything you need to know about starting a business – from finance and legal advice to profit-boosting tips on marketing and technology. Whatever stage they’re at, Informi helps businesses grow and flourish.