Years ago, as I searched for a job to further my then-nonexistent journalism career, I received what sounded like solid advice: If I see a job I want, apply for it, even if I’m not fully qualified.
On its face, it sounds like a good call. And in some ways, I still believe it is. But I was specifically hemming and hawing over a gig at a noted financial reporting institution — and at that point, I had not spent years of my life writing about business ownership. Something inside told me this wasn’t a good idea. But, inspired by my more experienced friend’s counsel, I applied, and landed an interview.
The day arrived. I was ushered into an editor’s office, asked a few questions about my work up to that point — and then he, understandably, tested my knowledge of several financial terms that the average person may not understand, but a person covering this beat certainly would. Few moments in my life have ever felt so long as the ones where I stared blankly back in response.
I did not get this job.
Whenever I circle back to this memory in my mind, what sticks out to me is the part where I knew this wasn’t the right call to make at that moment. But the advice itself sounded good, and came from a person I trusted and respected, so I went along with it.
Advice can be a useful tool. But it’s ultimately just that — a tool, in an arsenal of them that we use to govern our lives as best we can. It’s an important distinction to make, and one learned the hard way not only by myself, but by several women entrepreneurs we spoke with as well. They shared with us the guidance they’d received when starting up or expanding that ultimately proved more harmful than helpful — and they usually knew it wasn’t right for them at the time.
Below, we’ve shared their input as food for thought — for those just beginning their entrepreneurial journeys, for those looking to level up, or for anyone who might just need a reminder that you often know what’s best for yourself.
(Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
Bad Advice: Offer Extremely Deep Discounts
“In 2019 and 2020, I hired a coach to help me grow and expand my business. This coach was working with me during the pandemic, and encouraged me to start selling $67 websites to restaurants. I typically sell a website for $3,000 or more. She knew nothing about the website industry, or the restaurant industry [that I specialize in], and the space was crowded. I ended up spending a month working on a project that never brought a dollar in, and only brought in headaches. Shortly after, I stopped working with the coach, abandoning all of the sessions that I had already paid for because her advice was so bad.” — Meagan Brown, owner of MB Marketing in Fort Worth, Texas
Bad Advice: Don’t Do It Because It’s Hard
“I recently had a networking call with a beverage industry CEO who I was introduced to through a mutual friend. After I finished my introduction and described my vision, she said “My advice is: Don’t do it!” She proceeded to tell me about how hard it would be, that I would invest years of blood, sweat and tears, and that I had a very low chance of success — so therefore I shouldn’t waste my time. While I appreciated her perspective about the difficulties I might face, I chose to ignore her advice about giving up, and instead focus on how I could avoid some of the pitfalls she highlighted.” — Leslie Danford, founder and CEO of Vitaminis in Chicago
Bad Advice: It’s Not for Women (!)
“Almost all of my relatives said, ‘Don’t start! You will fail eventually, why even bother?’ or ‘Women are not meant for business; this is all just guy stuff.’ In fact, I am glad all this occurred because without it, I wouldn’t have grown into the confident woman I am now. I just couldn’t give them the satisfaction of seeing me fail. Today I am successful because I trusted my instincts and not a male-dominated society.” — Josefin Björklund, co-founder of Topp Casino Bonus in Toronto, Ontario
Bad Advice: Be (Too) Aggressive
“After 2 years in business, I’ve received my fair share of misguided advice. But one that threw me off track the most was when I was launching. I had a mentor at the time who advised me to follow a strict routine for posting [online], going live every day and getting in [direct messages] with everyone who expressed interest. While it sounds like good advice, an aggressive sales approach just isn’t me, and it led me to re-set my launch because I felt like I couldn’t keep up. Basically, anyone who tells you to go against your energy is giving bad advice, in my opinion.” — Felly Day, CEO of Felly Day in Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Bad Advice: Dress for the Part, Not Yourself
“Being a female CEO, most of the advice I got was that I should dress … to fit in, because men are the majority of my coworkers. I felt controlled and dictated, [yet] I still considered their advice, which [made me] uncomfortable. In this experience, I realized that no one should address you on what you need to be. The more comfortable with who you want to be or how you dress, the more confident and thriving you’ll be. You’ll be successful if you don’t let others decide for you.” — April Maccario, founder of Ask April in Watsonville, California
Bad Advice: Just … Jump Into Something
“I left the corporate workforce 5 years ago, forced out by health issues. After making a full recovery, I chose to become an entrepreneur. A well-intentioned friend suggested that I just ‘jump into something’ — throw it at the wall, and see if it sticks. As a conservative, analytical person, I resisted. But after months of analysis-paralysis, I gave in to the idea of ‘taking a leap of faith,’ only to find out that my business idea wasn’t going to work. The upfront capital was more than I was comfortable spending, and it was labor-intensive. I’m a hard worker and I don’t mind investing time and money, but this business took me deeper than I had planned. I learned that advice and encouragement from friends and family, even when offered with the best intentions, should be considered but tucked away for reference, not necessarily for taking action.” — Dianne Birtley, founder of Car Gear Guru in Calgary, Alberta
Bad Advice: Stick to Your Business Plan — No Matter What
“When I first started PersonalityMax, along with my colleague Cynthia, I got advice that sounded logical but almost killed our company: ‘Stick to your business plan.’ We [eventually] wanted to go fully digital, reshaping the product and changing the pricing. An advisor thought it was a terrible idea, so he advised me to follow my initial objectives and strategies. When I informed our investors that we probably want to stay the same, they told me that they’ll back off if we don’t make the discussed changes. Well, needless to say I didn’t listen to the advice we were given, as PersonalityMax is thriving more than ever.” — Claire Grayson, co-founder of PersonalityMax in San Diego
Bad Advice: Just, Y’know, Try Harder
“When I started my first business, I hired a business coach to help me grow. Whenever I faced an obstacle, she’d say things like ‘You don’t want it enough,’ or ‘You just have to try a bit harder.’ I was frustrated because I did want it bad enough, and I was trying hard. Ultimately, I stopped working with her and ended up building my business on my own. It was a $18,000 lesson — but one I’m glad, in hindsight, that I got. It helped me become better at evaluating who I want to work with, and ultimately I built my business faster.” — Luisa Zhou, founder of LuisaZhou.com in New York City
Bad Advice: Outsource Everything
The worst advice I have ever gotten was to outsource as much as I could, so that I was only left with the task of sales and business growth. That may not have been necessarily bad advice, but outsourcing everything right off the bat led me to lose a lot of clients, a lot of sales, and the opportunity to learn how to manage different parts of my business. Many clients wondered why the quality and delivery of my products were not what they used to be — when I did most of everything myself. Outsourcing … right from the start was a huge disaster — I learned that I am better served by doing the majority of tasks myself. No one cares about or knows your business more than you do yourself.” — Jessica Lipton, founder of Elevate Delta 8 in Anaheim, California