“Save your money. Save as much money as you possibly can. Every penny you can.”
Working as a new freelancer back in 2015, this quote from Mark Cuban was my business doctrine. I read it somewhere (I forget where), and I took his words at face value. Following his advice, I curbed spending wherever I could, I looked for the cheapest options when making a purchase, I pinched pennies.
The thing is, Mark Cuban wasn’t talking about business when he gave this advice. I later learned that “save your money” applied only to personal spending, according to him. All this time, I had been building my business on advice that wasn’t even meant for business.
Searching for Inspiration
Many of us turn to quotes we find on social media for inspiration in our professional and personal lives. When we seek out advice from colleagues, it is sometimes delivered in the form of quotes from experts to add credibility to their own philosophy. There’s no malice involved: we all share things that have helped us or inspire us to do better.
Taking that advice out-of-context, however, can be harmful.
As a new business owner, you’ll need to navigate a myriad of often conflicting pieces of advice. If you take this advice at face value, as I did, there can be unintended consequences.
Consider my own case study as an example. Back in 2015, I worked from home to save money. I didn’t spend on marketing to help drive new business or invest in a good CPA to manage the books. I didn’t spend on anything.
It was a disaster. My lone source of referrals dried up, and I had no pipeline to fall back on. By staying small I was also frustrating my own internal drive, which led me to be less patient and present on the home front. I operated under a business philosophy that Mark Cuban would most certainly disagree with, one that left me stressed and unhappy.
Mark Cuban is an entrepreneur I still admire greatly, and my misapplication of his quote is my fault. That is my point. I read the quote out of context and applied it to my own situation.
Putting advice into context
My philosophy evolved after this learning experience. If you’re a business owner, every cost you have should be an investment. The best way to evaluate potential investments is to look at the return on investment: what gains are you likely to achieve relative to their costs?
Don’t listen to advice that tells you to go cheap whenever possible. If you really want your business to grow, you should make quality investments, not cheap investments.
For every sage piece of advice floating around on the internet, there are 100 bad ones. Here’s an example I see a lot:
“10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness.”
If you’re unfamiliar with this one, the 10,000 Hours Rule comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers, where he examined the factors that contribute to a high level of success. It’s a great read, but the rule doesn’t apply everywhere.
A Princeton study in 2014 debunked this assumption. In fact, they found that in professions, deliberate practice had just a 1% impact on outcomes.
Does that mean you shouldn’t invest time into your craft? Absolutely not. But you do need to consider the ROI: time is an investment. If it’s not going to deliver a positive return, your resources might be better spent elsewhere. There are plenty of kids earning millions of dollars each year playing with toys on YouTube who are barely old enough to have lived 10,000 hours, let alone practiced for that many.
Here’s another one folks in business circles love to throw around:
“Cash is King.”
Ask someone in Venezuela about this, where hyperinflation and shortages of banknotes have created a crippling currency crisis. People literally can’t get cash.
This one is popular both for business and personal struggles:
“Failure is a part of the journey.”
So is success. Why not focus on the positive? If it helps you re-motivate yourself in difficult situations, then by all means use this quote in your own life. But it shouldn’t be the only decision-making tool in your kit. You need context and critical thinking to accompany it.
The next time you read a quote on social media, or ger advice which references a common saying, ask yourself: “Is this really true for me and my situation?”. I often find the answer is ‘no’. That doesn’t mean the quote is ‘wrong’, it’s just wrong to apply advice that doesn’t take into context the reality of the situation.
I’d be happy to put some of my best advice and lessons learned over the years into context for you. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our contact form here to get started on your next big idea.