How to Avoid Badvice

This post is written for foodpreneurs but is really for anyone with a dream, a vision, an ambition or just an idea. It’s a post that will resonate with anyone working towards a goal or an end point. On the surface this is all about advice and support but it’s a really specialist area of advice and support that I want to talk about. It’s the area of advice and support that nobody asked for, that nobody really wants and that usually comes from a position of ignorance, arrogance and an over-inflated sense of self. The advice I want to talk about is advice that’s imposed upon you and is usually bad, oh so bad; so bad that it definitely falls under the category of Badvice. All is not lost though, I think I’ve found a way to deal with Badvice, or certainly one that is working for me so hopefully you can take it into your life and never have to politely nod and smile ever again!

I think we’ve all been in this situation before but imagine the scene: you’re meeting an old friend that you haven’t seen for years. The conversation is flowing and you’re reminiscing about old times. All is good. Then comes the precursor to the Badvice stream as they ask, ‘so tell me what’s new, what are you working on?’ Now, at this point you’re really excited to share your new project with your old friend. You’ve just started your own food business and you think you’ve found the next big thing. You’ve built your brand and sales are going really well at local shows and online. Your next step is to scale up to take the business to the next level. As you’re answering the question you can see that your old friend isn’t really listening and just looks like an opportunity to talk; and then they hit you with it:

‘What you want to be doing is…’

Boom. The Badvice Bombshell.

They go off into a monologue of how you should be proud of what you’ve done but if you could do these three things differently it would really make a difference. They also suggest trying a load of things that you probably looked at doing in your first week but realised very quickly that they wouldn’t work. They will talk at you with such confidence that it will leave you wondering why you never realised that the person you’d known for over half your life was a reclusive Richard Branson. Who knew that a Teaching Assistant would be so knowledgeable about running a food business?! Arrrghh!

That’s not the only form that Badvice can take though; the other type comes in the form of feedback and usually opens with something like: ‘can I just give you some feedback..’ Well you’re clearly going to anyway so don’t let me stop you! In my experience, this statement-disguised-as-a-question most commonly occurs after someone has tried a FREE sample of your product and tends to go a little something like this:

THEM: ‘Can I just give you some feedback?’

ME (outwardly): ‘Yeh, sure it’s a gift!’

ME (inwardly): ‘Go on…’

THEM: ‘I mean it’s not for me but if you could swap the cherries for raisins I think it would do really well.’

ME (outwardly): ‘Oh, nice one. I’ll give that a go. Thanks!’

ME (inwardly): ‘Cheers dickhead! Not already thought of that one. I’ll look forward to seeing whatever it is your business does and offering my expert advice on that!’

Unfortunately, I’ve found myself in these situations more times than I care to count (I cringe to think about it but I’m sure I’ve been the Badvisor at some point too), and I get that most people think they’re being helpful; however, more often than not it just acts as a little seed of doubt or annoyance that can grow and flourish. So, it needs dealing with, right?

Here’s a method that I’ve started using and it seems to be tackling the Badvisors before they can get into their full swing. It’s quite simple so maybe you could also get some success from this too. It goes a little something like this:

THEM: ‘What you want to be doing is…’

ME: ‘Can I just stop you there for a second?’

*walkaway and never come back*

Job done! Give it a try!

Now, on a more serious note, I’m not advocating rubbishing all advice out there. Entrepreneurship can feel like a very lonely world and I am a big ambassador for gathering opinions and success stories to build into your own world. Books, podcasts, consultants, family and friends are all fantastic sources of advice and support. I think it’s a good thing to surround yourself with people and resources that you trust. They’re great as a sounding board or to help coach direction or just to bounce ideas around because saying them out loud sometimes gives them arms and legs. However, if you are to take just one piece of advice from me, let it be this:

You don’t need anyone’s advice. It might help to substantiate what you were already thinking or to provide a different perspective but have the confidence in your own thoughts and convictions. You’re probably much much better at what you do than you give yourself credit for. Take a run at it.

Northern Munkee.


A Startisan’s Guide to Employing Consultants…

To spend or not to spend…that’s the question.

I’ve been very fortunate that I have sat on most sides of business: I’ve been a buyer, I’ve been a seller, I’ve been a retailer and I’ve also been part of a start-up business. So I do feel fortunate enough to have quite a rounded view.

This post looks into a really tough question that faces all startisans: how should I spend my money?

You’ll find when you start your business that you won’t face a shortage of outlets for your cash and there will be a metaphorical queue at your metaphorical door of ‘consultants’ who can design a plan tailored to your needs (for an extortionate monthly retainer without any guarantee and a complicated set of T’s and C’s). So how do you start to sort through all the white noise and discover what is (non) essential?

I am fully aware that this post may seem hypocritical, as I consult, but I can hold my hands up in earnest and say that I will not be able to help every business. It’s just not possible. It really depends on what the individual business needs; by which I mean: where are you on your journey? what’s already in your tool box? where’s your destination?

Where are you on your journey?

Everyone has their own analogy but I think of a business owner as a parent; scared, unsure and learning on the job but the pride and feeling of accomplishment returns the investment ten fold. Now, to continue with my analogy, you cannot expect to apply the same parenting techniques to a baby as you would a teenager – you’d get some very embarrassing results if you attempted to carry an angst-ridden teenager through Manchester town centre in a papoose!

So the first thing you need to ask yourself is where are you at on your journey. If you consider yourself a startup or even pre-startup there’s little point in investing in a CRM consultant, that would be a little premature. However, you may decide that you need a branding expert to ensure you’re setting off in the right direction.

What’s already in your toolbox?

Now, the first point to note is that entrepreneurs are not good at everything. I don’t care what you say, they’re not. Even the most successful have strengths and weaknesses. However, the most successful entrepreneurs are very good at knowing their strengths and investing in their weaknesses. Conversely, it would be a monumental waste of money to outsource something that you consider to be one of your strengths.

So, early on in your startisan journey, you need to establish what your strengths and weaknesses are to make sure you’re only investing in weaknesses. There is no one better placed to sell your product than you, it’s impossible for anyone to be more passionate about your brand.

I have, unfortunately, made the mistake of employing someone to sell my brand for me early on in my business’ life and it ended badly. I have spent the majority of my professional life in either buying or selling functions so one thing I do know is how to sell so this should have been the last thing I looked to outsource. I believed that having the sales generation looked after by a third party was the right thing to do as it would allow me ‘to think bigger things’. Well, they were rubbish! These agencies promised me the world, as any good salesman would, and delivered nothing. Lesson learnt!

Where’s your destination?

This final question depends on the strength of your brand and your self-awareness of what you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t know the answer to this then I’d definitely recommend working with someone that can help you find your place. If you do then this will help you determine what sort of help you require.

So that’s a brisk walk through my thoughts on the use of consultants in start-up businesses. I have worked with consultants in various walks of life and have found that they are all very good at identifying issues and the solutions will spookily match the consultancy’s specialism. However, I often c0nsultants like getting career advice from a teacher at school – unless you want to be a teacher they’re not going to be much use!

That being said a good startisan will be aware of their shortcomings and seek out the right person to help so I am, contrary to the tone of this post, an advocate of investing into outside advice. Just be confident in what you do and fight the temptation to be bowled over by a sharp-suited, silver-tongued sales patter. Your brand deserves better than that.

Northern Munkee.

Reap the research rewards…

My new series of blogs offering a peek behind the curtain of the mind of a Retail Buyer focuses on how to add value to your product presentation.

This is the second blog in the series and will focus on market data and research. So I can hear some eye rolls already but believe me, this is really important and it’s something that artisan producers just don’t do; so if you’re on board you’ll be moving to the top of the class!

Ok, so I do appreciate that most artisan businesses don’t have access to huge budgets and even if they do they don’t really want to be spending a large chunk of it on expensive taste tests, consumer panels and research. So how should you go about it? Well, in my opinion, artisan producers are in the perfect position to do it on the cheap. So you’re attending the Foodies Festival in Edinburgh this year with an anticipated footfall of around 25,000 people and you’re sampling your products. Let’s assume you manage to sample to just 10% of the total footfall and you ask everyone that tries a sample one question: ‘what do you think? Marks out of ten.’ You make a quick score and tot them up when you get a spare moment to get your average score. Now you’re in a position to go to a buyer and tell them that you sampled your product directly to your target market and the average score was 9.3 out of 10.

You can also say that you’ve advertised your brand to 25,000 early adopting foodies. If you wanted to go one step further you could even have a questionnaire on your stand that asks your samplers to rate the product versus their normal purchases. Here you can explore more in depth opportunities. When you’re constructing your questions put yourself in the buyer’s shoes for a moment and think about what data will allow an objective decision? Just imagine how powerful something like ‘70% of people surveyed said that they would be willing to trade up from their usual purchase because they loved the product’s quality, provenance and branding’ would be. Don’t underestimate how important this direct feedback is; anytime you’re getting someone to interact with your product or brand then you should be taking advantage.

A buyer would never expect an artisan supplier to act like a large blue-chip business. However if you’re adding value to your presentation by substantiating features and developing them into tangible benefits then you’re helping to facilitate a buying decision.

Northern Munkee.