I write a lot of business advice on the website Quora. Actually, I write a lot of advice in general, but since this is a business website I didn’t think you’d be interested in the advice I offer as a parent of a six-year-old. A lot of small business owners go to Quora and Google for that matter, looking for guidance. If I think I can help, I offer my two cents. Recently, I responded to this post: “How can I spot dangerous entrepreneurship advice? A lot of contradictory advice given, e.g. they say you just have to start up even though you don’t know business. Next moment they say most businesses fail because people don’t know how to run a business.”

THE SHORT ANSWER

Advice is actionable, not just a fortune cookie saying.

THE LONG ANSWER

Advice isn’t inherently good or bad (exceptions are dishonesty or incompetence). Your goal is to learn as much as you can since only you can decide if the advice you receive is applicable to your situation or not.

In this instance, the “advice” put forth suggests there’s a perfect set of conditions for success no matter what you do. That’s not really true. It is not solution oriented and I argue it’s not advice at all but simply an adage. A fortune cookie saying.

There are some principles you need to learn that are more science than art, but there is no magic recipe. You cannot perfectly identify good advice from bad, but you can tell advice from fortune cookie wisdom. Advice is solution oriented. It is actionable.

“Just start up” or “Don’t start without business knowledge” are true in their own way, much like fortune cookies have a kernel of truth to them, but actual “advice” would guide you into getting that much needed business knowledge.

FIND A MENTOR

You don’t have to do it alone. In fact, finding a mentor is a great place for that learning to start.

Talking to someone with more business experience than you may help you assess your own situation and help you identify whether you fall short of what you need to succeed.

So now that we can discern actual advice from fortune cookie wisdom, let’s go back to your question of identifying good advice versus bad advice. Man that’s hard in some cases. Most of the time, sincere advice is given and can’t really be considered “good” or “bad” but rather “applicable” or “not applicable”. Much like considering whether a tool is the correct one for a job—we have all used a wrench to pound in a nail, but wouldn’t a hammer have been better? A wrench is awesome for other applications but was it the most applicable tool in that case?

When looking at the applicability of advice, look at the source. Does this person giving the advice really know what they are talking about because they have done something similar to what you are doing? Did they face similar challenges to yours? If your situation is different, can their advice be adapted? If someone does not check those boxes for applicable experience maybe they don’t have the competence or relevance to your situation.

Most often you should not only get one source of advice since no other person’s past experience will be a complete match for your particular circumstances. Even if that person generally gives great advice, it is still worthwhile to hear other applicable perspectives in educating yourself in making your own decisions.

Where “bad” advice is relevant is when it’s advice that seems sincere but isn’t. Is the advice you’re getting going to enrich the giver in any way? If so, generally that advice is going to be bad, not just irrelevant. Lots of times this type of advice will be attached to someone selling something or perhaps someone who is willing to guide you but wants some ownership in the company for it. There are great reasons to give part of your company to someone, but be paranoid about it. It’s the type of decision you get to make once! In a co-owner you need someone who will live and fight and die at your side (probably metaphorically).

Knowledge is power (so saying the fortune cookie), so get some! Learn as much as you can. Get a mentor. Even better get several mentors. Better than that, make as many people into official or unofficial mentors as possible and learn lessons from them. This will help you decide whether advice is applicable to you or not.

Stack the odds in your favor as much as you can before you take a leap—there is nothing noble about taking on more risk than you absolutely need to in any given circumstance. A successful entrepreneur is not the person who takes on the most risk and hopes for big rewards, but rather the the one who identifies the biggest reward and works to undertake the least risk possible in achieving it. Learning—by educating yourself and surrounding yourself with trustworthy, knowledgeable people with relevant experience—can help you see risks and mitigate them as much as possible. Only you can decide what is applicable advice for you.

Guest written by Erika Towne.

I write a lot of posts for my husband because he’s a finance guy by trade and I’m a writer by trade. He’s actually very good at writing, but it sometimes comes across as more technical than personal. I’m a write for the spoken word kind of gal.

I say this so you understand the kind of guy my husband is. I was sorting through the mail the other day when I came across an Amazon box. It’s not a strange find. We’re frequent Amazon shoppers. What was strange was what was inside. Three new copies of the book Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth.

I laughed and asked him why he bought three copies. His reply got me thinking.

“I liked the guy’s presentation,” he said. “So I bought three more copies to give out.”

I laughed again, but I didn’t question it because it made sense. My husband is in the business of meeting people, helping people, advising people. Much of his business relies on client interaction and interaction with referral sources. For him, sometimes it’s not so much about getting paid, but helping someone out.

I know what you’re thinking, “That’s a great story, but what’s it mean to me?”

The story got me thinking about how we create value for our clients. A lot of you are visiting this site and reading this article because you’re searching for something. Whether it’s to build your client base or take your business to the next level, you’re struggling with how to do that.

I imagine that you are very good at what you do, but these new business challenges are taking you out of your depth.

Building a Lasting Relationship

When it comes to building a lasting relationship in today’s business world, there’s a lot of noise to compete with. Customers are inundated with Facebook and Instagram posts. They’re tweeted at constantly. Spam frequently shows up in their inbox burying the important emails in a pile of junk mail.

Most of this content is worthless. It’s words slapped together that add little or no value to the everyday operations of your clients. But you put it out because that’s what you were told to do. Content is supposed to lead to customer conversion. At least, that’s what you’re told.

Which is why your content needs to rise above. It needs to add value for the sake of value and not for the sake of the sale. You need to be a resource for your clients, someone they’ll turn to when they have an actual problem.

Ben Towne News

I know what you’re thinking, isn’t CPA just a fancy term for an accountant? No. CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant, which means she’s passed the CPA exam and met her state’s certification and experience requirements. An accountant has not done that. That’s not to say she isn’t experienced in bookkeeping or can’t read a financial statement, but she is not certified by her state. And that’s what you want, someone who is certified.

The Search Is On

So how do you find a CPA?

Start out by looking for personal referrals. If you have a friend you trust, maybe he has an accountant he trusts. It’s a good place to start.

You can also check in with your state’s CPA society. That’s right, we gather in packs. The CPA society works with large and small firms alike. It would be easy to find one that fits your business style and budget.

Before You Call

Before you contact any of the CPAs, figure out what you want. Are you looking for weekly bookkeeping or monthly reconciliations? Do you need someone to deal with the annual tax filings and quarterly estimates? Do you need help preparing financial statements?

You may need some or all of these and it’s important to know what that is before comparing service providers. Ask you business-owner friends about this. You might ask your business banker as well if they have some ideas. You need to be comparing apples to apples.

When you shop around I would not automatically take the lowest price. You are buying someone’s time (whether it’s of the CPA themselves or someone they supervise) so if the price is very low, then a few things may be going on like using very inexpensive staff, taking shortcuts or just not giving that much attention. It’s always okay to ask, “How are you able to offer a lower price than competitors?” These people are accounting professionals, if they are not able to answer with a sound business reason it stands to reason that they are very likely taking it out on the client service end.

If price is an issue, it’s sometimes a good idea to look for a CPA who has just started his or her own practice. By definition, a CPA has to meet certain educational and experience requirements, so whoever has the license is qualified to help. Usually, these types of people are entrepreneurial like you, are hungry to establish their book of business, and maybe more affordable even than a comparable CPA who works within an established firm. The added bonus is depending on how old you are, getting connected earlier on in both of your careers can lead to a long-standing relationship, which often leads to reasonable fees and good service in the long run.