While constructive feedback from experienced business women can be worth it's weight in gold feedback when you're starting out feedback from any source can seem like a personal attack. Rather than succumb to feelings of hurt what you can do is set your ego aside and look at what's being said dispassionately for opportunities to grow and flourish. This professional growth is challenging and takes time for any new business person.
So we caught up with 10 WAHMs to ask them about their experiences with responding to negative feedback and found it amazing the range of experiences and techniques these women have learnt from and how they've used it to grow their businesses.
The experience of negative feedback goes from constructive feedback that initially felt negative, but is really a great learning opportunity, to small minded nasty product comments, from 'customers' who have little idea of what they're talking about or running a business, to plain old vanilla customer direct feedback and everything in between.
So if you're building a business and wondering whether the email that's knocked you side ways is something you should take personally or see it as an opportunity for processional growth you'll find the advice from these inspiring small business women just what the business coach ordered!
The idea for the story is really to show that growing a business is really an experience that can include personal growth as much as anything else. It's to inspire other women who are having yet another toughening up lesson - particularly if they thought they were tough enough or are very new to it all and didn't realise that is part of it.
Here are the informative and instructive answers we got to our question
"How long did it take for you to develop the thick skin that's needed when running a small business - so you don't take feedback as personal criticism, so you can see opportunities more readily rather than feel it's a blocked road, that toughening up is about growing with your business so you're more resilient - how long did it take you to learn these sorts of lessons?"
My name is Stella Petrou owner of Stella Bella Cupcakes, I started my business after going on maternity leave three and half years ago but was baking for friends and family prior. It has not always been all smiles, in fact many nights of stress but after learning that communication is the key and having positive people around through all the ups and downs things stated to look better for myself and my business.
I have learnt that business is no place for the faint hearted and you need to develop thick skin and a good attitude to run a business. You will always have the odd customer who will be difficult but determination and attention to minute detail is the key to a successful business.
These lessons are an ongoing learning curve and can not be counted in days or years, challenges arise everyday but it is the way you handle them that determines the direction you will head.
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I have found that my "thick skin" is growing every single day. When I first dreamed of Little Lou Lou I had never touched a sewing machine, so creating a business based on my at the time nonexistent sewing skills was a huge leap of faith and I immediately began very emotionally invested in my work. My first piece of negative feedback terrified me, my second left me feeling mortified at my 'rookie' mistake and naivety.
At that moment I was convinced that my 'baby' was going to crumble around me in a storm of disappointment and humiliation. As the initial sting wore off, and contrary to my expectation the world did not stop turning, I realised that the negative feedback was to date, one of the most positive things to happen to my business and to me personally as a business woman.
You see, the negative feedback gave me two things that are invaluable to a business - knowledge of my weaknesses and limitations and the opportunity to do better! Asking for and receiving negative feedback is terrifying, but it gives you an insight that you simply do not get if your customer says nothing. Furthermore, in my experience, if they are saying nothing to you they more than likely have plenty to say to their friends and what could be your potential customers. So welcome negative feedback, take it on the chin and use it to your advantage. At the end of the day you will thank you for it!
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Deciding to take a leap of faith and turn a hobby and passion into a business is no easy ride. There are many who will question your decision, there are those that will bombard you with what they think is advice.. it tends to consist of "you should do it MY way"... .most of these people have never been in business for themselves, and even fewer have the passion that you do, particularly in your chosen field. These are the people who will criticise your methods or your products without offering solutions or alternatives. You can't afford to alienate these people most of the time, but how do you let them have their say and not be offended when you say "thanks, but no thanks".
I won't lie .. it's hard. To do this took me several years, it's actually harder to reply to a criticism than to a compliment; and it takes practice.. LOTS of practice. The first time I tried it, my mouth went dry and my knees were shaking (which I thought only happened in cheap novels and B grade movies). It was the same the second, and the third time. But after that, I came to realise that these people didn't deserve to win, I KNEW I was right, and I just had to prove it to them in a reasoned and gentle manner.
So, what to do when surrounded by a crowd of people and a loud and clear comment like the above comes across? PRACTICE. Sit down with someone who supports you. It's VERY important that they do. Its also paramount that you remember you don't want EVERYONE as a client. You want people who appreciate the quality of what you have to offer, whether it's goods or a service, you are offering the very best that is out there, and you only want clients who want the best there is. There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling a detractor the following "I understand that you don't want to pay that much, you are right, the quality of what I offer isn't for everyone."
But when it comes to constructive criticism I welcome it. I am, by nature, a very positive person, so I try to make any remarks that I feel need a voice to be positive on the whole. If anyone were to offer kind feedback, I would absolutely thank them and start a discussion about the particular topic, taking a load of notes, because there is always something to learn, and I am the first to admit that my business is far from perfect. Suggestions and ideas are something that I follow up as soon as practical, and in fact, there have been several changes to the way I do things thanks to feedback from customers.
Chief Alchemist of Outback Pampering - www.outbackpampering.com.au
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Ecochix has been running for over four years and I think there are days that you feel you can take on the world and have every faith in what you do and other days a slight bit of criticism makes your world fall apart.
When I first began selling products made from recycled materials and ethically made the retail market was all new to me. I found it very hard to understand that people coming into the shop not buying anything wasn't because they didn't like what they saw. I think the first 12 months it was hard not to take things personally, this was something you had created put all you time and energy into and any negative feedback would sometimes put you ten steps back.
I found the more confidence I had in myself and the products I was selling the less negative feedback affected me. My philosophy in small business is to listen to all feedback; the good and the bad as you can always learn. There will always be people that are going to be negative and even spiteful but there are also people that are just as passionate about what you do as you are, and that is what makes it all worth while.
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Toughening up to face ANYTHING in your business is a long process and I'm still working on it too. But you see, when I get a negative feedback, I do my best to turn it around and see it as a positive thing. I think of it as my guide to improve my products and services. But mind you it only happens after I cry my eyes out.
I believe that it is important not to ignore my initial reaction. That is why I give in to tears, because I found that after this I am able to stand and keep my chin up. It makes me see things better and respond to the feedback in the best way that I know.
We should not forget we're humans! We get hurt a lot of times but it's not the hurt that's important; it's the bouncing back that matters. The whole thing of feedback will go on for as long as your business is running. Having faith in oneself is what will get you through.
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I started Multitasking Women Working at Home in January 2009 and looking back I was like an ostrich with my head in the sand. Coming from a PA/Admin and Real estate background working for a company I had no idea how tough it would be not to take the constructive criticism and feedback to heart. Every now and then I still get a comment or remark about something and it makes me take a step back and think "I'm crushed they don't like this" however I try to put a positive spin on it after and say to myself "Perhaps I can change it or head in a different direction".
Successful business owners are always willing to learn, adapt and try new things. Listening to customers and what they require and expect from your business is a great way to envisage where your business needs to be and go. I have learnt so much from our members by simply asking them their opinion, getting their advice and asking them directly what I can do for them. I 've learnt to never be afraid of asking the questions and getting an honest answer in return. Everyone has their own opinions and being a business owner your thoughts and ideas are just one persons opinion/idea. Don't be afraid of what other think, believe or expect from you, use this to your advantage.
Criticism is hard to cope with no matter if it is constructive or not. You spend so much time, energy and of course money building the business and it's hard to switch off the personal feelings about something you have tirelessly created. I felt that seeing the bigger picture and knowing that at the end of the day clients want what they want was the key to getting past it. The old saying "customers are always right" used to irritate me because I believed that any person(s) could and often are wrong at times. However being in business where you rely on a customer/client base your aim is to always please. If someone isn't happy you refund them or offer something as a form of an apology. Keeping your customers happy means they will in turn keep you happy. So these things are what helped me become more resilient.
I think with any form of resilience time plays its own part. We do not become business experts overnight and the moment you stop learning and developing skills, knowledge and resilience is when things start to fall apart. My business is like my own child; I nurture it, nourish it with more content and features, I help it grow and develop and like my own children I use all of my motherly skills to ensure it is successful at whatever it needs to achieve. It has been a learning curve each and every step of the way and two years later I am still developing skills and learning . I think an important step in being a business person/ mumpreneur, or whatever you wish to call it, is never giving up! Follow your dreams, be passionate, stay motivated, be determinate to succeed and listen to feedback.
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For a long time in my business it was very hard for me to promote my products locally, although I could promote them in areas where I didn’t know the customers. I come from a small town so hence you know everybody, so the thought of the locals criticising my products was hard to bear, so it was easier just not to promote them locally.
Eventually I realised that my educational range of magnets was very popular and that I should be proud of them and not hide them away in case somebody said something critical. So my message is that you should not do something just in case somebody says something you don’t want to hear, as it is only holding you back. Constructive criticism is what builds character, you need to listen to it, learn from it and then build on it.
My husband is my biggest critic, I am not saying that he isn’t supportive he is, but not in an encouraging way. He has the impression that it is his job to make me tougher, if I had listen to him many years ago, my Learning with Magnatts’ range would have never been created, as he didn’t think anybody would buy my magnets because some were .05mm smaller than others, as these are all cut manually it is a bit tricky to get them absolutely perfect, the funny thing is nobody has ever returned a magnet because one is .05mm smaller than another, actually nobody has ever returned a magnet set at all.
In my husband’s defense he is a motor mechanic and a millimetre here or there does make a difference. So I think my husband has made me toughen up, as now I stand up to him and realise that some of his criticism is worthy and some is just him being extreme, but mostly he thinks it is his job to put me through the challengers and therefore I am more prepared if I get some negative feedback.
In saying that it is still hard to take, as we would love to please everybody all the time, but hey, there are some people out there who just can’t be pleased. I know I had some feedback from hundreds of people once and there was probably 500 positive comments and a handful of negative, but unfortunately we tend to dwell on the negative ones, which is something you need to train your mind to dismiss unless they are very valid, and therefore you can take something from it, but just bear in mind again, some people can never be pleased.
With my own children, I like to teach them how to do things correctly, even the little things like hanging washing, but I am mindful at how I do that, as if they think that what they do isn’t good enough, it can have a huge impact on them. So my message is to be careful if you are being critical, but if it is a valid criticism it needs to be raised, but also explain the reasoning behind the criticism, and also an important thing to remember, if somebody does something different to you it doesn’t mean it is wrong it may be just different.
Good luck in your ventures, remember you are probably your own worst critic, but if you don’t have a go you will never ever know.
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As a small business woman running from home with three small children it is always hard in general. With daily chores along with everything else involved in the running of a business online. With any business there is always a hand full of customers that will be unhappy or difficult for what ever reason. The best thing I have found is to always communicate with all parties and to be honest at all times. We are all human and we all make errors at one point in time.
As I deal with both customers and companies, that I distribute their products via my website, I find that knowing where you stand from the start with those companies is a great first step. If a problem arises with either it's best to communicate via email or phone and to be honest with both. Sometimes there is a delay in the delivery of the products to me and things like this can't be helped. Other times it's the delivery to the customer and this also can't be helped.
Communication is always the best thing and you will find that in most cases your customers are more than happy as long as they are kept in formed each step of the way if there is any problem. This has taken me a few years to learn but once I did, it made business much more pleasant. I have learnt not to take this personally and that my customers are very understanding once they know what is happening if there is any delay in their delivery.
I have found this to be the best part of my customer service as well as solving any problems that be arise in my business and it has been a huge success with return customers.
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I think it took me years to stop taking things personally. I have been crafting since I was a little girl with my Mum and Dad, and putting things in stores since then. It is surprising how many people would like to stop and touch and complain that something was missing or the one everyone hears "I can make that". In the end you know they are not even thinking that the person that actually did make that is standing two feet away and listening to every word being said. Sometimes you actually hear some good ideas on modifications that can be made to a product and that is a great help. The others you just learn to ignore and not take personally because it really isn't intended that way.
I now choose fabrics and products that I make because I like them. I figure there has to be at least a few other people around that like what I like. I try not to compete with other fabric suppliers so I keep fabrics that are not available in patchwork and fabric stores. My customers can buy fabrics that they can not buy elsewhere. Lately I have been offering displays which is a one on one with a small group of crafters. A really nice opportunity to meet my customers one on one and so far all my experiences have been nothing but positive.
It is difficult to see opportunities along the way but if you grow slowly with your business always with your eyes open looking at every situation as an opportunity you will learn to see them. Sometimes they don't look like opportunities so you have to be vigilant. I think sometimes the opportunity comes by taking a chance and that is something that is only developed over time.
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Given the type of business I operate I definitely have to be open to suggestion and criticism, as we all have different tastes and something that I may love may not appeal to another. A large component of my business is designing custom orders and I definitely have to keep an open mind when presenting my designs. I prefer, and ask, that my customers are honest with me, otherwise I will not be able to learn from my mistakes and ultimately grow and offer the best possible product and service that I can.
Communication is a vital ingredient in operating my business as is treating people with respect and importance. I strive to provide excellent customer service in all of my dealings and openly seek customer feedback, both positive and negative as a means of measuring the success of the service and products I provide.
I offer four tips for maintaining a positive attitude in a tough market:
- believe in yourself;
- don't compare yourself to others;
- take positives from negatives; and
- see criticism as a way to improve, not a personal reflection on yourself.
There is certainly a lot of competition in this particular industry and I am extremely proud of how I have developed and expanded my business and know that if I believe in myself and the products I offer, continue to remain aware of my market and listen to what my customers want, I will succeed.
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What I've found enlightening and fascinating about the process of bringing together these experiences of a diverse range of women is how each has grown personally to achieve her business goals, to create her dream business.
I believe that every woman featured here is stronger and wiser for having created her business and while the path might sometimes be difficult, it is certainly rewarding.
Working on this story has helped me grow as a business woman and feel I'm part of a supportive community of women experiencing the same sort of challenges - letting go of some those feelings of isolation that goes along with being a business owner. I hope these stories and tips prove to be great business advice for you too.