Help! I can't handle feedback.

This column first appeared in Silicon Prairie News for Prosper Women Entrepreneurs, where Aimee serves women entrepreneurs as Senior Director of the Prosper Institute. Thanks, SPN!

Dear Prosper Women Entrepreneurs,

Everyone is telling me the importance of getting feedback on my idea, but I find this to be really difficult. Most people don’t understand what I’m working on, and the feedback they offer isn’t very helpful. I’m trying to stay positive as I get my business off the ground, so the feedback sometimes bums me out!

Sincerely,

Don’t Need It

Dear Don’t Need It,

Feedback can be tough. After all, your business is your baby, and it’s you that works long hours and stays up nights thinking about how to make it happen. Why should you listen to what anyone else has to say?

Here’s why: They might know something you don’t. They might represent what a customer would think. They might have experience you’re not aware of. They might be able to help with a challenge that’s been slowing you down.

Being open to feedback can make the difference between having an idea and building a business. We’ve spoken in this column about testing your idea and doing market research (guess what, that’s feedback!). Feedback is also an important piece of the entrepreneurial puzzle.

Here are a few things that might make you more comfortable with accepting feedback:

It is vital to your business. Whether you’re just starting out and doing market research, or serving thousands of customers, being open to feedback is your lifeblood. Successful entrepreneurs pivot and make changes, often based on customer feedback. Could you imagine a large company with “No thanks, we don’t want to hear from you” on their Contact Us page? While it might not always be comfortable accepting critique, it is impossible to grow or sustain a business without it. You might as well start now!

It can tell you what you don’t know. You are probably right that many people don’t understand the ins and outs of your business as well as you do. But to dismiss their feedback is to miss out on a learning opportunity that might make your business even better. And here’s a hint: Even feedback that tells you that people don’t understand your business is a helpful tool. It shows you that you need to tell your story better! It’s not their job to understand you, it’s your job to be understood.

It looks good. Guess what? People that seem closed off and bristle at feedback are not people you want to be around, let alone support or invest in. No entrepreneur can do it on her own, so you will need people around you. Supporters, employees, advisors and investors want to work with someone who is open and willing to make changes where needed. If it seems like you know it all, why would anyone want to help?

It isn’t law. While listening to and even (gasp!) asking for feedback is a good practice, you don’t have to accept the feedback you receive. You should make an effort to consider the feedback that is offered, but perhaps knowing that you don’t have to agree with it will make it easier to take in. You might even write it down, put it away, and come back to it at a time when you’re feeling more open to suggestions.

It’s positive in the long run. You are right – accepting feedback is hard. But know that what might sting when you first receive it can be useful to your business in the long run. In the Prosper Mastermind Program, groups of entrepreneurs gather monthly to discuss business challenges and gather perspective and advice on overcoming them. Eva Tucker, founder of knews.co, admits that she left last month’s meeting feeling discouraged. She had received some difficult questions, tough love and hard advice from her Mastermind group members. But a month later she was excited to get back together with her group and tell them how she had tackled the issue. Sitting with the feedback and implementing some of their suggestions had made a difference in her work. She ended up encouraged rather than deflated.

Being open to feedback is one of the most important traits an entrepreneur can possess. Whether you take it or leave it, please stay open to suggestions. Consider them carefully against your business goals and challenges, and you might find that the feedback you get can help make your business stronger. We hope we can convince you to ASK for feedback and change your sign-off to “Do Need It!”

Entrepreneurially Yours,

Prosper Women Entrepreneurs