Starting a Small Business? A Lesson Learned from American Idol

business start-up lesson
Let the man speaks truths!

This is a guest article by Jim DeLapa, the President of

If you are thinking about starting your own business, believe it or not you can learn a valuable lesson from tuning in to the early auditions of American Idol, now on the air.   This lesson will help you avoid one of the most common mistakes made by entrepreneurs, one that costs them dearly.   Take this lesson with you as you write your small business plan and you could be the next American Business Idol.

The new season has kicked off with the usual fanfare. While surely the next winner is somewhere among them, the talented ones are not the real surprises from the pool of early contestants.   Variations of a similar scene play out several times over.   Here’s how it goes.

First, the Idol film crew takes us on a tour of a young lady’s life. There’s a five-second clip of her cute smile, “I’ve wanted to be a singer since I could talk.”   There’s her high school and the rolling hills of her home town. We are instantly endeared to her Midwestern values, touching life story, family and friends.   Already, this is someone we want to see succeed.   Already she’s our friend.

She takes the stage and the moment that could change her life begins.   When her solo is complete, she stands in the silence, beaming with the same smile we fell in love with only moments ago.   Simon Cowell, well known for being direct, is the first judge to speak.   In his crisp British accent, he begins slowly, “I was so happy to hear the end of that song, because if you hadn’t stopped when you did, I was ready to turn around and jump out these windows behind me.   You were truly, truly awful.”

Randy, with a sympathetic grimace looking down, with arms folded, shaking his head from side to side simply mumbles, “Uh, no dog, no.”   Kara breaks the uncomfortable silence, “I’m sorry, honey.   You’re a really nice person, but trust me; singing is not your thing.   I’m 100% certain.”

A dream has been extinguished in front of a national TV audience. It’s truly painful to watch.   Just before taking her cue for ‘stage left’ she looks at the panel and through the tears, in a weakened, quivering voice says, “All my life, my mother, my father, all of my friends, they’ve told me I’m a wonderful singer, all of them. How can you say this?”

Without hesitation, Simon with a misplaced sense of anger replies, “Well there’s your problem, isn’t it? You’ve been getting all your advice from people who don’t know what they’re talking about.   Today, for the first time, you heard from people who really do. And now you know.”   Stop!   Back up the DVR – there’s the epiphany.

How many future business owners “get all their advice from people who don’t know what they’re talking about?”   Too many, and the results can be equally or more devastating.

Ask the Right People

If you’re starting a small business, there will be an important, supportive role that your family and friends will play. Their kindness and encouragement will be essential.   But if you get all of your feedback from people whose functional role is to be supportive, you will miss invaluable, albeit harsh feedback essential to helping you get it right before you take the stage.

The reason to ask your family and friends what they think of your idea is to practice discussing and presenting your business plan.   Use their feedback as fuel to build up the energy and courage to take the next step. The next step is to discuss your ideas with people who have relevant business experience, and who are knowledgeable about how to start a business.   The progression is as follows: start with your family and friends, then move to knowledgeable acquaintances, and lastly to informed critics.

Ask the Right Questions

It’s easy for each of us to believe the whole world loves our ideas.   That’s what we want to believe.   Even beyond the immediate circle of friends, most people, Simon Cowell notwithstanding, want to be encouraging.   And since we all want to be encouraged, we tend to ask questions that are awkward for people to respond to in a discouraging way.   “You know I’ve always dreamed of owning my own business, what do you think?” “Do you think this is a good idea?” “Do you think I will be successful?”   If you want to seek the truth, you have to change the way you ask these questions.

Encourage your advisors to provide you with something of substance.   “I’m going to see someone next week who is known for giving critical feedback.   I really want to be ready.   What do you think is the area of my business plan that is most vulnerable to being challenged?”   Now, you’ve turned it around. You are asking people to be helpful by giving you critical feedback that you can use to make your small business plan better. After all, isn’t that the goal of getting feedback in the first place?

By changing who you ask for feedback and how you ask for it, you’ll get straight answers and credible information that will help you create a simple business plan that will help you succeed.   Face the tough judges early and ask the right questions.   When you are ready to take the stage, you’ll pass the audition.

About the Author:

Jim DeLapa is the founder of, a leading provider of small business plan assistance for current and future small business owners.   DeLapa has launched and invested in numerous successful startups and played an active role in nurturing two of those from inception through being acquired by publicly traded firms.

Image by friskytuna.