The one word that will offend any entrepreneur (and how to handle it)

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The other day I was at lunch with a friend of mine when he accidentally offended me as an entrepreneur.

He didn’t mean to. Not in the slightest.

And I’m not talking like a huge offense. No harm, no foul.

But it got me thinking about this one word he used that could probably offend almost any entrepreneur.

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And people use it all the time when they talk about the projects we, as entrepreneurs, work so hard on.

What’s that word?

“Little.”

See, I had been working for more than 4 years on my freelance design blog and then, at some casual lunch, my friend asks, “So do you make any money from your little site?”

Little?

Little?!

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I’ve worked my tail off for almost half a decade on that thing and have a thriving audience who looks forward to my posts multiple times a week. Of course I make money from it! What are you kidding me?!

At least, that’s how I wanted to respond deep down inside somewhere.

Instead, I responded like any humble entrepreneur would/should:

“Yeah, a little. Why do you ask?”

We then proceeded to talk about a project he was hoping to work on. He was curious how to make money online, how to get started, and the basics of blogging.

He was genuinely interested.

And you know what, he seemed to genuinely admire my work.

Should I have been offended?

Absolutely not.

Next time you’re talking to an entrepreneur, be careful what you say. But more importantly, next time someone refers to your brainchild, the project that has been consuming you for years (or longer), as “little”, just brush it off.

They didn’t mean it.

They just don’t get it.

Because they don’t have a “little” project.

And, if they’re asking, they’re probably jealous of the work you’re doing. So keep it up. Help them out. And don’t be offended.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of this blog. You can contact him via twitter at @prestondlee.

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Comments

  1. That’s never happened to me (thankfully), but that would definitely hurt my feelings if someone undermined my work. But thanks for sharing how to handle it when something like that happens. It definitely looks better when you give a professional response versus an emotional one.

  2. Yep! I’ve had that happen to me too. Definitely have to bite the tongue in those moments, but like you said, it was [likely] not intended to be offensive.

  3. James Sinclair says:

    I sorry to be the one to tell you, he did mean it. It is an all to common way for someone with a giant ego and insecurity to match to cut you down to size by diminishing your status. It is usually in relation to an area of endeavour they don’t understand. What convinces me further that he meant it is that his underplaying agenda was to enlist your help in educating him while retaining his status over you. He needs your help but only in this small area that he just hadn’t bothered to master as yet. Watch out for these signs of someone demeaning and dismissing your ability and knowledge – hit on their heals often comes not wanting to properly remunerate you for you time and expertise. Or quickly shoving you to one side once more prestigious assistance (in their eyes) comes along. It’s a tough old world out there I’m sorry to say and there are less generous spirits than one would hope. Keep your wits about you and do not put up with those that undermine you in any way. All the best, James

    • James, I totally see where you’re coming from. And if it weren’t for my long-standing relationship with this person, I would agree with you.

      The truth is, he just didn’t understand. Probably still doesn’t. There’s something about building your own business that someone who’s never done it will just never understand. Which leads them to talk about it in oversimplified ways.

      It’s all they know.

  4. So true and this is the proper response. Unfortunately, I am not sure if the offenders are all that innocent. There are some who truly view art/design as being trivial. Yet as professionals we must maintain a high level of decorum.

    • Audra,
      That’s a good point. I feel bad for people who don’t have a passion project or who don’t have an artistic side that lights up this otherwise mundane world of ours. 🙂

  5. I had this happen last week! It wasn’t even geared toward my work and yet I was offended for the person it was geared towards. Such a “little” word with a “huge” impact.

    • Jenny, I’m glad to hear I’m not alone. It’s pretty obvious once you’re on this side of the conversation. Yet, they don’t know what they’re saying on that side of the table…

  6. “just”

    That’s my word…

    Usually begins with “Can you just…“ or “We just need you to…”
    And then insert: anything that costs time, subverts an already good solution or, more often, deals something very complex – usually within same time frame as originally planned)”

    Sometimes both our words: As in “Can you just… make a little change…”
    Or “I just need a little (something extra)…”

    These situations usually mean the person (client) doesn’t get what we do. Similar to how your friend doesn’t get what you’re doing (hough occasionally as James mentioned too).

    It takes a lot of educating (most often not in timeline or budget)… C’est la vie…

  7. Bill,
    This is a great addition to the conversation! Thank you for sharing.

    “No, I can’t JUST design a logo for you! I’ve been mastering the art of logo design for years. I can’t ‘just whip something up’ like it’s no big deal. Because it is.”

  8. Dan Coggins says:

    Preston, thanks for this post.

    Sometimes when people describe a business as “little”, it’s an expectation of the price they’re thinking of paying. So take five minutes and send them a ready-to-go proposal that shows them:

    – great samples of your work,
    – your well thought-out agency terms,
    – testimonials from local business luminaries,
    – your super-efficient process, and
    – your spotless Better Business Bureau record.

    Oh yeah, and the price tag that this caliber of work demands — and gets — in the marketplace. If they don’t value what you do, they’ll move on.

    I would recommend to “Mr Little” that he sign up for my coming email series that *educates* him about how graphic design is a way smart businesses add value and … make more money.

    • Dan, that’s a great idea. This person wasn’t really interested in doing business with me necessarily. But a good point if a client ever treats you this way for sure! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Good point Preston!
    I stopped being offended by people who make such comments about my work when I realized that they don’t have a clue about what I’m doing. Some of them think that if they learn a design program they will be able to design their own house! When I was teaching archicad, I met one or two of them. They weren’t able to attend more than a few lessons!
    So, when a friend congratulates me for my blog and my content, saying “it seems you’ve done a lot of work” I understand that they read my articles and that they know a few things about blogging (maybe they are bloggers too). I have noticed that there are a lot of people who cannot tell the difference between a website and a blog (although they are visiting dozens of blogs everyday). I don’t expect them to understand how much work there is in starting and keeping a descent blog.

    Some others are just being jealous!

  10. As a young entrepreneur starting a tech company in an incubator with seasoned business professionals and entrepreneurs, I feel that our company sometimes gets overlooked as a side project that we’re just messing around with. The best way to show that your business venture is serious is to produce results: Get people signed up, put something out, etc. Since we’ve started, it seems like people around here are taking us more seriously. It is easy to feel offended when someone belittles your project, but as long as you know the potential and success of your business, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone.

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