by: Geoff Ficke

Seek Out Honest Criticism of Your Business Plan And Learn to Accept and Act on It!

Four decades ago I studied a college course in English Literature. W. Somerset Maugham’s famous novel “Of Human Bondage” was required reading. It was a bit of a slow go, but one line has stuck in my cranium and been of particular use in my business career; “People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise”.

No one really enjoys being criticized. Criticism can be deflating and trigger a wide range of human responses ranging from defensiveness to aggression. Most people cannot see themselves as others see them. Pointing out a person’s personal shortcomings can be mean even if the comment made is true.

If I tell a lady that her makeup is garish, while the point made may be accurate, I risk hurting a relationship we may have had by stating what I see to be obvious. I might tell a baseball shortstop that he is lousy at turning double plays. The shortstop has two options: he can disregard my observation and continue to play as before, or he can work harder to perfect his fielding skills. It is in business matters that criticism needs to be sought out, analyzed and acted upon, if the points made emanate from a valued source.

My Consumer Product Development and Marketing Consulting firm reads hundreds of Business Plan proposals and reviews countless New Consumer Product submissions every year. Probably 80% of these ideas for new products and enterprises we dismiss out of hand for a variety of reasons. The other 20% we review in more detail and find that many actually do possess real commercial possibilities. Still, only a handful of these will move into development stages.
Why is this?

There are numerous reasons why a project successfully makes it to market and 75 others go nowhere. One of the biggest is that successful entrepreneurs learn to accept, understand and act upon criticism that is given by experienced critics. Most people cannot accept criticism of a product or project that they have invested energy, time and creativity into developing. A comment we often make is that the entrepreneur “has fallen in love with their product” when they cannot tolerate pointed observations.

Love is an impossible to quantify emotion. Successful business opportunities are highly quantifiable. There are costs, margins, plans, goals. The Business Plan is the skeleton of the proposed enterprise. If the plan, read skeleton, is flawed, the enterprise is doomed. The best time to discover flaws is when the business is in concept form and changes can be easily made and incorporated into evolving strategies. “People ask for criticism, but they only want praise”.

I cannot remember the last time I read a Business Plan that did not require revision(s). When I write Business Plans for client projects I usually wind up editing the proposition several times at a minimum. I always ask others, those whose opinions I hold in high regard, to critique the document. We then discuss their points of criticism and come to the best possible solution available to address and overcome issues.

Recently I was presented with a wonderful Gourmet Food & Drink Accessory product prototype and Business Plan. The item possessed the almost perfect utility of being potentially a product that should be in every kitchen pantry in the world. Features and benefits, design and performance of the product were strong.

My job requires that I provide honest criticism as I consider how best to Package, Market, Brand, Promote and Sell a product. My team analyzed the submission and we became concerned about an engineering feature that would add significantly to cost of tooling and production, while not really adding to the already excellent utility of the product. This superfluous feature was also going to add a good deal to the cost of packaging the product. Unfortunately, the owner of the project was so totally committed to this design cue to the extent that she could not fathom not including this element in the final product profile. She could not accept valid criticism, even though this point was to be the difference in realizing a successful launch, or no launch.

We do not criticize simply to be confrontational. We do, however, often raise an objection to an element in order to see how well prepared the entrepreneur is in defending their proposition. When we criticize we are seeking to strengthen the products potential by addressing issues that buyers and distributors will certainly target. Decision makers always zero in on the products perceived flaws.

As a young entrepreneur I was initially exposed to project criticism by a wise, grizzled investor. He told me, “You know what is right about your plan. You need to learn what is wrong”. I found out what was deficient with his help, made the necessary design and marketing adjustments and launched. This gentleman’s mentoring wisdom helped make my first venture a success and has enabled me to spend almost four decades launching a host of other Consumer Products, New Companies and Entrepreneurs.

In any business, whether a New Company or an established firm, success is achievable when criticism is tolerated, openly discussed and solutions discovered and executed. Do not try to win the argument for winning the arguments sake, unless the facts and evidence support your position. Be open to honest brokers and value their opinions. You will profit.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.