Dealing with Family and Friends Who Don’t Support You as an Entrepreneur

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Sometimes one of the biggest challenges to starting a new business is responding friends and family who don’t share the enthusiasm you have to be an entrepreneur, and the more they go out of their way to discourage you, the worse it is. Do you listen to them or trust your own judgment, and if your gut tells you to go for it, how can you get these people to back off without straining your relationships with them?

The Entrepreneur Survival Guide to Non-Supportive Loved Ones

Entrepreneur challenges no supportIt can be downright deflating to excitedly explain your business idea to the people you love and trust and then watch that them roll their eyes or hear all their arguments for why you shouldn’t pursue it. It’s happened to me several times, and it took awhile before I learned how to properly deal with the criticism.

So, if you find yourself in such a place, don’t get discouraged. Follow the steps below, and you’ll be able to overcome all the negativity and have the strength to pursue your idea:

1. Clarify your vision and goals. This is the very first step you need to take. It’s vital because it will keep you focused. The more grounded you are in your idea, the harder it will be for those on the outside to sway you from it. Make sure you are going through the process of determining if that idea of yours is good and that you have a solid plan of action for getting the ball rolling. This will help you to boost your confidence, which you are going to need in order to do the steps below.

As an important side note: You can easily become your biggest enemy. All the negative energy from loved ones can easily evolve into an internal self-doubt. The clearer you are from the beginning about what you want to do and where you are heading, the more assured you’ll feel on the inside. It’s something that your loved ones will pick up on, and it can really change the whole dynamic with them.

2. Try to understand where they’re coming from. You may be thinking that this should be the other way around: “shouldn’t I try to get my friends and family to understand me?” It’s a waste of energy as I’ll explain below. Instead, the more you can understand where your loved ones are coming from, the easier it will be for you to put their negative responses into perspective. Are your parents not supportive because they are afraid you’ll fail and have a hard time landing a “normal job” later on? Are your friends a bit jealous? No one is perfect. Perhaps they wish they could be big enough to take the leap you’re heading for. Does your idea really look risky or strange from the outside? Keep all of these things in mind.

3. Know how to respond. First things first: don’t argue! It’s not worth it, and chances are pretty good that it won’t help anyway. As I mentioned above, if you can understand where these people are coming from, they may have a point. It’s just that you may be seeing things that they don’t. Don’t try to convince them- especially at the beginning. It’s better to focus on the things that they can relate to, and keep your response as simple as possible. So, maybe you can focus on the fact that you don’t want to miss out on this opportunity, that you have to just give it a try. For others you can focus on the idea that you’re carefully testing things out along the way, in other words, you’re trying to minimize the risk. Whatever you choose, just keep repeating this idea, and until they get the hint.

4. Establish clear boundaries with family and friends. You want to set the tone right from the beginning. There’s two reasons for this: it puts you in control, and it will help you to keep the peace within your relationships. While you are busy building up your business, make sure you set aside time to be with friends and family. When you are with them, establish clear boundaries of acceptable communication. Make it understood that any discouragement about your business is not acceptable. If they cross that boundary, then calmly repeat the message in the previous step, and if they still don’t stop, then walk away. Though you may not be able to make your loved ones support you as an entrepreneur, you don’t have to let them discourage you, either.

5. Find people who do support you. While you are busy setting the tone with friends and family, it is vital that you surround yourself with other people who understand and support your entrepreneurial aspirations. This group can consist of other entrepreneurs, another family member or friend, or people who are already running (or have run) successful businesses.

6. Look for inspiration. My last piece of advice is to actively look for inspiration along the way. You’re not the only one who has faced such challenges. Find examples of those who succeeded under similar tests, and learn from them. These can be well-known examples. Steve Jobs famously faced a flood of criticism his whole life, and Gary Vaynerchuk, who spent $15,000 building his WineLibrary.com website in 1996, sold $812 dollars of wine in the first year, and had to face the disapproval of his father. You can also find inspiration from peers and mentors.

In short, just because your family and friends don’t understand your vision, it doesn’t mean you won’t be successful as an entrepreneur. In fact, if you know how to handle it properly, their opposition will only make you stronger.

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Comments (10)

  • Susan,

    Fantastic article. So many would-be entrepreneurs ask their family for advice on their new business idea, and if that family doesn’t have an other entrepreneurs in it, they are more than likely going to poo-poo the idea as being too risky, etc…

    Would you ask a non-brain surgeon for advice on brain surgery?


    • “Would you ask a non-brain surgeon for advice on brain surgery?”

      Very good point 🙂

      I think it’s only natural to turn to friends and family for confirmation and advice. But, you have to know who in your circles will be the most objective and helpful, and most newbie entrepreneurs don’t think about that.

  • Sharing hopes, dreams and desires opens many new business owners up to critique they often are not prepared for.

    Mostly the critique is of a personal nature for those who “care about you”. Wow, those words can cut deeply! This emotional type of critique also often has lots of hidden agenda with it. Maybe this loved one does not want to be left behind? Who knows.

    Here is the critique they should be open to, Shark Tank critique. Watch a few episodes and you quickly get the sense the hosts don’t suffer poor ideas for long. Many colleges and universities have business departments that are willing to review business plans and ideas and give direction on where to go to further an idea.

    During that process they may hear things they don’t like, but, it comes from people who are critiquing an idea, not the person.

    Wow, I guess your post really made me think! Thanks.

    • Hi Steve,

      You brought up a very good point: part of the problem with sharing a business idea with friends and family is that it may be hard to receive a critique from them- even if what they are saying is spot on good advice.

      The more emotional baggage that already exists within a relationship with a loved one, the more an entrepreneur should avoid asking for support or advice from that person.

      Like you said, sometimes the critique can be pretty scathing, and an aspiring entrepreneur needs to be able to recognize the source of that criticism as being objective.

  • This article starts from the premise that the entrepreneur should go ahead as planned, but SCORE counselors know lots of startup ideas are doomed for any number of reasons, So the premise should be to understand what could go wrong, and assess the likelihood, and what you will do if it happens. then decide if the venture is worthwhile. Negative advice is a great starting point for this open-minded approach — as noted in another comment, it may be spot on.

    • Hi Tom,

      I totally agree with you, and it’s why in the first step I mentioned that the aspiring entrepreneur has to be sure if the idea is even a viable one. The article I linked to:


      goes through a process for determining the potential viability, sustainability, and profitability of an idea. It includes seeking the advice of a mentor, colleague, or master mind group. But, as I mentioned in that article, you have to be very careful who you turn to for advice.

      This post is primarily written for those who’ve gone through (or are in the process of going through) the researching, testing, validating process, and now they are getting resistance from friends and family.

  • Thank you! Spot on! I have lived it with the smirks and rolling of the eyes from my family / support group! It was tough! Two years into it and am happy to keep trailblazing ahead. I want to repeat an important point you made: we only have so much energy each day and we need to be extremely careful where it’s expended!

    • Hi Lisa,

      Yes, our energy is limited and it’s important to give in the places that give back to us in some way. Otherwise, we’ll just be running on empty and unable to do the things we care about. This goes for life as well as business.

  • Your whole article, but especially the last sentence, resonates with me. My family and friends all said I would fail, and I think I used their negativity as a spark: “Oh yeah?! Well, I’ll show you!” (with lower lip quivering). That was 20 years ago, and I’m still going strong. Unfortunately, subtle forms of unsupportiveness persist. For example, friends think I’m free as a bird and always available to ______________________ (fill in the blank). Others shower me with unsolicited advice about everything from how to talk to clients to how to collect from deadbeats. Needless to say, the one with the most opinions is invariably the one who’s never been a freelancer a day in her or his life.

    • Nodding my head in understanding…

      Those who have never worked on their own have absolutely no clue what it’s like.

      But the truth is, it’s like that for everything. People only understand what they’ve experienced or what they have gone out of their way to understand, and if they are not open to it, they’ll never go beyond their ignorance.


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