stranger danger: a challenge for chatty entrepreneurs

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I know some juicy secrets about a hair care company that’s tanking – fast. There are ticked off investors. Manufacturing meltdowns. Marketing failures. Makes my body tense up just thinking about it.

This small business has promised new products to retailers across the U.S., but they can’t deliver and the founders are panicking. Surely, they don’t want anyone to know what’s happening behind the scenes. And yet I know all these secrets – simply because I sat next to the founders at a coffee shop.

For a while, as I worked on my laptop, I tried to ignore their terse and a little-too-loud conversation. But when one guy got up and threatened to leave, I couldn’t help but notice…and eavesdrop. It was full-blown drama over lattes, with their products sitting out on the table.

Amazed they would talk so freely about their business woes out in public? People do it all the time, assuming intimate-feeling spaces, where they’re talking to one or two people, are safe zones: at coffee houses, on flights, on the subway, in restaurants. Lessons learned during my years as a journalist and publicist come rushing back whenever I overhear this kind of callous over-sharing. I have to resist the urge to jump up and cover their mouths!

Big companies make their employees sign contracts and confidentiality agreements to protect  in-house info, but entrepreneurs rarely consider the implications of letting their own business secrets fall into the wrong hands. Truth is, in the age of blogging and social media, everyone has the capacity to spread insider info.

I’m all for trusting people and expecting good in others. But I’m also all for seeing that your work is valuable, no matter how small your business – enough to protect it in obvious ways. Yes, be generous in sharing details that will help others but not compromise your work (like sharing your favorite resources, materials or tips). But if there’s information about your biz that you wouldn’t want a reporter, investor or competitor hearing and spreading, then be thoughtful about whom you share your info with and where you share it.

Treat your small business – even if its headquarters are in your living room – like it’s a big darn deal. Because it is.

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