Pseudo-Motivation Masquerading as Business Advice Isn’t Just Annoying, It’s Harmful

self proclaimed motivational experts are causing damage to small business owners and their business

What do all these following statements (and the dozen or so more I’ve currently got screenshotted in my phone) have in common?

“Just a girl on a mission to become my own vision board.”

“I had no choice but to boss up and create my own life.”

“Good things happen to those who hustle.”


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I’ve seen all of them posted on social media under the guise of being business advice in the last couple of weeks. What else do they have in common?

In the context of building, growing, or sustaining a business, they are absolutely meaningless. 

My intention isn’t to draw attention to these specific quotes as the absolute worst offenders, and my intention certainly isn’t to call out any individual in particular. This isn’t about any specific individual, course, or Instagram page. This is a broader pattern that I’ve identified and that I find, well, troubling. 

Motivational quotes are not business advice

I don’t want to claim that motivational quotes and mantras have no place. They’re comforting, inspiring, and – yes – motivational to many people. And that’s wonderful. I admit that personally, they make me roll my eyes, but if they work for you then I fully support that. 

But they are not the same thing as actionable, practical business advice. And seeing them touted as such again and again is not just annoying, but actively harmful. 

At the time of writing, we’re in the middle of an unprecedented crisis for the entire world, thanks to COVID-19. One group that has been hit particularly hard by the economic ramifications of the pandemic is the small business community. As of October, 6 million small businesses in the UK were struggling, and two thirds of owners feared their business may not survive the pandemic. 

So when I see self-appointed experts posting nothing but these shallow platitudes, using them to sell absurdly expensive programmes or online courses that will undoubtedly contain more of the same, I can’t help but see it as a form of preying on people at a time when they are already vulnerable. 

If you want to invest in your business, that’s great! But hire a coach who has a proven track record of providing real, actionable strategies to help businesses weather storms like this. Or hire an assistant, a marketing consultant, an SEO expert, or any other relevant professional who can actually help you get where you want to go. Please don’t mistake pseudo-motivation as legitimate business strategy. 

You can’t think your way to success

Mindset matters, of course. The way that we feel about ourselves, our businesses, and our ability to succeed can and does have an impact. But mindset isn’t magic, and I will push back hard against any insinuation that it’s the only thing that is responsible for business success. 

And I think pseudo-motivation pretending to be the same thing as strategy is doing a lot more harm than good, particularly at the moment. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and there are enormous forces at work in the world right now that none of us can control or predict. All the #girlboss and #hustleharder and #ifyoucandreamityoucandoit Instagram can hold isn’t going to change that.  

At any time, but especially right now, mindset and motivation are small pieces of a very large puzzle. Do you have a viable product or service? Is there a demand? Do you have a functional and robust marketing plan? If the answer to any of those questions is no, all the motivational quotes in the world won’t help you build a successful business. 

Motivation without substance sets people up to fail 

The problem with pseudo-motivational platitudes is that, rather than setting people up for success, they set people up to fail (and then blame themselves when they do.) If I believed them all, I’d be convinced that the only reason I haven’t achieved all my goals yet is that I haven’t hustled hard enough or believed in myself enough. 

Pseudo-motivation sells us something that is, fundamentally, a lie. It is simply not true that anyone can become wealthy through self-belief or a growth mindset or inspiring quotes on pretty backgrounds. And here’s the thing: the people selling that dream know that it’s just a dream for most people. If someone is trying to sell you on a lifestyle, the chances are high that they’re actually profiting off convincing you that something unattainable is within your grasp. 

The reality is that most of us will never be millionaires, and that’s okay. Maybe we should stop fetishising immense wealth (or the myth of “passive income”) and instead focus on building a steady, sustainable business. That is attainable. That is achievable. It’s nowhere near as glamorous, of course, but at least it’s real. 

Perhaps I’m overly cynical and even a bit jaded. But I just think the small business owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs who are fighting tooth and nail for survival right now deserve better than pseudo-motivation masquerading as useful advice.

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