It’s lonely at the top. And in the middle. And at the bottom. Wherever you are, one thing’s for sure – when you own a small business, it’s easy to feel like you’re on an island. Even if your team is the best of the best, you’re putting your business at risk if you try to go it alone.
Ask any great business owner how they’ve gotten out of a jam – or avoided one altogether – and most will tell you that they got by with a little help from their friends. In other words, the relationships they’ve built with peers and advisors have helped them see red flags from a mile away and uncover innovative solutions.
When you’re so deeply involved with the daily operations of your business, you can lose sight of the big picture. Between all the hats you wear, you might be spread pretty thin. But there’s good news. A little bit of perspective from the outside can actually help you manage your business better.
By building an army of watchdogs and fans of your business – in the forms of advisors and peers – you’ll have access to a group of experts who can give you help or advice when you’re feeling uncertain.
Three Steps To Finding The Perfect Advisors
Evaluate where your company lacks personnel or expertise. These are often areas that pose the greatest risk to your business, as these shortcomings leave you vulnerable to the competition. Several common needs beyond legal, tax and accounting include human resource management, benefit administration, sales force management, marketing and strategic planning. You could also learn a lot about your industry and market through a seasoned peer.
A little bit of perspective from the outside can actually help you manage your business better.
After deciding where you’d like to focus your attention, determine whether you’re interested in pursuing a formal or informal advisory relationship. Do you think you would benefit more from a one-on-one mentor/mentee arrangement or a board of advisors? Does the size of your company merit the need for a diverse array of advisors? What sort of resources do you have to work with? Do you want to be held accountable to your advisors?
Utilize your existing contacts and extended network to identify prospects. Does anyone immediately come to mind whose business sense or skills impress you? Reach out to them, and ask if they would be willing to meet with you. If you’re having trouble coming up with names, ask around to see who in your network might know someone who might be able and willing to help. Reach out to respected colleagues that have valuable experience in your industry. Keep in mind that as long as they are not a direct competitor, most people are more than happy to help. Additionally, third party firms are available to provide consulting services for a fee.
Meeting With Your Advisors
The type of advisors you secure and the formality of the relationship will determine how often and in what manner you meet together, but try to maintain a consistent schedule. If you organize a board, for example, you might meet with them quarterly to discuss pre-determined items taken from an agenda. On the other hand, if you strike up an informal relationship with one or two advisors, you might meet over breakfast once a month to bounce ideas off one another.
Whatever the nature or method, establishing these advisory relationships are essential to your success. Not only will you gain accountability, fresh ideas, feedback and valuable business expertise from the experience, you’ll glean a unique perspective on your business that you may have otherwise overlooked.
By Lee Beall, CPA