Business owners frequently suffer from loneliness. The responsibilities of running an organization can weigh heavily, especially when there are challenges to address. Who does an entrepreneur turn to for advice?
Two Legs of the Stool
Some areas are obvious. Attorneys and accountants are the go-to sources for legal and financial questions, but there is a third area outside their expertise -- daily operations. I’ve worked with many law and accounting firms, and I can’t say that they are any better at running their businesses than others.
Most entrepreneurs avoid burdening their families with business problems. That is probably a good idea. An Inc. Magazine study from a few years ago found that when an owner shared a problem with his or her spouse, the overwhelming majority forgot to share when the problem was fixed! The spouse continued to worry about the issue long after it had passed from the mind of the owner.
Friends who don’t own businesses are little help. Most believe that, as an owner, you have greater control of your life than other folks. You command your own hours, the checkbook and the people who work for you. What could be more enjoyable?
Business associates are usually kept at arm’s length. You are asked “How is your business doing?” The answer comes in a standard range between “Just fine thanks” and “Great!” Few of us want to fuel gossip in the marketplace that might get back to customers, vendors or competitors.
The two legs of the stool, legal and finance, leave unaddressed the need for expertise in marketing, sales, hiring, motivation, process improvement, systems, information technology and strategic planning. Fortunately, there are a number of sources for confidential advice on the more nuts and bolts issues of running a business.
Business Consultants: The Third Leg
Business consultants make a living from selling their operating expertise. Unfortunately, there are no clear national standards, such as passing the bar or CPA exams, to indicate a minimum level of qualification. A consultants may be the most knowledgeable person in his or her area, or someone that is merely between jobs.
Check the consultant’s bio for certifications and education. Ask for references from companies that are similar to yours in size and industry. Most of all, be careful of the “generic consultant.”
The generic consultant can do anything you need. He will agree to help you with strategy, executive recruitment, branding, exit planning, sales incentives and corporate culture. Even the very few professionals I know who may be qualified in each of those areas wouldn’t dream of presenting themselves as consultants in all of them.
If you are seeking broader experience in multiple areas, consider joining a business owner peer group. Many trade groups and industry-specialized consultants run groups of non-competing companies in the same field. National organizations, such as The Alternative Board®, Vistage® and C-12® have groups run by trained facilitators. Others, such as EO or YPO, help put members together who run their own meetings.
Your employees and friends may think that you know everything about running a business, but you know that isn’t true. The third leg of the stool, business expertise greater than your own, is what will take your company to the next level.