Where to find the best small business advice
Here’s a situation that happens to business owners everyday: You are in your business and you have a new idea to bring more customers in your doors. You feel reasonably certain that your idea would work, but you would like to bounce the idea off someone else, to get their perspective before you proceed.
Your first inclination will be to ask those immediately around you in your business, like your employees. There’s nothing wrong with getting feedback from your team, but understand that their experience and perspective will not be the same as yours. For one, remember they don’t have the vision for your business that you do, so don’t expect them to be as enthused about your idea as you are. You’ve probably spent hours thinking about your idea (some of them in the middle of the night, as you’re worrying about how to solve your other business problems.) Count on employees not being able to see the full picture of where your idea is meant to take the business. Plus, if your idea means more work for them, expect some push-back.
Your second inclination is to ask your partner, your spouse, or someone who’s emotionally close to you. While it’s a great to seek counsel from those you trust with other aspects of your life, unless that person has a full understanding of your business, don’t expect a revelation coming from them. I’ve seen many people who you’d trust with your life not give good advice at all when it comes to business. I remember one husband who always told his wife whenever she had a business problem that she should go ahead with her solution. Unfortunately, for this owner, a “Yes Man” was not what she needed, and despite her husband’s best intentions to support his wife, his perspective was often faulty when it came to business tactics.
Another inclination might be to ask another business owner in your same industry. Some owners have access to an association website or a group list serv, where owners with the same type of business can ask others for advice. A word of caution here though: If your idea is really revolutionary, do you really want to be giving your brainstorm of an idea to hundreds of other owners who can copy it? And if your idea is so unusual and out-of-the-box that no one has ever thought of it, don’t expect a lot of creativity from this group of like businesses. It’s more common for owners in the same industry to recycle the same ideas again and again (causing the consumer to grow more and more immune to them).
A fourth thought might be to walk next door and ask a business owner who’s nearby what he or she thinks of your idea. If you plan to do this, take my advice on this one: Avoid those owners who have all the time in the day to talk about your business, but who rarely put into practice anything new in their business. Another owner-type to avoid are the negative ones. For many owners, the opportunity to interact means they’ve been given another time to complain about everything that’s wrong in the world. Count on these owners to offer very little helpful advice, while generally making you more depressed and less-focused on the positive action you are planning to undertake.
So who do I think is the best person to offer you valuable perspective? Here are my favorites:
A Mentor: Do you know someone you trust, you value their advice and you admire the business that they’ve built? Try to get their perspective on your idea. The one problem with these people is that they are generally busy, and you might have to schedule time to get in front of them. Successful people aren’t likely to be sitting in their office just waiting for your call, but if you can get some time with them, in a short, focused session, explaining your idea to them might lead to an entirely new perspective. Just remember that after getting their advice, though, that you look for opportunities to reciprocate and share something valuable with them in the future.
A Mastermind group: You might have never heard this term but a Mastermind group is a collection of like-minded individuals who share confidential ideas about their business successes and failures in a small group setting. Most of the time, these groups operate somewhat under the radar, and usually, you have to be invited to a group to become part of it. If you are ever invited into one, evaluate the members in the group, and understand that their sometimes harsh, brutally honest perspective doled out on a regular basis can be just the ticket to improving your business, but you better have a thick skin.
A group of experienced owners outside of your industry: I’ve found that this can be one of the best resources, if you can find a group of owners who don’t have the same type of business as yours, who are likewise successful, who are wiling to share ideas and offer their perspective. We see this positive effect at every one of our Destination BootCamps: business owners who have different businesses from different parts of the world, who seem to have nothing in common sharing their ideas across different industries becoming great resources for one another. (One other hint here: next month, our new Destination University program will be forming an owner group that will be available to all of you where owners can share information online and from their smartphones, while also interacting with authors and business experts. Click here if you’d like to learn more about this when it launches).
A Business Coach: Sure, you saw this coming, considering I consult with business owners myself on how to make their businesses and communities a Destination. But forget about the fact that I do this as part of my consulting business. Regardless of whether you ever hire me or use any of my services, there are great coaches out there in the world who can help owners with specific business problems that they’ve seen before with other clients. It makes no sense not using a coach’s experience to avoid the same mistakes as others, and to draw on their years of consulting with other businesses. Just make sure you get a list of references before you begin any relationship with a coach, so you can check out what successes they’ve had for other clients, and be wary of the coach who has answers to everything. When interviewing for a business coach, ask them to tell you what they don’t know and in what areas can’t they help you. There are a lot of areas in the business world on which I’ll readily admit I am not the person to be giving advice.
So there you have it. My four worst people to seek advice from, and the four best. This should help keep your better ideas from getting shot down before they have a chance to shine, your worst ideas from becoming a major mistake, and help your best ideas to be even better.