By Bruce Freeman
The Small Business Professor.
One of the problems of a solo entrepreneur, is having a limited skill set. You want to do everything and soon find you cannot.
There is an old Eastern European expression that a good friend reminded me of, “With one tuchus, you can’t dance at two weddings.”
Q: I am a sole proprietor who builds computer networks for small businesses. My revenues are growing, but I need to do a better job selling to new clients and managing client relationships. I’d like expert advice, but don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of. What do you suggest?
A: Phil Hood of Transcend Strategy Group has some excellent recommendations:
As a sole proprietor, you are in business for yourself, but you don’t have to be in business by yourself. Working on your own, you have one brain and two eyes and yes, one tuchus. That’s why, whether you’re a solopreneur or you have a few employees, you need trusted support and guidance in key areas such as finance, production, distribution and marketing. In larger companies, this is the kind of counsel that a board of directors provides.
But at this stage of growth, a board of directors would be too much horsepower. You need a mentor: an experienced, trusted advisor who can help you strategize about business development. Good mentors are like good teachers, both insightful and capable of inspiring you to excel.
FINDING A MENTOR
How do you find a mentor with the expertise you need? It could be someone in your field with more experience who’s built a successful enterprise, or a pro in an unrelated business. Scan your contact list. Think of people you have worked with or learned from. Do any of them fill the bill? Since marketing and customer communications are challenging for you, your best advisor could be someone skilled in these areas.
Some entrepreneurs use creative approaches to find expert help.
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One restaurateur found several advisors by asking returning patrons for advice. Through this technique, he met several people who not only liked his restaurant, but also invested in it and served as his unofficial board of advisors.
There are also organizations that connect entrepreneurs with mentors. SCORE (www.score.org) matches retired executives with new business owners. The U.S. Small Business Administration also has mentoring programs.
GETTING THE MOST FROM A MENTOR
No one is as interested in your success as you are: When you find a mentor, you do the work; your mentor merely advises. But it’s an important job. He or she tries to help you see the bigger picture, learn news skills, and nudge you out of your comfort zone in ways that will help you grow and succeed.
When you find a mentor, make time to reap the benefits from your relationship. You’re investing in your own education and the mentor may be giving his or her time for free. Don’t let day-to-day demands prevent you from gaining the tools and skills you need to build your business. And when you have a success or meet a milestone, be sure to share the good news.
Once you’ve found one trusted advisor, you can find others through targeted networking. Attend professional conferences and join trade associations to expand your contacts. Experienced accountants and lawyers are invaluable resources because they’ve worked with businesses like yours in the past. As you create a trusted circle of advisors, the challenges you face will become more manageable and may even turn into opportunities.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Bruce Freeman, a small business consultant, is adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Seton Hall and Kean universities. He also is co-author of “Birthing the Elephant: The Woman’s Go-For-It Guide to Overcoming the Big Challenges of Launching a Business.”