We cannot all be experts at everything and running a business requires more than one expertise. These are handily summarised as Client Expertise and Business Expertise. Most business owners are pretty good on their Client Expertise; they deliver good service to their clients in a sector they understand. But on Business Expertise – running the business itself – they may be less expert. Here are some ideas (in no particular order) to deal with this.
1) Remember you do know your business sector: before we go further it is vital to remember that compared to the many sources of business advice you are the expert on your own business. Approach these sources as a complement to your skills, not with a feeling of inferiority. A good advisor asks you lots of questions because he wants to hear your answers.
2) Overview: I recommend the PIPP principle to business-owners, make sure the advice you seek is Practical, Individual and Priced Properly. It must be Practical because you and your team are going to do most of the work; your advisors can only take you so far. It must be Individual because no businesses are exactly the same in problemsand resources, and resources are a key feature. And the advice must be Priced Properly so that both you and the advisor see the value of the relationship, because if one of you does not then the relationship will not prosper and you have no time to invest in that. Rich Schefren the American business expert suggests that rather than buy cheaply you ask yourself, ‘How can I maintain access to a talented person who can do this [role] long term
3) It is a multi-choice topic: You can make several choices of sources of advice; indeed, I would recommend it.
4) A Mentor: Mentors may be an exception to my first point above; they are often senior individuals in your own field who agree to act as a counsellor. They have succeeded in that field and can give you a wealth of practical experience about that success. Their success will have earned your respect and you will find taking their advice less of a struggle. The problem with mentors is finding one.
5) A Non-Executive Director: If your business is a company then your board of directors may benefit from having an experienced director who does not work full-time in the company join the board. He can bring a different view to meetings as well as acting as a sounding board. However, a director can vote on all sorts of matters and has a responsibility to the company rather than to its owner. I believe this split loyalty is not always helpful.
6) Your Accountant: In preparing accounts and tax computations your accountant sees a lot more of your business than most other advisers. He also sees a lot of other businesses. He can use these two pools of knowledge to measure and enhance your business expertise. I frequently find business-owners think their businesses are run badly when in fact they compare very well with much larger organisations. The sorts of tools you will use in developing your business: reports, business-plans, budgets, are second nature to your accountant.
7) Specialist Trainers: If you want to sharpen your selling skills or if you want a web-site that sells rather than tells then go to a specialist. You may decide to use a bespoke advisor or, where a general level of knowledge is sought, attend many of the excellent generic courses available.
8) The Auditors: With the increased minimum size of company requiring an audit the number of audits conducted has fallen dramatically. It is unlikely this source will be of much use to small to medium businesses but where you an auditor do not undervalue his view.
9) Your Lawyer: Some lawyers are very much compliance or task driven; you ask them a question and they supply the answer. However, there are many lawyers who have a wealth of commercial experience that can inform your opinions. This can be especially useful because they approach the problems in a way untypical to business-owners. You do need to consider how you pay for this advice however. Time-based fees may not be the best method for either party; taking advisers out for lunch to pump them for free advice may also not work. Consider a retainer (this point applies to all professionals)
10) Local Business Owners Groups: These groups, of which they are many, can be really useful in providing you with an informal opportunity to chat to fellow business-owners. You will learn that many others have problems in common with yours and that alone is valuable; you may also get some interesting solutions to consider. Some of these groups are organised by mutual networking organisations, some by third parties with a product to sell (marketing firms, accountancy practices), but all depend on the quality of the attendees and their ability to talk. I particularly recommend breakfast clubs which seem good at breaking the ice.
11) Government Sponsored Organisations: These used to provide a background level of advice or access to advice via local development agencies often via Business Link. However, the Coalition Government seems to have other ideas and for the moment I think this area is not one upon which one can depend.
12) Introspection: This is last but it is not least, although this one often gets missed in the literature of the topic. Putting aside time to act not as a key-worker but as a business-owner can mean you can reason your way to new ideas. Whatever sources of advice you take you will ultimately decide which to follow by presenting the arguments to yourself so why not start immediately. Try reading a general business advice book and then applying it to your business. You will find plenty of good advice as to which books to consult from any of the above sources.