Seek Advice

 Basic Business Cents

Seeking Advice

Never fail by yourself!

This is a powerful adage that is applicable no matter what type organization or position in which you might find yourself. It is especially true for the small business owners who feel they have no one they can talk to openly.

So what are the options of finding someone who you can talk to honestly and frankly and get good advice?  Family members and employees are always an option but there are downsides, they are likely to tell you what they think you want to hear rather than what you should hear and it might have a negative impact on morale.

Our friendly banker is always an option, especially if you are not in serious financial trouble, which might present a conflict of interest for him or her. Nevertheless, they are a good source of advice.

One excellent source to confide in and get good advice is a Board of Advisors, not to be confused with a Board of Directors. The Advisors provide advice, not direction. Most of the time you are looking for mentoring, not dictating. The Board of Advisors should be made up of people you respect, are knowledgeable, have a track record of success, and are willing to invest some of their time to help you.

And there are consultants. They come in many different stripes and hues. Fees (they prefer to call them investments) range from zero to part ownership of your organization.

Free consulting is available from the Small Business Development Corporation, which can be contacted through your local bank or by calling 218-299-3035. Their consultants offer free advice to small businesses.

Another source of free counseling is SCORE®, a nationwide group of retired or semi-retired executives who donate their time to mentor small business executives. They have a local branch office located in Room 101 of the Hubbard County Courthouse and can be contacted at 218-732-2259 or score@hubbardcountyedc.com.

And of course paid professional consultants are another path to take. For comparison purposes, they can be divided into independent consultants and large consulting companies. They should be capable of finding and solving problems, see through smoke, capable of improving processes and systems, understand good management theory and human nature.

Independent consultants usually charge fees in the range of $500 to $5,000 per day plus expenses. They bring expertise in a niche or narrow area and if that fits your needs, it may be a good experience. It should be looked at as an investment with a payback potential to make it a very good investment. How to measure that payback should be planned for and agreed to in advance. Do not agree to share your savings with the consultant, as that is considered unethical. It will lead to arguments over how to measure. They may not be particularly knowledgeable in your business or industry arena but are knowledgeable in means to improve your organization’s performance. They should be looked at as partners with you on solving problems or improving processes or systems. You know your business and they know improvement techniques, so if you work together you can be successful.

Large consulting companies offer a wide range of knowledge and charge accordingly. They may ask for fees starting at the top range of the independents going up to even asking for shares in the company. Their advantage is their consultants may have niche knowledge but they can go to other consultants in their company to access other knowledge you need. Again, their fees should be looked at as an investment and accomplishments documented carefully to see if the investment pays off.

Either you or your consultant should document accomplishments to-date and recommended actions after each consultant visit. After all, results and action are what is important and is what you are paying for, either monetarily or in time invested.

It may be that some combination of the above is best for you. You are unique, but there is always help available that can pay dividends for you. There is no need for you to walk alone.