So Who Do You Talk To?

2010 April 23

I have two questions that I like to ask small business owners when I first get to know them. The second one involves your exit strategy, which I’ll talk about later. The first one is: “Who do you talk to?”

You’re the boss, so you spend your day solving problems. Some have significant consequences- business strategy, staffing decisions, investment opportunities, and a dozen others specific to your business and environment.

So who do you talk to when you have to make a tough decision?

Your business partner: It’s great to have a savvy business partner, but your interactions need to include the ability to have tough conversations that consider diverse perspectives, challenges to entrenched positions, the freedom to bring in other people in your organization to offer up data and new ideas, and the willingness to take risks. In my experience there are potential liabilities to relying on your business partner to wring out tough decisions:
– You’re too much alike in experience and temperament to be able to challenge each other’s ideas, so you tend to lapse into group-think.
– You have unsuccessfully managed the hard calls in the past, so now hard conversations never see closure.
– The partnership is not “equal enough” to allow the dominant partner to be effectively challenged.

Friends and family: Pretty much everyone has a friend or family member that has some relevant business experience. The problem can be that they don’t exactly have an unbiased perspective. People who are close to you are vested in your success, and they’re vested in something more important: their relationship with you. That can play havoc with candor. Plus, do they really understand what your business is all about?

Networking contacts: Most business owners network with other business owners. Even though sometimes they’re competitors, often they’ll share their expertise with you. Or not. In either case, it’s probably difficult to get them invested in your big issues.

Advisors: This is one of my two favorites. You know someone who has gone around the same block a few times you find yourself on, has been successful (make that very successful), and is willing to share their time and insights with you. Find very successful people who are willing to give you their time. Most of them will. Their advice can make you successful.

Consultants: Find a good one- who is committed to your business above everything else (including their compensation). Get them invested in understanding you, your business, and business environment at a detailed enough level where they “get” the real challenges. Someone who is not there as a friend, relative, or competitor, but as an objective advisor.

So, who do you talk to?

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