3 Ways to Get Expert Advice

3 Ways to Get Expert Advice

Consultants, business coaches and even seminars can nip problems in the bud.

By Brad Sugars / Entreprenuer.com
updated 8:00 a.m. PT, Mon., Dec. 24, 2007

Every entrepreneur thinks he has a business idea that will put him on Easy Street. After opening day, reality hits. Merchandise isn’t moving. Expenses are too high. Profits are too low. You’re not sure what went wrong or how to fix it. Suddenly you’re in panic mode.

Many startup crises can be averted by seeking expert guidance in the planning stages, long before leases are signed or business cards are printed.  Like a savvy career counselor or financial planner, the right advisor can help you build a solid foundation as well as steer you through choppy waters once you open your doors.

This is particularly true if you’re a first-time entrepreneur who has never coped with problems like weak repeat business, poor cash flow, flawed order tracking or fulfillment systems. Getting help from outside experts can mean the difference between smooth sailing and a sinking ship, both at startup and as your business matures.

Where to Look

When you’re looking for a shoulder to lean on, there are three
types of expert resources available.

  • Seminars, books and other self-help materials are useful and
    affordable for any business rookie.
  • Business coaches are long-term advisors who can help polish
    your initial business plan and offer strategic problem-solving
    skills moving forward.
  • Consultants are short-term advisors hired for their tactical
    expertise in specific areas such as computer networking or employee
    recruitment.

These options are not mutually exclusive. Each kind of resource
serves a different purpose. Just as it takes a village to raise a
child, it takes an assortment of outside specialists to shepherd a
small business through the startup phase. A mix of these three
types of assistance can not only prevent mistakes at startup, but
also provide valuable ideas and tools for shaping and growing the
business.

Books and Seminars

Never underestimate the power of a good business
book, DVD, CD or seminar to inspire, teach and save you from the
kinds of missteps that come from inexperience. The choice is nearly
unlimited, from Business 101-type books like Small Business for
Dummies
to workshops run by SBA’s Small Business Development
Centers, frequently located at community colleges.

These resources are helpful in conveying basic business
principles and examples as well as providing general advice in
areas such as writing a business plan or marketing by direct mail.
Consult your local library, university, chamber of commerce, or
retail or online bookstore for options.

Business Coaches

While self-help resources can provide generic
advice, a business coach delivers one-on-one mentoring specific to
your enterprise and challenges. Coaches usually charge a monthly
retainer that includes a defined number of hours and a specific
program plan. 

A good coach has years of business experience that he or she can
use to analyze your business model, pinpoint flaws, suggest
improvements, identify and troubleshoot day-to-day problems, and
fine-tune areas ranging from sales and marketing to hiring and team
management. If sales are slow or customers are complaining, he or
she will figure out why and formulate a cure. New business owners
are simply too busy minding the store and usually too inexperienced
to solve these problems themselves.

In choosing a coach, look for a local person who can see your
operation firsthand, provide training assistance and be readily
available. Be sure that your personalities mesh and that he or she
has specific systems and methodologies to help you run your
business properly. Coaching is a long-term relationship that
requires good communication and mutual respect.

Also, select a coach with a broad business background rather
than someone from your industry. To ensure creative
problem-solving, you need an advisor who isn’t shackled by
preconceived notions of your market. And remember that you’re
looking for a business coach, not a life coach. There’s a big
difference.

Consultants

For tactical challenges–like setting up accounting
systems or unplugging a manufacturing bottleneck–turn to an
outside consultant with specific expertise in the area in question.
Consultants typically charge an hourly fee and should be able to
tell you upfront what they will charge for the job.

One heating/air conditioning company I know needed a consultant
to reorganize the equipment in its service vans. They hired an
upfitter to design a shelving and drawer arrangement to squeeze in
the maximum amount of gear, as well as ensure that each item was
within easy reach. In that case, a business coach identified the
need for the upfit and assisted in identifying the best candidate
for the task. In other cases, the business owner conducts the hunt
himself.

When vetting consultants, get referrals or recommendations from
clients with projects similar to yours whenever possible, and get a
firm estimate of the time it will take to do the job. Also be sure
that the company you hire will supply documentation allowing you to
retrace their steps if necessary to solve a problem or duplicate
their work at a later date. 

High Return on Investment

Getting expert advice at the right time can avoid
costly mistakes at startup, from sales forecasts that are too
optimistic to ill-advised marketing strategies. It can also
facilitate mid-course corrections necessitated by customer
feedback, changing market conditions or problems within your
organization itself.

Yes, you have to pay to play. But in the long run, the right
guidance can save you from months of poor performance and other
budget-busting scenarios. With professional advice, you can often
dramatically lessen the amount of nail-biting and red ink you have
to endure before the business takes hold. Easy Street might be
around the corner after all.

Brad Sugars is Entrepreneur.com’s Startup Basics columnist
and the writer of 14 business books including
The Business
Coach, Instant Cashflow, Successful Franchising and
Billionaire in Training. He is the founder of ActionCOACH,
a business coaching franchise.

Copyright © 2007 Entrepreneur.com, Inc.
 
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