Recently I was re-reading an old BizJump Quarterly article titled "Why most small business owners resist good advice" by P. Angela Dennis. Ms. Dennis’s job with BizJump Consulting is selling business advice, so the article might be somewhat slanted. (For that matter, we at SCORE are in the "business" of giving away what we consider good advice, so you might consider our opinions a bit suspect too.) But the article made a good point.
It said that small business owners often have "common attitudes" that keep them from seeking and taking good advice. You might think, "So what if I don’t want advice from others about my business? I own my business, don’t I? My business sense must be pretty good." True, maybe–most of the time. But you know that new challenges and opportunities arise constantly. These may demand skills that you have not mastered and knowledge that you have not acquired. Has there never been a time you’d like to have had some input from a knowledgeable, objective observer but somehow failed to seek it out?
Here are the article’s list of "common attitudes" and comments about them. Have any of these attitudes kept you from seeking advice when you could have used it?
1. "I can solve the problem myself."
Making decisions without considering other viewpoints may have gotten you where you are now, but a different perspective may help you avoid a killingly bad decision.
2. "I don’t want anyone throwing up roadblocks to my plans."
Don’t commit to a course of action you are not sure of without getting advice–it’s hard to stop a train once it’s underway, even if it’s headed down the wrong track.
3. "An outsider could never understand my business."
Judge the ability of the advisor by how quickly he or she understands if you must, but don’t avoid seeking advice just because it’s difficult for you to explain the business.
4. "An Advisor will raise a lot of issues I don’t have time to bother with right now."
If you believe that a lot of issues will be raised, they probably need to be.
5. "Professional advisors cost too much."
In time good advice pays for itself by saving your business or increasing your profits.
6. "I’m unsure of how relationships with professional advisors work."
Ask. They work a myriad of ways, and most firms and organizations offering advice will offer multiple ways to work with them.
These "common attitudes" may simply reflect traits of a hard-working, self-sufficient personality. You’ve probably cultivated many of those traits as positive attributes in the business world, and they have served you well. Others are simply a part of you. When you face a new challenge tomorrow or next month, can you overcome those traits and set aside your advice-resistant attitudes?
"Maybe," you say. Great! That’s a start. The Better Business Bureau web site (www.bbb.org) has some tips about choosing a good business consultant. It says to "lay out the specifics of the problem," "the exact objective you want," and "a time frame." Then "consider whether your immediate ‘problem’ is a symptom of a larger problem." Maybe you will identify the problem and discover that you or an employee can solve it.
If not, where do you go to find a good advisor? You can start with any trade associations and business organizations you belong to. They may have free or low-cost advisory services. Your major suppliers may offer advisors, often without charge because they want you to succeed and grow so that you can sell more of their products. The BBB web site also recommends that you "ask people you trust for referrals." And if you don’t get any? Check trade and business periodicals. Go to the library and look in the business references. If you have access to the Internet, use your favorite search engine to look for "business consultant" or "business advisor." Go to the Yellow Pages and look under "business consultant."
When you have identified a few possible consultants, contact them and describe the problem, your industry conditions, and your management style. Then meet with at least three of the best prospects who respond positively and ask enough questions to verify that the consultant has experience with the problem and your industry, or that you would trust the consultant to apply previous experience to your problem. Check the consultant’s references and accreditation with a national association. Next get a written, detailed proposal that lists all fees. The BBB notes that "consultants can charge a fixed fee or an hourly rate. Hourly rates could raise your costs substantially, so ask the consultant to put a ceiling on the job to cap your expenses. Also beware of the consultant who asks for all of the money up-front. It's customary to pay as much as one-third in advance, with the rest due on specific dates or at the completion of the project."
Among the business consultants in the Yellow Pages, you’ll find the SBA-associated Small Business Development Center (SBDC) located at Rochester Community College and RAEDI (Rochester Area Economic Development Inc.) in the Chamber of Commerce suite. And of course, we’re here at SCORE. We are also associated with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and are also located in the COC suite. For advice starting a business, expanding or improving any aspect of your business, or handling business problems, call SCORE (320)240-1332, or email us at info@StCloudSCORE.org.
John Eakins has been a member of SCORE chapter 406 and a counselor for seven years.