If you think you’re smart enough, strong enough and determined enough to build a great company on your own — good luck. You’re buying into one of the most pervasive fables in America. Let’s call it the John Wayne myth featuring the rugged, clear-eyed, supremely resourceful individualist who can overcome every challenge.
As a business owner it’s dangerous to try to be a John Wayne, at least as he’s portrayed in the movies. The Old West’s Law of the Plains does not apply in the world of business ownership, especially in today’s complex and incredibly competitive environment.
You’re going to need the help of others to take your business where you want to take it. This is especially true if you’re doing everything that needs to be done to keep the wheels of your operation spinning regardless of its size or the number of people you employ. Eventually that effort will become exhausting and discouraging. You will come to realize there must be a better way and that you must find it.
You have several obvious options open to you to gain the knowledge you need to affect positive change within your operation.
You may consider becoming part of a franchise and implement systems that other franchisees are using successfully. Or, you may join an industry peer group so that you can learn from other owners as you share your own experiences. Perhaps you may even mull employing an industry business consultant to help you rebuild your company. Each of these options involves financial investment, sometimes significant expenses.
But there’s another less costly way to gain critical knowledge to guide you to make beneficial changes to your company. It involves resources already present within the community or regional market that you serve. These are local people that have built successful businesses or that have excelled within their respective professions — bankers, accomplished real estate agents and realtors, contractors in related trades and other assorted business people.
These are candidates for building your local unofficial business advisory board. It’s unofficial because the folks on your board are helping you out voluntarily. These individuals could be active within your community or they could be retired. (Hint: Retired individuals are often the most likely to help you.)
How do you find and recruit them? You do this by being generous yourself. You join and participate in service organizations such as the local Rotary Club; you help a local school or nonprofit with a service project; you participate in Project Evergreen’s GreenCare and SnowCare for Troops programs. You must visible, active and credible within your community to gain the respect of its business leaders. This is the Law of Reciprocity: To get you must also give.
How do you get these knowledgeable people you’ve identified as possible advisors to share their experiences and knowledge with you? Once you’ve become acquainted with them, you summon your courage and ask them for their help. It’s that simple.
Some of your candidates will beg off because they’re busy with other commitments (one reason why retirees often make the best advisors). But others may be flattered and may be open to meeting with you monthly or bimonthly for lunch or dinner at a favorite restaurant — perhaps even as part of a small group.
You may seek out, say, five unofficial advisors, realizing that not everyone will be able to meet with you perhaps as often as you’d like. But even if you form just a few solid, new, long-lasting friendships with successful leaders in your market, the meal tabs you expense to your company will be a minuscule cost compared to the knowledge that you gain.
Like politics, in the end your success with engaging with your community and its leaders will convince you that “all business is local,” as well.