Get Thee Startup Advice – But Get It Carefully!

As an entrepreneur, we could all use some startup advice as we strive to make our small business a success – we offer several tips regarding how and where to solicit the startup advice you need.

You wouldn’t be an entrepreneur if you weren’t your own person,
captain of your own ship, king of your domain. But let’s face it:
everyone needs help at some point figuring out the right path for their
company to take, and how to avoid the common pitfalls in the
entrepreneurial unknown.

Here’s a surefire way to get
positioned for success: sign on with experienced advisors. They are
sometimes hired guns—like professional service providers—and sometimes
advisors or mentors who are simply interested in the rewarding
experience of supporting an entrepreneur in need with that vital piece
of startup advice.

Whether it’s over morning coffee
once a week or in the board room, here are our suggestions for how to
go about surrounding yourself with great advisors:

The Big Four:

If
you haven’t already, you should establish relationships with a capable
accountant, a lawyer, an insurance provider and a banker. Before you
sign on which each of these service providers, find out if they’re in
your price range, if they’re used to working with companies of your
size and type, and if they have any auxiliary expertise that is
particularly appropriate to your business.

These providers
are the bedrock of your advisor network, so you should choose them
carefully, using references and researching shamelessly. And don’t be
afraid to work with an accountant who has been recommended by, say,
your insurance agent, or vice versa, because if they’re used to working
together, there can be some synergies to their relationship that
benefit you.

IMPORTANT TIP – You ‘Da Man/Woman:

It’s
all about you in these relationships. Be in touch with your formal
business advisors frequently by phone, e-mail or drop-in visits – and
demand that they be responsive. Keep them copied on all critical
information, so that if you’re forming contracts or taking other
important steps with your startup business, they know what’s going on.

Continually
tap into their advice not only about their particular niches, but also
about other business questions and issues you have. And never let them
forget, in your friendliest way, that you’re paying the bill.

Older and Wiser:

Countless
entrepreneurs have benefited in immeasurable ways from the regular
advice of an experienced business owner or executive who’s willing to
serve as a mentor. To start and grow her body-care-products boutique in
Albuquerque, N.M. called Body Bueno, Martha Doster relied on the
mentorship of W.C. Longacre, a famous local restaurateur who helped her
with the subtleties of everything from ordering supplies to schmoozing
customers. True, he was her significant other. But you can
find mentors through networking at your club or church, or through
volunteer groups of retired executives such as SCORE. You might even
target someone whom you respect, approach them out of the blue and
flatter them into helping you out.

IMPORTANT TIP – What They Get Out of It:

You’d
be surprised how many potential mentors are thrilled by the possibility
of sharing their experiences and expertise with an eager apprentice. As
a result, they typically expect no formal compensation, expecting only
to be rewarded by the satisfaction of helping a new business owner get
started. But if you get to the point where you can provide that
valuable advisor with some equity in your company, it would be
appropriate to at least offer it to them.

Moving Up to a Board:

Forming
an advisory board can multiply the great advice you get. Mark Daly,
co-founder of On Target Media in Cincinnati, credits his advisory board
with providing wisdom that helped him steer his company to $10 million
in sales within a few years – and for helping him avoid pitfalls that
could have sunk his firm.

Plan to convene no more
than a half-dozen experts on your advisory board, and pack it with
diversity as well as experience. But be sure to set rules for your
advisory board so it’s clear that, while you’re seeking their input,
advisory board members have no authority or responsibility for actually
running the company.

Our Bottom Line

Yes,
as an entrepreneur it can feel like the weight of the world is entirely
on your shoulders. But we’ve found that that doesn’t have to be the
case—if you use them right, good mentors and business coaches, with
their golden guidance and startup advice, can provide a lot of smarts
and sanity as you try to take your business to new heights.

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