Has your business run into a roadblock?
Worried that your company’s growth is flat and that you are not attracting enough new customers? Running low on cash because your accounts receivable are too high?
Myriad problems arise when running a small or mid-sized business. Don’t be shy about seeking assistance. Big and small businesses alike often need outside help – that’s why mega-companies spend millions of dollars on consulting firms. If you are a business owner with questions, you may not need to spend any money to obtain good, sound advice.
The first step is to define exactly what you want to know. What is the specific problem and what have you done up to now to address it?
You have three options for finding the help you need:
- Informal coaching from local businesspeople, chamber of commerce groups that provide advice free of charge or at a low price, as well as other organizations like SCORE, a nationwide non-profit that uses experienced businesspeople to help small companies at any stage of their development. Also, ask friends in the local business community if they have had any experience with the issues you are facing.
- Use the many tools available on the Internet … web pages and sites that can address specific problems common to businesses. You can obtain specific advice from websites or, in some cases, speak with a counselor who has experience in your type of business problem.
- An outside professional coach, who discusses your business issues, makes an analysis, offers recommendations and charges a fee. This type of coach may come to work with you directly or provide advice from his/her base outside your company.
Option 1: Free or Low-Cost Coaching
A good place to start would be setting up an appointment with your business partner – your community banker. Your local banker can provide advice on handling financial situations, such as guidelines on managing accounts receivable and options to recover what you are owed. Your banker can also recommend outside help – for example, local chambers of commerce and other business organizations that provide advice.
SCORE (Counselors to America’s Small Business) has been assisting small business for more than 50 years on a national scale. Backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), it has over 11,000 volunteer mentors with expertise in 62 business sectors. SCORE delivers its services free or at a very low cost and holds events and workshops in many cities and towns nationwide, matching up mentors with local small businesses. (www.score.org)
Option 2: Assistance Online
The SBA, SCORE and other organizations operate websites devoted to small and mid-sized businesses. They offer advice and mentorship, and can provide leads to other coaching resources.
Some of these are:
- SBA Finding a Business Mentor (The SBA works with companies that have up to 1,500 employees, depending on the economic sector.)
- The Growth Coach Blog
- National Center for the Middle Market
- SBA Learning Center
Option 3: Paid Professional Coaching
For the third option – finding a professional coach – there are some things to remember. Coaches should have the experience and skills to make your business better. Some have worked in a variety of business sectors and have encountered every situation that can develop. A person like that can provide specific help in resolving your problems and add value to your business.
Since business coaching is not a regulated profession, you should ask for references to find out how a potential coach has performed for other clients. Also ask about the coach’s own business background. Find someone who can clearly explain his/her ideas. Beware of coaches who promise you too much are sound like a hyperactive car salesman.
Once you’ve decided on a coach, establish a clear plan that defines the problems you want to resolve and how you will work together. Will the coach spend a few hours or a few days observing your operations? How soon will you receive recommendations? Will the coach be available to ensure proper implementation of remedial measures?
Before signing any agreement, get a clear and detailed statement on fees (these may be hourly or by project), on how much time the coach will spend with you and your business in person, how much time the coach will be available outside the company while under contract and how quickly he/she will provide precise recommendations. In some cases, a coach may be needed for only a few days; in others, it could be weeks.
You should understand that to be effective, you will have to share all pertinent information on your company and its operations, as well as your financial statements.
Good advice from an experienced and articulate business coach (paid or unpaid), friend or colleague can put your small business on the right track. Ignoring a problem could put you out of business.
Sources: SBA, National Center for the Middle Market, Entrepreneur.com, SCORE, Inc.com, SmallBusiness.com, QuickBooks, interviews with small business owners.