It’s lonely at the top. Especially if you are a small business. There are nearly 30 million small businesses in the United States, but only about 5 million of them look like miniature large businesses. The vast majorities are businesses with 1-5 people. Getting large is not the prime directive, surviving and prospering are.
There used to be a hard distinction between “opportunity entrepreneurs”, those who raise capital to pursue a vision and change the world, and “necessity entrepreneurs”, those who can’t otherwise find employment who create lifestyle businesses to support their families. Today there is a dynamic third category, the “aspirational entrepreneurs”, those people who want to own, not rent their future, and who are willing to sacrifice in order to control their own destinies.
Never mind that most small businesses fail, aspirational entrepreneurs are motivated to beat the odds. And while rocket ship tech ventures steal the headlines, its small businesses that create jobs. The Silicon Valley style ventures use technology to provide leverage for their businesses, often destroying more jobs than they create. But true small businesses hire locally, support their community and contribute where it matters most, at home.
So how do you beat the odds? You buy every book that can give you a leg up. You attend seminars. You listen to podcasts and read blogs. You join local industry groups. You work long days and weekends, without vacations, sacrificing precious time with friends and family. But there is more you can do. You can accelerate your learning by hiring a coach.
The terms “advisor”, “coach” and “mentor” are bandied around a lot these days. But it is important to understand the difference.
An advisor is someone with specific experience and expertise that can help with your business. They may have run a bakery and can help with yours, or managed a day care center and can share their hard earned lessons with you. Advisors educate you and make you a smarter businessperson.
A coach is someone who has the ability to help you address particular business challenges you face in running your business. They train you to hire better, set goals, or manage people, whether your white-hot and growing too fast or suffering from a major setback. They focus on your trouble spots and work with you to develop a plan to get them under control. They will make you a more skilled businessperson.
A mentor is the rarest of the three. They may have specific expertise, or be capable of training you for success, but they play a more vital role. They help you to be your best self. They focus on you, not simply your business challenges. They are there to help you be successful, in your life. A mentor is a confidential sounding board who will listen and push you when needed.
How do you find an advisor, coach or mentor? You start with who you know. Network with people who can connect you with others you want to know. You can find advisors by looking for someone who has walked your path before. They might be people who have worked in the same industry, or started businesses in the same community. Take them out for coffee, bring them fresh baked goods, ask how you can help them and then do it. Reach out and build a relationship first. Then you’ll find someone willing to give you the benefit of their experience.
You hire coaches to help you acquire an additional skillset. Look for someone who not only has the know-how, but the ability to share it. It is not enough to be skilled at doing something, to be a great coach you also need to be able to effectively assess someone’s shortcomings and tailor your message to the listener. Ask around and identify the coaches who have been successful with other small business owners. Look for a fit with your specific needs and personality.
Mentors are the hardest to find. They invest themselves in you and your character. They have to care about what you are doing and why you are doing it. They will give you the unvarnished truth, no matter how much it hurts, and you need to commit to hearing it. Personal chemistry with a mentor is more important than industry expertise. This is a personal relationship, not just a business relationship.
Surround yourself with people will accelerate your development to avoid the potholes along the way. Don’t repeat the mistakes of others. Find a coach, or advisor, and if you are lucky, a mentor, who cares about you and your business.
In Straight Talk for Startups, 100 Insider Rules for Beating the Odds, my co-author Jantoon Reigersman and I offer 100 best practices to help you create a successful business. It covers not just the fundamentals, but also choosing investors, fundraising, managing boards, and achieving liquidity. If you have the right people around you advising and supporting you as you face the challenges of your growing business, you might just beat the odds.
About the Authors:
Randy Komisar is the co-author of Straight Talk for Startups (HarperBusiness; June 2018). He is a venture capitalist with decades of experience with startups. He is the author of the best-selling book The Monk and the Riddle, about the heart and soul of entrepreneurship, as well as numerous articles on leadership and business.
Jantoon Reigersman is the co-author of Straight Talk for Startups He’s a seasoned financial operator with extensive experience in startups. He serves as Chief Financial Officer of publicly traded Leaf Group (NYSE: LFGR), a diversified consumer internet company. Earlier in his career, he served as investor and member of Goldman Sachs’ European Special Situations Group and investment banker at Morgan Stanley in their mergers and acquisitions team.