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Entrepreneurs, Does Your Advisor Make You Feel Good...or Think More?

What makes a good small business advisor
I'm pretty critical of my advisor brethren (and sisterhood).  Way too many are just cheerleaders or, worse, pals.

An advisor should be the one person who tells you the unvarnished truth when you need to hear it.

As I have said before, you want a cheerleader? Go to a football game! You want a pal? Buy a dog! An advisor should be somebody who holds you accountable, when nobody else can or will. Is your advisor giving you advice that you can use? Do they have the background and capability to do so? Do they make you think?

An advisory relationship is so critical for an entrepreneur during almost every stage of their business growth, because it provides an objective viewpoint. Typically, advisors aren't around every day; maybe not even every week. But, if they are familiar enough with your business and have a broad base of experience, their objectivity becomes a critical advantage.

They get you to think in areas and about topics you are either uncomfortable with or lack real experience to address.  Plus, in that capacity, they can hold you accountable for meeting key objectives.

But, just as often, entrepreneurs get led astray by coaches who are more concerned with "empowering" you (what, you started a business, yet can't power yourself?); or trying to make you more authentic (why, is somebody out their copying you?) or some other kind of consultanese gibberish.

You need advisors who've been there and can help you navigate the uncharted waters you and your business faces. Ones that provide the critical guidance and the "tough love," when you need it most.

Here are six guiding factors to help you find the "right" advisor for you.  The more factors an advisor has, the better they are for you :

1. Only experienced entrepreneurs need apply.

If they haven't been there, haven't taken the risk, had to make a payroll of their own, how in heaven's name can they help you? How can they relate? You need an advisor who has "walked a mile" in shoes like yours.

2. Background in your industry or market sector.

You need somebody who can give you an historical perspective of your market, preferably with still-current contacts. It will help you better focus on what the biggest market needs or opportunities are. Parenthetically, if you can't find somebody with experience in your market niche, that might tell you a lot.  Maybe your niche is too small to even have experts.

3. They can fill a functional "hole" in your background or company.

Look for an advisor who has a major skill where either you or your company is lacking. Often, they are in critical areas like sales and marketing or finance that are "foreign" to your background that helped you start your business. If he/she has industry expertise and contacts, that becomes a double-win because it means they can bring both insight and functional skills to the dance and, perhaps, find you a full-time person to fill the "hole."

4. No one size fits all.

If the potential advisor tells you what you need before they really understand your business (i.e., a zealot about the latest management "strategy du jour"), run, do not walk away from this person. An advisor has to take the time to "get their hands dirty" and truly understand your business before offering you any real advice about ways you can better achieve success. Platitudes won't get you new customers or help you manage your cash.

Use author Robert Sutton's
"No A****e Rule" as a guide.

5. The chemistry has to work.

At the end of the day, if you don't like your prospective advisor, either as a person or a professional, don't bring them on. What? You think that isn't important? How much do you like being around people who you just find personally displeasing?

If your personalities don't mesh, neither will your philosophies. Some advisors are just too full of themselves to really care about you or your business. Use author Robert Sutton's "No A****e Rule" as a guide. Life's too short, plus the message will get lost in the noise of discomfort. Chemistry is incredibly important.

6. They can deliver (and you can accept) "tough love" when necessary.

This is the other side of chemistry.  It's called respect.  If there is mutual respect (plus some of the serious experience factors above), the advisor can deliver and you can accept "tough love" when you need it most.

An advisor is critical to an entrepreneur's success, no matter the growth stage of the company.  Choose wisely!

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things.  He's been there.  May success be with you!

What's been your experience with advisors?  Share it with us.  It can help another entrepreneur.

If you like this post, by all means, share it with your networks and colleagues.

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