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Every Small Business Owner Should Find an Advisor to Hold Them Accountable! 6 STEPs to Make Sure You Find the Right One.

How to find an advisor
In most of our lives, no matter the circumstance, be it as a child growing up, a young adult in college, or a hotshot young star in the early part of your career, there was always somebody there who held you accountable. Whether that be your parents, your professors or some of your first bosses. They kept you on the “straight and narrow.” Usually, those same folks would listen to your questions and ideas and provide you guidance.

When you become an entrepreneur, starting and running your company, unless you have partners, you answer to no one. There’s no one except the person staring back at you in the mirror to hold you accountable. And not all of us are exactly honest with ourselves. We tend to “justify” or “rationalize” actions and decisions which may not have turned out as well as we expected, to make ourselves “feel better.” There is no lonelier time in an entrepreneur’s life than that first time he/she is faced with either a decision or a situation that they never experienced before. And they have no one to “bounce it off of.”

These are two of the main reasons why you, as a small business owner, should have an advisor (or a group of advisors) who acts not only as a sounding board for your ideas and plans but holds you accountable as you attempt to execute on them.

But how do you go about finding the right advisor for you and your company? Here are 6 key ways to ensure you go about it the right way and end up with the advisor (or advisor group) that fits your personality, business style and the company you’ve created:

Where to look.

Talk to your professional advisors – lawyer, accountant, etc. They may suggest themselves, or they may have somebody they know or have done business with in the past. Talk to your networking groups; peers who may have faced the same problems or may have an advisor like what you’re seeking. Don’t be afraid to scour LinkedIn. I have developed a half dozen advisory relationships from folks who contacted me from LinkedIn.

I have developed a half dozen advisory relationships from folks who contacted me from LinkedIn.

What to look for – chemistry is critical.

Think about the good relationships you’ve had in your life, both business and social. The common point in those relationships and your “ideal advisor” will be you and your chemistry with the other party. What made them good? If it was a particular kind of personality (e.g., great sense of humor, or a positive thinker) that’s something you know works with you. Look for it in an advisor. The chemistry between the two of you will be critical to the relationship working, and that starts with feeling comfortable with the person giving you the advice.

What to look for - find somebody who’s been there.

The most important thing an advisor should bring to the table is entrepreneurial experience; that they’ve been there. They should have had to make payrolls, faced serious customer or supplier problems, most especially in a small business environment. If, at all possible, they should bring some relevant experience in your industry or customer sector.  Or, they should bring an expertise or skillset in which either you or your company is not strong (e.g., sales and marketing). So, they can not only relate to what you’re going through (maybe not the same business) but can offer a wealth of experiences and “war stories” about how they solved similar problems. Additiionally, they could bring strategic value by, potentially, opening doors that might never have been opened for you; introducing you to customers, suppliers or partners you might have never met. This goes hand in hand with the chemistry issue because the two, chemistry and experience/expertise, provide the basis for respect for the advice provided. 

Willingness To Listen to New Perspectives (and the Desire to Change).

If you think you have all the answers, don't waste your time with advisors. You need to be willing to have an individual or a group you respect, to hold you accountable. You need to be able to listen to someone with a ton more experience, expertise and objectivity tell you that you might be doing something wrong that could hurt your business. Further, you need to be able to listen to a contrarian viewpoint or strategy to one you might be pursuing, if for no other reason than to stop and consider other alternatives. 

Structure and process that provides advice and fosters accountability.

Determine how you are going to work together. With each one of the companies, I advise I operate a little differently. But, usually, once I get comfortable with what they are trying to do (e.g. reviewing their strategies and plans and getting to know the owner and their personality), we put together a structure and process that works.  The basis is always scheduling a specific meeting time (weekly or monthly); be that a virtual or face-to-face with a specific agenda, and a specific amount of time (usually an hour) devoted to the meeting. More important, hold as firmly as possible to all three – schedule, agenda and time allotted. And the agenda is where the accountability comes in because company operations are discussed, in some depth, and a lot of hard questions get asked. And, the longer the relationship goes, the better sounding board an advisor can provide for new ideas.

Time is money; free advice is worth what you pay for it.

Compensation is always a question and sometimes an issue.Respect the advisor’s time; it’s worth money. They might be retired; they might even be independently wealthy. No matter, their advice has come through hard-won experience and is valuable. Provide value back. Most advisors will work with you regarding compensation, and many (like me) will charge you more according to your size and less according to what value they provide. Some will only work for cash; others for cash and a piece of equity; still others for equity alone. No matter how you structure it, know that it will cost you something and that it should provide a good return for what you invest.

As a small business owner, that you should have an advisor is essential. It gets awfully lonely at the top, and you need someone to not only be a sounding board but to hold you accountable to ensure you and your business are growing.

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

Do you have an advisor or advisory group? Has it been a positive experience? Please share your thoughts in your comments. It can help another entrepreneur or small business owner. If you like this post, by all means, share it with your networks and colleagues.

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