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Would You Like Sprinkles on Top of That Cookie-Cutter Solution?



Every small business owner, at some point in their growth cycle, knows they need an outside look, maybe even ongoing. But the choices are wide-ranging, and the promises even wider. Often, in selecting a business advisor or business coach, they will come with a built-in solution that they will try to neatly fit their client into.   It’s the “one size fits all” approach that the advisor or coach paid dearly to be trained in and are “certified” to deliver.  But how can that possibly be good for every small business?
 
Small businesses, regardless of market or size, all have issues and problems that are relative to them.  No two are alike, even in the same industry.  They have specific products and solutions, diverse resources with unique skill sets that they deploy in different ways to help their customers. They target different niche markets and geographies, selling to a distinct set of customers in those markets.
 
There is no “one size fits all” solution for their customers.
 
And same goes for an advisor or coach.  A great advisor for one small business might be a terrible one for another.   He or she has to fit your circumstances, your problems, your needs, and more importantly, your culture…without a cookie-cutter solution.
 
Here are six key questions to ask both yourself and the advisor to get one that fits your needs best:
 
  • How Much “Hands-On” Small Business Experience Has the Advisor Had?

    You want someone advising or coaching you who’s been there.  Someone who has, actually, run a small business, if not multiple businesses. Not an advisor who came out of corporate America as a mid-level manager and got “trained” or “certified” as a coach. What can they tell you about what it feels like, or better, what to do when you can’t make payroll after you lose a big customer? Or how to re-build your team after a pandemic like COVID? And, as important, how many small businesses has he/she worked with that can be referenced with actual case study results?

  • What Specialized Functional Experience Does the Advisor Bring and How Does It Fit with Your Most Pressing Problem or Need?

    You want a coach who can help you with your most pressing ongoing problem, like sales or marketing—or fixing your operations. Again, you want someone who’s been there.  Someone who can bring expertise and solutions to your business that not only solve the immediate problem but helps train your staff and helps you hire a more professional team, maybe even to replace the advisor?  An advisor or coach is what I like to call “training wheels” in certain situations, where they actually need to step back at some point and see if they’ve done enough to help you “ride on your own.”
 
  • Does the Advisor Come with a Preconceived Solution?

    Not all preconceived solutions are bad.  Some like EOS provide good structure and discipline as opposed to “the solution.”  But others are just trying to, often fit round pegs into square holes.

    I sat in on a webinar recently, where a marketing professional was describing his solution that, irrespective of size, product, market, etc., was the solution that could work in every business environment.  In effect, a true “cookie-cutter solution.” Worse, it was to a group of small business owners. He emphasized how important it was to follow “the steps” which seemed to provide more busy work than structure. And worse, he offered no real answer when a question was asked, “how soon can this make an impact?”
 
  • How Does “the Chemistry” Between You and the Advisor Feel?

    How penetrating are his/her questions about you and your business (and you know those are joined at the hip)? Is the advisor an acolyte of the “I’m your friend” school of advisors and coaches?  If you really want a new friend…buy a dog!  Will he/she be a “cheerleader,” encouraging you every step of the way but not offering any hard solutions that change the way you’re doing business? If you want a cheerleader…got to a football game!

    Those points may be cynical, but you have to feel that the advisor will tell you the unvarnished truth, no matter how painful it might be?  This is the real acid test.  It’s not just “chemistry,” but mutual trust and it has to be there for the relationship to work.
 
  • How Much Time Has Each of You (Business Owner and Advisor) Spent Interviewing Each Other Prior to Engagement?

    This may sound like a strange question, but it’s important to get it answered because it pretty much answers the other four questions most effectively. Typically, I spend multiple “touches” prior to any engagement.   Usually, in the pre-COVID days, at least 3 phone calls, and then I would, usually, spend a half-day at the prospective client’s location, talking to the owner and key managers in the company, understanding the situation.  They should provide multiple references from different industries to give you some perspective that there is no “one size fits all” solution.  Make sure your advisor does the same thing, if not more.   Hire your advisor like you to hire a key manager or a partner.  You will be that close.
 
  • Have You Defined Why You Want/Need an Advisor and What Your Expectations Are?

    This is where many relationships fail.  As Yogi Berra used to say, “…if you don’t know where you’re going…you might not get there!”   The advisor makes a bunch of promises (or at least hints at them), and the small business owner has high expectations that may not be able to be met by any advisor unless they have super-powers. So, no matter what, be sure that between you and the prospective advisor, you have established a formal, time-based set of objectives that are the basis for the relationship to begin.  Then develop a plan with tasks, responsibilities that fit the timeline.   Review the plan often and make the necessary tweaks and changes as the market, economy, and internal resources demand.

    But results are all that matter!
 Bringing on a business advisor or coach is not something trivial.  If it’s done right, it can change the direction of a small business.  If it’s done wrong, it can make what was a minor problem or need become a major catastrophe for the business.
Advisors and coaches are not infallible or undefeated, but if you form the right “partnership” and avoid buying into cookie-cutter solutions, it’s something that can accelerate your growth.
 
“The Entrepreneur’s Yoda” knows these things.  He’s been there.  May success be with you!

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