business advisory boards

Question from Amanda Carter, on LinkedIn. Have you ever sought the assistance of a Business or Life Coach?

My answer. I’m in the coaching and consulting business, but even so, I have used a variety of coaches. For example:

Business owner round tables. First, my business is leading groups of 10 business owners who act as informal advisers for each other. I have belonged to one of these groups led by another. Getting feedback and accountability from hard-headed biz owners each month is invaluable.

Even though I lead these groups for others, I need one for my own business just as much as anyone else.

Mastermind groups. Secondly, I have belonged to informal mastermind groups. Right now, five consultants and I have a “social media acceleration group” which meets virtually each month to help each other master various aspects of social media. We’ve helped each other with Twitter, Facebook, blogging, webinars, ebooks, video clips, etc. We stay focused on just these issues.

Accountability partners. I’ve had accountability buddies, where we help each other do something tough. Most recently, we’ve both been completing ebooks and getting them published. Knowing I’ve promised her to have the next section completed by Tuesday keeps me on it.

Writing coach. Finally, when I was writing a book, I hired a writing coach. She helped keep me on schedule, but also gave feedback on arrangement of material, etc.

Life coach. I’ve never had a life coach per se, because I’ve never had uncertainty about my life goals or how to pursue them. I have three lifetimes of things to do. My issue is getting things completed.

Why do I use coaches? I’m a collaborator, and collaboration is my catalyst to creativity. I work much more effectively by talking things out than by working away by myself all the time.

Don’t be the Lone Ranger. Small business owners get stuck in this trap of not having anybody to talk to about challenges in their business. If you work isolated, you make dumb and expensive mistakes.

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Q. Who is the best choice to help you grow your business?

I used a business coach to help get my business off the ground. Now I want to grow my business. Who do you think is the best–my business coach, a CPA, a financial advisor, or a business attorney? Or someone else entirely? Asked by Jacquelyn Bell, CPA on “Small Business Owners Group” on LinkedIn.

A. My Answer

Rule #1. As your business grows, don’t be the Lone Ranger! Get some form of outside advice and support. Every exec of a larger company relies on this. Only small biz owners hold on to the mistaken idea that they can go it alone.

You offer several good suggestions, and here’s another: business owner round tables. My company leads ongoing peer advisory groups for owners of growing companies, and I know there are similar groups all over the country.

How the groups work. I’ll use my groups as a model so you can find or build a similar group: Ten owners meet once a month for half a day, under my guidance; members set goals, hold each other accountable, give feedback, and do problem solving.

Benefits. A group of savvy owners holds your feet to the fire the way no consultant can. “No way would I show up for the meeting without doing what I had committed to the group.” The breadth of experience is so great within a group of ten, it’s hard to find an issue that somebody hasn’t dealt with. You find great role models: “If she can do it, surely I can.” You discover that your worst problems are not unique; others have dealt with the same. You learn from others’ problems: “I was advising him, and I realized my finger should be pointing right at myself.”

Guidelines for a business owner round table:
Have a leader. All-volunteer mastermind groups are very tough to keep on track.
— Have people at similar levels of sophistication. I have groups for solopreneurs, and other groups for those with a management structure.
Diversity of business types is a major strength. I’ve led groups where they were all in the same industry, and they all thought the same–nobody to challenge them.
— It’s not a networking group. You don’t want your best customer in the room when you’re describing your toughest challenges. Of course, no competitors.
— Members must agree to be there, on time, till the end. Missing meetings hurts the rest of the group.
— Written agreement of confidentiality.
People need to pay–even if they miss a meeting. Otherwise they don’t respect the commitment.
The leader has to be strong enough to ride herd, yet not dominate the group. The members need to be the resource for each other.
— My groups have ranged between 5 and 10 members. More people and you don’t get heard.
These groups can be long-lasting. I have a number of 5 to 10 year members.

Such a group does not replace specialized professional advisers. You still have your CPA, CFO, attorney, marketing whiz, etc.

But a group of peers helps you with the subtle ways you need to change your management style so that you can keep up with your company’s growth.

Look here for more on how our groups are run.

“Round tables” don’t have to be round! Our groups meet in a board room with a long table, comfortable chairs, and a large coffee pot. And plenty of white boards to take notes on while members discuss their issues.

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