The Most Overlooked Way to Improve Your Business

What would you like to accomplish in your business during the next one or two years?

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Is your top priority to launch a new product, app or website service?  Would you like to serve more customers?  Do you need to produce your company’s products or services in more efficient ways? How about improving your company’s financial performance to make it easier to appeal to lenders or investors?

A recurring theme in my coaching to startup entrepreneurs and sole proprietors is the time-saving value of asking for help—early and often.  Just because you go out on your own, doesn’t mean you have to go it alone!

Still business owners are reluctant to ask for help because they worry that they will somehow lose credibility with their employees, board members, investors or other professionals in their local business communities.  They don’t want the “word to get out” that they are not capable of leading their company to greatness.

Actually, within the venture finance community, the opposite is true.  We’d rather invest in companies that are run by CEOs who do ask for help.  These executives demonstrate their confidence by openly saying that they don’t have all the right answers, but will find the right answers with the help of others.  It’s a winning attitude.

Reinvent Your Ecosystem

So how do you find people who already know what you want to know?  By upgrading your company’s “ecosystem” of support.  Your ecosystem includes your circle of mentors, professional service providers, board members, industry experts, advisors and other entrepreneurs and business owners in your community.

If your business needs help reinventing a struggling product line, ask around for introductions to people with product line management expertise or those who have turned around a company.

If your business has stalled because you are trying to do every job, ask around for introductions to individuals who have expanded their sales reach through independent sales agents, partnerships with other complementary businesses, or new distribution alliances.

If you want to start selling your products or services in international markets, ask around for other companies that have opened international distribution channels.  Ask them what they did right and what they wish they had done differently.  You can also ask for help at your local Small Business Administration office, ask about export support programs and workshops to make the job of selling abroad easier and more successful.

As you develop your ecosystem, you will find that many colleagues can be tapped for advice without receiving an invoice in return. These community-minded professionals provide their time and expertise because they believe in you and your entrepreneurial cause.

There are of course, certain common missteps associated with ecosystem building. I find that business owners become complacent after the first year or two in business. They no longer consider their ecosystem as a priority, so supportive relationships become stale, underutilized, or not a good strategic match for the owner’s next plans for growth.

Another misstep in ecosystem development is to target mentors and advisors who are always older than the founder. Baochi Nguyen, a digital marketing strategist to corporate executives and venture capital-backed entrepreneurs, says that age is no longer an absolute measure of experience.

“Fast-changing industries and marketing technologies have redefined the profile of capable mentors and professional expertise. Today, game-changing guidance can come from professionals who don’t have any grey hair,” Nguyen says.

Nguyen also says that business owners who benefit the most from working with younger mentors and advisors are open to learning something new from someone new.

“My contribution is sought out by professionals who just care about the results. They ask a lot of tough questions in order to find a different perspective and approach that will advance their own interests,” says Nguyen.

Remember, whatever you need to succeed, there are mentors and advisors in your community with “been-there done-that” experience.  Find them. Listen to them.  Challenge them to brainstorm a brighter future for your business with you.

You can do it!

Susan Schreter is a veteran of the venture finance community and entrepreneurship educator. Susan’s book, Start on Purpose, provides information and actions steps on strategic planning, raising capital and building a lucrative business