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Building Your Support Team

Every business owner needs a trusted team of advisors and specialists. Here's how to get yours.

It may be OK for an experienced trapeze artist to work without a net. Budding entrepreneurs, however, can't afford such a risk. As a business owner, you need a support team--your own "safety net" of trusted individuals whom you can count on to advise you, teach you and assist you--and to catch you before you fall.

Not only can a strong support team mean the difference between success and failure for your fledgling company, but it can also ensure your personal sanity. I've encountered many small business owners who are running a million miles an hour to manage their business, when a bit of sage assistance could increase their efficiency and cut their frenetic pace.

The most common mistake people make when starting a business is trusting their gut too often. Not that instincts aren't important; they're essential. But it's even more important to talk out your ideas, your trouble points and your opportunities with skilled individuals. Often, just the process of explaining a situation to someone else will spark alternatives that can give you a new perspective. Discuss, listen carefully and then go with your gut.

Get the Best
Supporters generally come in two forms: advisors and specialists. Some you hire, some you pay for, and some you obtain through networking and outreach. Obviously you want to obtain your team as inexpensively as possible, but don't be afraid to pay for experience and expertise if necessary. Smart people at your side can save you years of hard work--and missteps.

When should you begin looking for these valued individuals? As soon as you start writing your business plan, especially if you're new to the process. Contact an accountant, an insurance agent, a lawyer, a banker, a professional business coach or an expert to get an accurate read on the validity and requirements of your plans.

Make a list of everyone you've ever known or met personally who might be of assistance. Relatives, old college buddies and even friends of friends may have the perspective you need. Remember, objectivity is personality-based, not relationship-based. If a person is mature, experienced and knowledgeable, they will be of value to you.

Professional Networking
Business clubs and associations are other places to get free advice. Network with people in your field or closely related to it. Visit trade shows and talk with exhibitors. Seek out the business incubator program at your local university or community college. The folks at these places are excellent sources of business contacts, information on government programs, procedural advice and even prospective customers.

Your best informal resource are other small business owners who've already been through what you're experiencing. Running a business is a lonely profession, and owners often can't share personal experiences with their own employees. With you, however, they can convey the lessons learned from their experiences. Don't be afraid to tell them details about your concept either. Trust me, they're too busy implementing their own ideas to steal any of yours.

Match Your Needs
As your business grows, proactively hire people who can take skilled tasks like business development, accounting or operations off your shoulders. Make sure everyone you hire is savvier than you are. Excellent employees make for excellent companies.

The nature of your business, as well as your particular situation, will dictate who to add first. Of course it's less expensive in the beginning to use a la carte service providers for disciplines such as legal, HR and marketing. An outside business coach can also be an invaluable source of ideas and strategy.

As you begin to hire professionals in a specific discipline, however, don't automatically reach out for people you've retained in the past for other tasks. Just because your personal accountant does a great job on your tax return, for example, doesn't mean he or she will be the kind of bookkeeper that will benefit your company. Look for people with proven experience handling the unique requirements of the position.

In the early days of a business, every penny counts. You're right to manage costs and not add people until you absolutely have to, even if you have the cash reserves to support the payroll.

However, the most expensive advice of all is free advice from a poor source. Get great advice and great help, even if you have to pay for it. It'll be worth its weight in gold.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Brad Sugars is the founder and chairman of ActionCOACH. As an entrepreneur, author and business coach, he has owned and operated more than two dozen companies including his main company, ActionCOACH, which has more than 1,000 offices in 34 countries.

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