People go into business for themselves for a lot of reasons, including freedom, control, and, of course, the potential to make more money. But few entrepreneurs truly appreciate how much potential lies dormant in their companies.
The best way to tap into this potential is to learn as much as possible about sales and marketing, conventional -- and unconventional -- ways to generate cash flow, and strategies to develop low-cost, but high-quality leads.
You can get this from books or personal experience, but I would suggest working with an advisor or mentor to help guide you. While it may seem like an unnecessary or unaffordable expense in terms of time and other resources, outside counsel can be one of the best investments you'll ever make for your business.
You should acquire as much knowledge as you can from a trusted advisor who will hold you accountable for taking the actions you need to be successful, even if you don't always agree or feel comfortable.
Look at it this way: Starting a business is a risky proposition mainly because most first-time entrepreneurs simply don't know the ins-and-outs of running a successful operation. Generally, it isn't lack of capital that kills most businesses. It's lack of knowledge.
So what should you look for in a mentor or advisor? Here are four important considerations:
1. You should have good rapport with your advisor. This doesn't mean you should find someone who will agree with your every decision. But it does mean you should work with someone who is a good fit with your personality and who is willing to challenge your status quo. You can work one-on-one with a mentor, or you can try to find a local network of like-minded owners. Such groups meet regularly to provide advice and feedback about issues facing their members' businesses.
2. Your mentor should be someone who's "been there, done that." Beware of someone who claims to have a "new" system or a "magic bullet" solution. Rely instead on tested veterans who have played the game successfully. Not only can they reveal the secrets of their success, they also can be candid about their failures and how to avoid them.
3. Your advisor would ideally have a framework for driving sales, repeat purchases, cash flow and profit. In the best case, you should work with someone who takes your entire enterprise into consideration, or at least has some good tools, tactics and strategies for the functions that drive sales and profits. Be wary of complex strategies or hard-to-replicate systems.
4. Your mentor should hold you accountable for results. A mentor needs your permission to hold you accountable for what you say you're going to do and when you're going to do it. He or she also should be willing to guide you in a different direction or correct potential errors in judgment. Many hard-driving entrepreneurs find such accountability difficult, but it can be one of the most valuable aspects of mentorship.
Can it be difficult to find an advisor who is willing to guide you? Perhaps. But once you start looking for that person, you'll be amazed at the connections you'll start to make. And once you do find the right advisor, it can make all the difference in the world.
Is all that effort really worth it? Recent independent studies have shown that companies that get outside business help can generate a tenfold return on the investment. These days, you're simply not going to get that type of return in stocks or real estate.
Simply put, no successful entrepreneur got to the top without a great team and a trusted mentor to turn to for help and advice. So don't go it alone. Learn from others who have been there before and achieved the level of success you're seeking. You'll cut years off your learning curve.