Getting Outside Help for Your Startup
As a business owner and CEO, it can be daunting at times to sit back and think about all the decisions you make every day, month or year. The scope of areas and range of topics you need to be an expert in, or at least be able to take educated risks in, can be overwhelming. It can be lonely at the top at times, so who do you go to for advice and support? Do you have people you can turn to for an objective third opinion who have absolutely no vested interest in the outcome of your decisions? I've spoken with many other entrepreneurs and company presidents to see how others handle these situations and there seems to be a few popular options many have chosen.
- CEO roundtables or forums. These groups typically meet for a half day every month and consist of eight to 12 CEOs in different categories so that they can talk freely and confidentially about their businesses and competition. Each executive updates the group about their progress from the previous meeting, but one CEO is in the spotlight for each meeting and gets a more intensive level of scrutiny by the team. These groups have a professional facilitator to insure accountability and progress. I've seen these groups form by size of business (e.g., early stage, high growth, greater than $10 million in revenue, etc.), geography or all-women CEOs, for example.
- Executive coaches. These are one-on-one sessions which can be done in person or over the phone. The meetings are typically scheduled on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis. The coach doesn't solve the problems for you but does ask pertinent questions that keep you accountable for the follow-up and action items agreed to.
- Advisory board. Several CEOs I know use their advisors in this capacity and meet with them either one-on-one or as a group on a regular basis. When advisors are investors in your company or friends or family, it can be hard to share all the issues candidly, though. Your advisors may each play a very different but important role. Some have functional expertise (e.g., finance, sales, marketing, etc.), others may be the devil's advocate or mentor, while others may have already successfully accomplished what you're trying to do (such as build a successful franchise, take a regional business and grow it nationally, etc.).
These options aren't mutually exclusive. Many CEOs use each of these concurrently or two simultaneously and find value in each. I know others who started with one of the options then moved to another as their needs changed. Whichever option you decide must be comfortable for your personality and your business needs. There's no one solution here; we're all coming from different perspectives and our businesses are at different stages of the life cycle, so what works for one may not be the best solution for another. The important thing is that you find the right help, and based on my experience it's definitely out there--you just have to ask. It doesn't have to be lonely at the top, and in fact it's a lot more fun and productive when you have company!
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