Many successful businesswomen realise and acknowledge that they don’t necessarily have all the answers, or all the skills and knowledge and contacts to take their business to the next level. They haven’t been afraid, or too proud, to approach people who were experts in their field and ask for their help and input.
Jane Hunter, of Hunter’s Wines wanted an effective team but not a top-heavy staff so she relied on the use of consultants in the areas of winemaking, management, accounting, advertising and PR. Jane, whose expertise was as a manager and viticulturist, said “I believe no one person has a monopoly on good ideas, the more people involved managing a business the more innovative you get. All these people work really well together and it gives me confidence to know I can call on them but they’re not actually sitting at the winery.”
When her company experienced a difficult vintage back in 1995 she said her various consultants who were away from the problem could look at the situation quite logically and in a different light than those caught in the middle, getting stressed out. The consultants put together a plan for the company for the next year to work their way through the difficult time.
Julie Dalzell, past publisher and editor of successful Cuisine magazine, called her advisory group a ‘maverick team’ – a handful of advisors with backgrounds in advertising, direct marketing and finance. Julie said her team were lateral thinkers, who helped to generate ideas and make them happen.
“We sat around with our advertising manager and said we’re either going to stay still and battle for the advertising dollar all the time or we’re going to try and beat the pack.”
The team developed a business plan, marketing plan and an advertising brief containing some fairly challenging goals for the Cuisine team. Part of the plan was an eye catching and controversial advertising campaign that resulted in a 79 percent increase in circulation.
Janis Rodriguez, an expert on freelancing and working from home and writer on the popular website Mi Trabajo Mi Casa, says that advice doesn’t need to come from a structured, official group. It can come from more informal places and conversations as well. “I often go to ex-colleagues, or even my old boss for advice about my small business. One person can’t know everything, so when I come across a problem where I don’t have expertise, I reach out to an expert.”
Napoleon Hill in his classic book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ devotes an entire chapter to the power of the mastermind. He attributes Andrew Carnegie’s and Henry Ford’s success to their mastermind alliances.
There are many variations to the mastermind and they can be easily set up to assist you in your own business. Some of these include:
Your advisory council could be made up of consultants, key stakeholders or staff, or experts in their respective fields. Their role is to advise and guide you – so you can learn from their mistakes – not to work for you.
An advisory council may also have networks and connections that can be invaluable to you as you grow your business.
Approach and appoint people into key advisory positions; operations, management, marketing, financial. Aim to meet monthly and from the beginning clearly set out each person’s role, responsibility and your expectations as well as their remuneration.
It’s often helpful for entrepreneurs to have a group of peers who are at approximately the same stage in growth (but in different industries) to talk to. This can be an informal group or an official mastermind with membership dues, etc.. The key is that a group of four or five people with diverse backgrounds and businesses can help each individual in the group see problems from new angles and find novel solutions. After all, an engineer doesn’t think like a creative, and a lawyer won’t think like a physicist. Different fields and industries require different problem solving methods.
These groups can offer a forum where you can explore staff issues, practise presenting proposals, ask for contacts or referrals and get feedback and a different perspective on issues.
Having a ‘goal setting buddy’ is another way to get outside advice in a less formal way. You can ‘meet’ your buddy either virtually or in person every three weeks or so. First, update each other on the progress towards your goals, then discuss any obstacles or issues and share successes. Then set actions to complete over the next three weeks. The idea here is that you’re accountable to the other person – it adds an external motivator because you don’t want to let your buddy down. The meetings can be informal, but there needs to be discipline in making the meeting actually happen and in reviewing your progress honestly as well as setting new goals.
Make sure you set parameters around expectations of accountability to each other (how tough are you going to be?) and in the early stages, it’s a good idea to spend the first few meetings defining your goals and getting an understanding of the other person’s vision for themselves and their business.
Running your own business, whether self employed or leading a team, can be lonely but having some type of advisory or sounding board prevents isolation, and injects fresh ideas as well as making you accountable to your vision, so you don’t get side tracked with the trivialities of day to day issues.