Scott Underwood – It has been said that the first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have a problem in the first place. Yet, with many of the entrepreneurs we have experience with (and more importantly, with those that don’t come to us), they are hesitant or reluctant to express their challenges, difficulties and problems. Whatever the reason, it is not beneficial for these struggling business owners to pretend that all is well when clearly it is not. So, why don’t they share their problems?
“It’s my business. I should know how to do everything and fix my own problems.”
I once read that only 12% of the adult population has the complete skill set required to own and operate an independent business. For those who have started their own business, you know that there is no test or exam required to start a business. Consequently, people can often get in over their head quickly. There is no shame in acknowledging that there are areas outside of an owner’s strengths. In our business advisor training, we are counseled to capitalize on our strengths, improve (where we can) on our weaknesses, and find work-arounds in the areas where we have too much ground to make up. While it’s reasonable to think that an owner should have some aptitude in many areas, it is unreasonable to think that he/she would be good at everything.
“My business (and therefore, my problem) is unique.”
Many companies tell us that their business, company or industry is unique – too unique to be understood by outsiders. While there are variations in companies, most have very similar challenges – understanding financials, managing people, managing cash flow. Whether you are a manufacturer, restaurant, service provider, high-tech company or small, one-person shop, we consistently help owners find the same problems in the same areas. The potential bad news is that you are not unique. The good news is that you are not alone.
“Who am I going to ask for help? No one around here has experience in my industry.”
In a couple of books I have been reading recently – one being Frank Partnoy’s Wait: The Art and Science of Delay – the authors have discussed the benefits of bringing diverse groups together to solve problems. Because the outsiders are not steeped in the problem, the culture and the history of the company, they can take a fresh look at the problem. They aren’t emotionally tied to the company (like most owners are); they can look at the situation through an unbiased, objective lens. Because they may have a diverse or, at least, a different, background, they can often bring lessons learned in other industries to the problems at hand. Sometimes squeezing the problem too hard by yourself just leaves you frustrated, worn out, and at a loss for a new solution. A fresh perspective can often come from the most unlikely of sources.
“What if someone finds out we are struggling? I may lose my standing in . . .”
I can’t really help you with this one, except to say that admitting a problem early and fixing it is usually preferable to prolonging it to its sometimes inevitable end. It’s easier to bail out a boat while it’s still floating than it is to raise it from the bottom. If you don’t want people to know that you are struggling, think about how you will feel when you are closed, bankrupt, or in far worse shape.
Let us help.
At the ISBDC, I believe that one of our most under-utilized resources is our consulting. Whether we act as a sounding board, an idea generator, a subject matter expert, a connector to another mentor/expert, or just a support mechanism, our consulting services can be invaluable to a struggling owner who doesn’t have anyone to talk to about his/her business. Without being cliché, there is nothing new under the sun. We have seen it all before and can usually suggest possible solutions to turn your business in a new direction. Whether you use our services and implement the solutions we might discover together is up to you.
Scott Underwood is a Business Advisor for the East Central ISBDC. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.