I met with a new empty-nester recently who is planning to launch her own small business in the near future and instead of encouraging her to go forth and tackle the world, I told her to put on the brakes. In fact, “Don’t pump the brakes. Slam them!!” I begged her. For purposes of this story, I’ll call her Nancy.
I had to take Nancy gently by the hand, look her in the eyes until she knew I was as serious as a heart attack, and spoke slowly and methodically. “You need to back up. You have one specific, significant piece of homework to do. Hear me now because I’m going to save you a LOT of heartache.” Nancy paused, rather stunned and now worried. Good! I’ve got her attention and my next guidance for her was game-changing.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t trying to keep her from starting a business. Nancy’s idea is a good one. In fact, it is brilliant. I’m convinced that she can make a ton of money from it – and I’m not easily impressed. But before jumping in with both feet and throwing something up on a wall to see what sticks, I wanted Nancy to increase her odds of winning right out of the gate. And that, my friends, is a secret that most new entrepreneurs find out when it’s too late. She couldn’t wait to receive her homework and so she willingly jumped in with all ears and humility.
“First, we need to line up the right team of advisors for you. A business dream like yours is going to require you to be at the top of your game. There are many moving parts that you won’t be able to handle all at once. So, here is what we will do.” I helped Nancy structure her own personal board of directors. This is a two-step process that will pay off in spades as she prepares her plan.
Step number 1 - we developed a list of the types of talent and skills she needs for her business model and her personal skill level. These are hires, not employees. These are advisors. These are contacts that will be there to help her muddle through 10,000 decisions and challenges. These are subject matter experts who will collaborate with having a single goal of helping her succeed. They will be honest, kind, knowledgeable, transparent, supportive, and watchful.
Step number 2 – we created a list of candidates who should fill her board. Coming up with a list of names can be challenging. The trick is to find those who are willing to commit an hour a month to touch base and see how she’s doing. Her board members might also be called upon in an emergency for some quick advice. And each one must be willing to share her (or his) expertise without fear of blame or being the bearer of bad news or accountability. And all the while they need to remain true to their skill sets. The exercise took us a couple of hours. It was time well invested by Nancy.
She quickly realized how she just gave herself an incredible competitive advantage. She was armed with the intellectual property and plan that most of her competitors never even thought of. She had powerful resources at her fingertips. And now she was ready to solicit potential board members and get their input on her business plans. She jumped leaps and bounds ahead and put into practice the secret that so many successful business owners and leaders use.
Jodi Henson is a business consultant and entrepreneur. She works with prospective and existing small business owners to help them overcome challenges and attain their goals. Jodi lives in NE Florida with her husband. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.