Hi, I’m Amita Greer. For the last three years, I’ve worked as a business advisor for Montana Community Development Corporation. We provide free consulting to entrepreneurs throughout Montana. We work with everyone from startups to established businesses and from tiny one-person companies to more substantial small companies. But no matter the size or shape of the business, all successful entrepreneurs have one thing in common: they know when to ask for help.
There is a great myth out there about entrepreneurs. We think of them as solitary go-getters who can manage operations, do their books, create a vision, uphold a mission, increase sales, make the widgets, manage employees, and market the company all by themselves. We assume that they are supernatural loners who enjoy working at all hours, creating in their garage, and finding success through sheer determination, steely will, and lots and lots of exhausting work. While the hard work part is definitely true, the most successful entrepreneurs I know don’t go it alone – at least not completely.
According to a study done by the Kauffman Foundation in 2009 that surveyed 549 small businesses that made it past the startup stage, 73% of the business owners said professional networks were important to the success of their business. I’m not surprised by this statistic.
The most successful entrepreneurs I’ve seen through Montana CDC are the ones constantly asking questions about their markets, industry, and how they can improve their business. They know their own weaknesses and try to mange for it. If they don’t know how to read their financials or understand social media networking, they go out and ask for help. They may eventually outsource some parts of their business because they know they can’t do everything. These successful entrepreneurs ask for help because they know they can’t do it all and that they are not the best at everything.
Still, many entrepreneurs do have a hard time admitting they need help. Asking for assistance is difficult for many of us. We pride ourselves on our individuality and some view asking for help as a weakness. For many people, it never occurs to them to even reach out and ask questions.
I’ve worked with entrepreneurs who were embarrassed to submit their business plan for review because they were asking for feedback. I’ve had small business owners on the verge of closing their doors because they came in too late to make any significant changes – all because they did not want to ask for help.
I’ve heard lots of reasons:
“I’m a private person and don’t feel comfortable having someone else looking at my business.”
“I have a great business idea and I don’t want anyone to steal it.”
“It will cost too much to hire someone to help me.”
Or the two most dangerous ones:
“Nobody can help me. Only I understand what needs to be done.”
“I’m just too busy to even talk to anyone.”
But, if an entrepreneur is truly going to grow a business, he or she must learn that they can’t go it alone. Many successful entrepreneurs have mentors, coaches, or an advisory council that can provide valuable feedback. The hardest and probably most rewarding thing is to be open, honest and willing to receive criticism.
So, who do you ask for help?
Advisors can come in many forms. Attend networking groups. Contact other business owners in the area or in your industry. Attend a business training or conference and talk to other owners and professionals. Go online to find business contacts and call them. Seek out those smarter than you and make the ask.
It’s also important to know when to ask for help.
Ask for help when you see a negative trend in your business. Bring in someone to help provide a different perspective and strategize on solutions. One of the biggest mistakes a business owner makes is waiting too long before seeking to make a change.
Ask for help when you need an expert. Perhaps you need to do a website or learn a software program. Maybe you want to learn how to increase sales through social media but don’t know how. You will save time and money in the long run if you work with an expert rather than trying to figure it out yourself.
Finally, ask for help when you need new ideas. Things constantly change in the business world. Having contacts in different industries can provide you with new insights that you may never have seen by yourself.
None of us have answers all the time. As entrepreneurs, it’s important to remember that going out on your own does not literally mean always working alone. Be open to advice, ideas, and new ways of doing things. Hire people that can do things better than you can. Find others who you can talk to, share experiences with, and just plain commiserate with.
Being an entrepreneur is tough.
Don’t go it alone.
For more Business Resources from Montana CDC, review our business tools here.
Business Success Kit