When you own your own small business, this often means wearing many hats—at least in the beginning stages, if not through your entire entrepreneurial career. For example, as a freelance writer, I’m my own accountant, appointment keeper, and marketer. I’m also my one and only employee, which means that I serve as a customer service rep, a bookkeeper, and even part of the cleaning crew (thankfully I’m not that messy).
While being a one-person show does have some perks, it can also make it extremely difficult if you’re in need of some business-related advice. You have no partner to bounce ideas off of and no boss to look to for direction. So what are you supposed to do when you want a little guidance? Who can you turn to if you really are in your business on your own?
Recently I reached out to other business owners to see where they went when they had a question without an answer, a problem without a solution, or simply needed someone to tell them whether they were on the right path. Here are five options that we came up with that you may find helpful as well.
One person who is capable of providing great business direction is someone who is also professional who has similar thought processes, values, and goals as you. That’s what Avivit Ben-Aharon, MS Ed., MA CCC-LP, clinical director for Gr8 Speech, Inc. does, stating, “I have found speaking and connecting with like-minded professionals and learning from them to be the best source of information.” Where do you find this type of person?
If you live in a bigger city, you might be able to find mastermind groups in your field that meet locally, making it easier than ever to get to know people who understand your struggles and have found their own effective ways to overcome them. And if you’re in a smaller town, there are always online groups you can join too.
Case in point: I Googled “writer mastermind groups” and I came up with 650,000 results. Try it in your profession and see what type of results you get. Chances are you can find at least one group that can help you not only hone your craft, but create a successful business in the process.
Small Business Forums
Speaking of online groups, another place that Ben-Aharon goes to seek direction is business forums, calling them “extremely helpful” when it comes to getting advice. Again, many options exist if you do a quick Internet search, but there are a few that stand out as being more helpful than some of the others. They are:
- Small Business Forums.org. This online forum lets you search based on topics like tax questions, finance issues, staff relations, marketing, advertising, business planning, import and export, and more. Additionally, each thread appears to be fairly active, as many have been commented on within the last few days. It also contains a handy box on the right side of the site where all of the latest forum posts are summarized. Who knows? You may just find your answers right there. How nice would that be?
- small-business-forum.net. Like the previous site, this one also has multiple threads categorized by various business-related topics, making it easier than ever to pick the one that you want help with most. Some even have sub-forums so you can whittle your choices down even more and find what you’re looking for faster. Plus, with more than 24,000 members, it’s likely that you’ll find a lot of good information on this site from people are or have been in your shoes.
- Small Business Ideas Forum. What makes this forum a little bit different than the two previously mentioned is that it also has a section titled “Inspiration & Ideas,” which is where you can go if you’re seeking that little push to get you going or want to share some of the successes you’ve had along the way (which is a great motivator, coincidentally). This is also one of the largest small business forums online, with more than 70,000 members and 120,000 posts. So whether you go to it solely to introduce yourself and share a bit about your business, or to post a request for a solution to a problem that is keeping you up at night, you’re bound to make some good connections here.
- Home Business Online. If your small business is one you operate out of your home, this may be the forum for you. In addition to finding information that can help you solve some of your most bothersome business-related issues, this site also has a rather large “Small Business Chat” section where you can share your thoughts and concerns. It even has a “Business Bungles” section where you can post “your business blunders, mistakes, things you’d rather forget but keep coming back to haunt you” so you can “laugh about them.” (Like pro golfer Payne Stewart once said, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, then how can you laugh at anybody else? I think people see the human side of you when you do that.” So go ahead. Share your humanness and your stories. You may feel better when you do.)
Depending on the issue that you’re struggling with and in need of advice about, one excellent person to consider going to is someone who is an expert at the topic at hand. For instance, just recently my aunt’s bakery was broken into. Twice. The second time, my aunt was out of town, which meant that, as someone who regularly helps her with her business-related needs, I needed to handle the situation myself.
Although I spent the first 15 years of my “professional life” in law enforcement before transitioning to writing full-time, admittedly, most of my experiences had been with homes that had been entered illegally. Sure, some of the same “fixes” would also apply here, but dealing with a business was a completely different thing. Not only were people’s belongings at stake, but so were their livelihoods.
That’s why I decided to reach out to experts in the security field on my aunt’s behalf to ask for advice as to how to best protect the small town bakery from any further loss. In this situation, it meant consulting with companies that deal with security camera installation and monitoring, talking to contractors who could install more secure doors, and seeking guidance from locksmiths on the best safe to buy for securing the business’ assets both when the business was open as well as when it was closed. All of these individuals helped educate me, enabling me to make the best decision possible for my aunt’s employees’ safety and her business’ security.
The same type of approach can be applied in a number of situations, maybe even one that you’re wrestling with right now. Want to move your business from one physical location to another? Talk to zoning boards and other regulatory agencies to find out what’s involved so you can make an educated decision. Having problems with your staff? Consult with an industrial-organizational psychologist or other employee-management professional as to how to best rectify the situation.
Go to the experts and let them help you find the best solution possible for your situation, your budget, and your desired goals. They may just come up with something you’ve never thought of, making you better in that area than you ever were before.
Small Business Publications
Of course, this article would be incomplete and I would be totally remiss if it didn’t mention the obvious resource of business publications directed toward small business owners (after all, you’re reading this, aren’t you?). Because they cover topics directed solely to you, they can be a great resource for a variety of your business-related questions and issues. And the great thing about this particular resource is that you’re exposed to several different professionals in a variety of industries, each with his or her own experiences that they’re willing to share to help you and your small business achieve higher levels of success.
Take Businessing Magazine, for instance. One of the things I love about writing for this online publication is that it addresses matters that are relevant, timely, and helpful to its readers. It also focuses on some of the biggest issues in small business owner’s lives (handling the stress that comes with owning your own business, dealing with employee issues such as hiring and firing, and finding the best ways to market your business to better grow your clientele) and seeks to find the best ways to resolve them. It is a magazine that is all about helping you—the small business owners—succeed by providing you with the tools with which to do it.
Granted, there are other publications that are focused on small business topics as well, so I encourage you to check a bunch of them out, pick the one or ones you like, and then subscribe to their site. It’s really easy to get so caught up in our businesses that we don’t take the time to go to sites and actively seek out articles. But if they’re sent to you automatically, you can read the ones that interest you and discard the rest. This helps you stay up-to-date on business topics without having to take any action, because the information is being delivered right to your inbox.
Other Related Business Owners
Finally, if you’re in a business that is part of a franchise or similar to another business that appears to be achieving higher levels of success, one great place to go for business advice is its owner or owners. At least, that’s what Scott and Terri Shirley did.
“We have been the owners of Capt’n Chucky’s Crab Cake store [in] Colmar, PA, for 2 ½ years,” shares the Shirley’s. “The business was already established and running when we stepped in,” they said, before admitting that they “came from a client services background, but had no experience in food services.”
Of course, the Shirley’s could have tried to tough it out and figure everything out on their own. But fortunately, they didn’t. Instead, they admit that they “relied on the owners of the Capt’n Chucky’s store in Trappe, PA to mentor us as we learned about food service, ordering products and providing quality products for our customers.” The end result? They’re happy to report that, despite their ups and downs, “we were still profitable.”
Think about your own business. Is there anyone you can go to that has similar processes, someone who may be able to guide you over or around some of your obstacles and hurdles you face? Maybe you could find someone who’s been in business for ages and could act as a mentor, like what the Shirley’s found in another Capt’n Chucky’s owner in a town less than 20 miles away.
Certainly, some of these folks are competitors who are going to be unwilling to share their “secrets.” But others are more than willing to lend a hand when needed. And after you’ve been in business for a number of years, you can then repay the favor to another local small business owner who—like you—could benefit from some good advice.