Advisor - Financial, Business or MarketingYour Arm's Length Hands-On Assistance
How to find the right advisor.
Advisor – When to look for one?
An advisor, when do you engage one? I don’t know about you, but when I started my business in 1998 called 40parkLane,llc I was overwhelmed by everything. I had just left The Gillette Company, but was under no illusion to be a high-flying corporate dude who knew it all. I knew I needed one or more advisors but at the same time I was reluctant to pay thousands of dollars for a consultant from say Arthur Anderson, KPMG, Bain or any smaller consulting firm.
You may ask why? Well apart from the money, a startup business does, more often than not, need a hands-on helper or advisor, someone who gives advice but also takes the bull by the horn and helps you implement. Or someone more theoretical who offers you at least two scenarios, one with a good “What-if” outcome and another one with a not good “what-if” outcome. This way he offers you a choice. This way you can avoid spending a lot of money on well meant, but so so advice, or on advice and a road that leads to nowhere, yet costs you an arm and a leg.
Startups change direction, change strategy on a dime. Your advisor needs to be immersed into your business, as well as the market you serve, and must be able to offer you the most affordable, flexible way forward, where you can test the advice at little or no cost before you charge forward. If you are a golfer; hit straight first with an iron before you grab the driver. If you are a racer; get a feel for the track first and warm up your tires before you go full throttle. Avoid advisors who charge you an arm and a leg, upfront, hand over a report and walk away, laughing all the way to the bank! By the time you read the report, your business or market may have changed, your report is more or less useless and your bank account significantly lighter.
Big corporations, have established markets, established sales, processes, policies and procedures that have been there for years. Classic advisors and consultants can eat their heart out helping companies like Coca-Cola or The Gillette Company. Startups and small businesses would do well looking for an arm’s length department type of advisor or consultant. Someone who assesses the company and the market, offers various scenarios at low cost, low risk, and helps you test it out and guides you through the pitfalls, by using his/her experience and skills accumulated in the trenches, preferably as (startup) business owner themselves.
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Advisor – What Kind Should You Hire?
An advisor, what kind should you touch base with or even hire? I was overwhelmed with new “vendors” serving themselves up to me when I just started my Food Business called Carolyn’s Handmade as part of 40parkLane,llc. These vendors included advisors. Additionally, plenty of colleagues, friends and family put in their two cents. Help, what should I do, who should I trust and follow?!
Even 20 years ago, with the spamming not being as widespread and serious as it is now, I got so much junk mail, emails and advice from many directions that I felt lost at times. To be honest, initially I simply did not want to pay for any advisor, financial, business, marketing or other. I was afraid my money would be wasted. But I needed help so I started using my networks and the internet to find someone. Interestingly enough, even with the internet making accessibility to advisors so much better over time, it remained very difficult to find the right one. So how do you find the right advisor?
Let me explain first what would be the right advisor for you. The honest opinion anyone should give you is “I don’t know”! Only you as entrepreneur, business owner, and startup junkie or rookie know what is missing in your skill set, or in the skill set and experience of your team. Even if you have all the skills and a little experience, you may hit a wall, or a fork in the road where you’re unsure what direction to take. That’s when you know, OK I’ve got a gap in this area, I need such and such a type of advisor. It is one thing knowing what type of advisor or consultant you need, it’s a whole different ball game finding a good one!
So now you know what type. We all know however that there are a lot of hacks out there. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve gone out to hire a web design company, a logo design company, a brochure design and print company, some of which were a total waste of time and money. I won’t go into details now why they were a waste of time. That could be something juicy for a new blog. But with all my corporate experience at The Gillette Company, I had to find, by trial and error, new advisors or vendors for my startup. Yes I said trial and error! I was recommended a web design company by a friend, and this company turned out to be a disaster for what I needed. You live and learn and in the end, the proof is always in the pudding!
So you see, it does not matter whether you yourself find an advisor or vendor, or one is recommended to you by a reliable source, you don’t know whether it’s money well spent until you work with them. That’s why it is so important to start small, at low cost to ensure that when an advisor or vendor does not work out, you don’t lose a fortune.
Try things out, try out advisors with a small budget, see how you work with them, how they work with you. Find out if their advice and help really makes a difference, a positive difference. Once you’re comfortable, move to the next level. And always, get a quote and Statement of Work (SOW) from at least 3 firms. Make sure that you define deliverables and quantifiable objectives. Don’t pay the whole sum upfront. There must be accountability.
Recapping, define the skill and experience gap you need to fill with an advisor or consultant. Get results first, try things out at low cost before committing to a bigger budget. In other words hit straight first before you grab the driver! And remember, some advisors are great for big corporations like Gillette, but not for a startup. For a startup you need a different kind of advisor or vendor.
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