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According to The National Federation of Independent Business [NFIB] Education Foundation, over the lifetime of any small business, 30 percent will lose money, 30 percent will break even, and just fewer than 40 percent will be profitable. The Small Business Administration [SBA] reports that 50 percent of all small busin
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ess fail after their first year, 33 percent fail after two years, and nearly 60 percent fail after four years. Reasons for failure cited by the SBA include: limited vision, over expansion, poor capital structure, over spending, lack of reserve funds or too little Free Cash Flow, failure to adjust to market changes, underestimating competition, poor business execution, poor business location, failure to establish company goals, poor market segmentation and strategy, poor knowledge of the competition, no management systems, over dependence on specific individuals, and/or focusing on the technical aspects more than the strategic aspects of the business, and an inadequate business plan.
Developing and growing a small business enterprise, either from a new venture or as an existing one, is difficult in a bull market, where the economy is growing. The difficulty factor is there none the less. However, in a down economy, in a recession, where the risk of business failure is magnified several times, the difficulty factor is increased by a significant magnitude. Entrepreneurs and small business enterprises find themselves working in their business as opposed to working on their business. That is, when times are tough, the small business owner feels compelled to spend all his or her time on operations just trying to keep the boat afloat, while putting off where the boat may be going. It is particularly critical in a recessionary economic cycle to spend as much time as possible on the direction of your boat, as it is on operations. If the vision is lost or clouded, it won’t really matter how hard you try to keep things afloat, at some point you may well run aground because you were not watching where you were going. Having an extra pair of eyes to help stir your ship and keep you in the right direction is critical to not only maintaining your business, but helping you to grow it. And as the principal in your small business, this is where you want to position yourself; at the helm stirring your enterprise in the direction of your vision.
Successful athletes typically hire a coach to help them achieve success. Certainly this is the case in professional golf. It is the case in the world of professional cycling. And it is the case in professional team sports, such as baseball. For the entrepreneur and small business enterprise, having a coach, advisor, on the sidelines as well as in the game, to provide critical objective guidance to help them attain their business objectives can be the difference in achieving real success. As a small business enterprise, you want to be in the category of a ‘small business growth’ company, positioned for IPO, acquisition, merger or growing into a medium-sized company. A Business Coach and Advisor will work with you to help avoid becoming an SBA or NFIB Education Foundation statistic on their list of small business failures. From time to time we all need outside guidance, counsel, mentoring and advice. A Business Coach/Advisor will actually help you to become a success story. The benefits of partnering with a Business Coach/Advisory far outweigh the costs. Five critical benefits of partnering with a Business Coach/Advisor include, but are not limited, to the following:
1. Accountability. A Business Coach /Advisor will help you to maintain focus on driving your business forward, and helping you to work through the temptation to work in your business and not on your business. A good Business Coach/Advisor will insist on holding you accountable for achieving your goals and objectives, and work with you to delegate operation tasks that need to be performed by key personal, and guiding you towards providing the strategic vision your business needs to grow. Your Business Coach, acting in an Advisory capacity will work with you to develop or refine strategic short- and long term goals and then hold you accountable to achieve them. You want your coach to be tough, yet personable having the capacity to understand your business and where it is you want to take it. There job is to help you formulate that and to get you positioned to attain it.
2. Formulating Strategic Goals, Ideas, Objectives. A Business Coach/Advisor will work with you to develop and refine your goals, ideas and objectives. A combination of coaching and advising is necessary here, and your Coach has the acquired expertise and experience to work thru these with you and knows how to adapt them to your business.
3. Contributing Business Growth Strategies. A good Business Coach/Advisory will have the ability to share and communicate their experience and expertise in developing business growth strategies. Remember, no one has all the answers. No one. Not a coach or a business executive. Sharing ideas are critical. Thinking out of the box is essential. So, when you’ve just “run out of ideas” on how to market and sell your products and services, your Coach will work with you, as a partner, to develop and then implement the business growth strategy or strategies that are specific to your company and market to meet your growth objectives. To be most effective, weekly communication with your Coach will keep you on track.
4. Resources. When it is needed, your Business Coach/Advisor will provide referrals to contacts or resources for your business, such as expansion capital, legal and accounting services, social media marketing, technologies, and other resources that are relevant to helping you meet your goals and objectives. My view here is that it is incumbent on a business coach and advisory to have a teaming or partnering viewpoint, and it is essential for them to do so for the benefit of you, the small business owner.
5. Objectivity. A Business Coach/Advisor provides you with the necessary objectivity to see your business as it really is. This is essential for an honest assessment of where your business is in its life cycle. When you get used to the same processes and procedures, tasks, basic routine, you lose the ability to see your business with the same objective clarity that you once did. Your Business Coach provides you with a double perspective; looking into your business from the customer perspective, and looking out at the customer from your perspective. And then provide you with feedback about what works, what doesn’t and what your options are. To be effective, weekly communication with your Coach will keep you on track.
Partnering with a Business Coach/Advisor should be on a retainer basis for three to nine months, preferably six months. It will normally take a good Business Coach/Advisor two months, sixty days, at least to become fully knowledgeable about your business, its practices, your strengths, weakness, your vision, and your objectives. Then another month to begin working with you to arrive at your business objectives. While three months is the minimum time needed for a good Business Coach/Advisor to begin making a difference under a single retainer agreement, nine months is the maximum under a single retainer agreement, where six months is the optimal. During a six month retainer, a Business Coach/Advisor should be able to meet all goals and place in to practice the critical elements that a small business needs to attain strategic objectives. Typically, once a small business has partnered with a Business Coach/Advisor, they retain them continuously, or as needed.
In today’s troubled economic climate, the use of a Business Coach/Advisor makes strong financial sense. While you might feel you can go it alone, the resulting cost may far outweigh what it would be had you partnered with a Business Coach/Advisor when needed. It’s sort of like the old TV commercial about changing your oil, you can either do it now at the cost of an oil change, or wait until your engine blows and pay the cost then. Waiting will certainly cost you infinitely more. If you are facing a limited vision, over expansion, poor capital structure, over spending, lack of reserve funds or too little Free Cash Flow, failure to adjust to market changes, underestimating competition, poor business execution, poor business location, failure to establish company goals, poor market segmentation and strategy, poor knowledge of the competition, no management systems, over dependence on specific individuals, focusing on the technical aspects more than the strategic aspects of the business, or simply need help in growing your business, then partnering with a Business Coach/Advisor makes good financial sense.
Gerald S. “Sandy” Graham is the Managing Partner for Sequoyah Associates, a Small Business and Entrepreneur Advising, Coaching and Consulting Practice focused on providing winning business strategies for business growth and full business optimization. His book, “See the Green $: The Achievement of Your Entrepreneurial Dreams” is schedule to be published by LOGOS, January 2011.
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