October 22, 2014

Small Biz Advice

When to ask for help!

Jerry Osteryoung | 4/30/2012

Running a business is very difficult, and entrepreneurs face a wide range of challenges, from personnel to marketing and everything in between. It is impossible for any one person to know everything there is about running a business, but making decisions without all the relevant information will put your business in jeopardy.

Since no entrepreneur really has all the answers, asking for help is the key to ensuring your business’ success. This is particularly so in the area of technology where changes occur so quickly.

Jerry Osteryoung
Jerry Osteryoung

There are many people out there who are ready and willing to offer their assistance, but you must be willing to ask for it, which can be a difficult thing to do. Many think that asking for help shows weakness, but I say it is the exact opposite. It is a sign of strength, because it takes courage to do so.

The most successful businesses are the ones that are constantly reaching out for help from those with more experience and expertise. Many entrepreneurs work with as many as five or six mentors to ensure they have access to as much advice as possible.

Entrepreneurs who are not asking for help on a regular basis inevitably do when their business is failing. Trouble is, often by this time, their cash flow has dwindled and their debt has multiplied to the point that the damage is irreparable. In many of these cases, the business is beyond any hope of recovery.

The last few years have been tough on the construction industry, and it has been a struggle for these businesses to stay afloat. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen them make is waiting too long to ask for help.

Many of these businesses have reached out to me for help, but it was way too late to bring them back from the brink. Had they called me in early, I could have helped them cut expenses or done any number of things to give them a better chance. By the time they came to me, however, they were so far gone, there was not much that could be done to turn things around.

When asking for help, there are two key considerations: when you should ask and who you should ask.

Where "when" is concerned, businesses really should be requesting guidance on a routine basis. With so much to know about running a business, consulting regularly with advisors is the only way to keep your bases covered and ensure a strong business. Obviously, in the event of a problem, this frequency should increase as the severity of the situation grows to give you the best chance of working through it.

In terms of "who," you should always seek out qualified people. Ask your banker or lawyer if they have any recommendations, and forgo the friends and relatives route. Friends and relatives may have the best of intentions and sincerely want you to succeed, but they are rarely good business consultants. They will often tell you what they know you want to hear and not what you need to hear.

Keep in mind that many of the problems businesses face are pretty similar across industry lines, so the advisor you select does not necessarily have to be from your industry. In addition, more often than not, people are willing to share advice free of charge since it is an honor to be asked.

Now go out and make sure that you have a cadre of advisors available to you. I guarantee you will find that regularly reaching out for guidance will make a significant difference in your business.

You can do this!

Go to Links Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here. Note: Articles older than 30 days require registration (it's quick and free).

Jerry Osteryoung is the Director of Outreach of The Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at The Florida State University; The Jim Moran Professor Emeritus of Entrepreneurship; and Professor Emeritus of Finance. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book" is an Amazon.com bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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