Should you be flying solo?
Where do you need assistance in your business?
There are few things that a person can do entirely by themselves. Those who participate in professional sports such as golf, tennis, or bicycling have those who are coaching them to improve their performance. Even someone who writes articles such as this has people who are proof reading and editing their work.
Yet, most small business owners seem to attempt to fly solo. It may be a bit harsh; there is an old saying of, ‘With all the creatures on earth, the human is the only one who has the ability to learn from past experiences and experiences of others like it. Yet, they continually refuse to do so’.
Any experience you are going to have in your business has surely been experienced by someone else. Whether they successfully navigated the experience or failed the experience, there was a lesson to be learned.
When you find these ‘experienced small business owners’, you will have the opportunity to learn from them so that your business can be more profitable.
There are other individuals that while they are not a business owner as you are, they have knowledge that can be invaluable to your business.
What if our small business owner were to look for a ‘co-pilot’? Then again, why should our small business owner decide to have only one co-pilot? Using your business as our example, let’s go shopping for your co-pilots.
The first person you need to locate is an accountant. Unfortunately, too many settle for just someone that completes the necessary tax forms. Whether this person is an accountant, Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Enrolled Agent (EA), this person needs to have the unofficial title of ‘trusted advisor’.
This relationship must be a two way street; you have to state your shortcomings of financial knowledge and be asking for help to learn. The accountant has to help you get that knowledge, and it is more than just telling you to take an accounting course at a local college.
Finding the right accountant takes effort. Ask other independent retailers about their accountant. While it is an added benefit, it is not a requirement that your accountant be in the same town that you and your business are.
Choosing the second person will depend on the number of years you have had your shop. This relationship is referred to as mentor/mentee. If you are new to the business you will be the mentee. With many profitable years in the business you are the mentor. Note that this says profitable years; not just years as some business owners have twenty years of experience. Others have twenty of the first year experiences.
For the individual who is new to the business, wouldn’t you like to have access to someone that has already successfully navigated the challenges you are facing? Surely, there are more challenges ahead that you do not even know they are coming. Talking with this owner who is willing to share, by phone, email or in person, can sure get rid of a lot of those expensive mistakes that you are likely to make on your own.
The person who is the mentor is also going to get a lot from this relationship. The first benefit is that the right mentee is going to be ambitious and wanting to try a lot of new things. This energy is going to benefit the mentor by challenging them and reminding them of how excited they were when they first opened their shop.
The second benefit is the opportunity to give back to the industry. This person probably did not decide when they were a child that they wanted to open a quilt shop. Yet, they found this industry and the industry has been very good to them and for them. Working with a mentee is an opportunity to give something back. This writer knows of an individual who was so appreciative of their opportunity that they helped five people to open their first retail operating and guided them and their business into maturity.
Now we come to finding the rest of your ‘co-pilots’ and designing your team. Just like the mentor/mentee relationship, this has to provide a benefit for each and each person has to be a profitable operator of their own business. Each of these individuals also have to be in your local area and they have to all be non-competing with each other.
Let’s begin by finding the person that has the best hardware store and person with the best pharmacy. We could add a floor covering store, sporting goods store, pet shop, clothing store, restaurant owner and auto parts store. It is also good to consider individuals whose business is more service oriented than product oriented. These businesses have to give a lot more attention to how they take care of their customers and a lot can be learned from them.
The group needs to have at least six members and should not be more than twelve, including you.
In an infrequent scenario, this writer has seen a group that included an individual who was the manager for a chain store. While there may be areas where this individual does not have experience, such as negotiating a lease, there are a lot of fine details to retailing that their company teaches them that most independent retailers do not think about. Another infrequent scenario is the group that engaged a college professor, whose expertise is business management, to participate as a moderator.
Early morning breakfast meetings work the best as you are getting everyone together before they are exposed to any interruptions within their business for the day. Including the meal, you should plan on this meeting to last no more than 90 minutes. A monthly meeting is the best frequency of getting together.
You will likely need a requirement regarding attendance; something to the effect of missing two consecutive meetings means you will be removed from the group and someone else invited to take your place.
Having the restaurant owner participate was done so for several reasons. One is that they are heavily reliant on service. A second reason is that their product is unique in that it can spoil. You can sell thread that has sat on the shelf for a month, but you can’t sell anything from the restaurant that has sat that long. The third reason for inclusion is that their restaurant is the ideal place for the group to meet.
As you select your candidates for the group, make copies of this article and share it with each of them. Undoubtedly, you will find individuals who cannot find the time, make the commitment, or just do not see a benefit in learning from others. Some independent owners believe they have ‘trade secrets’ that should not be shared with anyone.
Before the first meeting, each of the participants should write out what they expect from their membership in the group as well as what areas of their business they would like to address. Using this information, a schedule of what is to be discussed at each breakfast can be created.
Initially, your meetings will likely just be discussions. As the group becomes more comfortable with each other, you will be able to have individuals prepare information to share with each other. Trade magazine columns and articles such as American Quilt Retailer, are excellent sources of information.
Your group will find they share many common traits. As an example, a pharmacist knows that as a customer walks in with a prescription to be filled that the customer is not looking at any merchandise. Once the customer has given the prescription to be filled, they will then look around the store.
A member of your group that cuts keys or repairs vacuum cleaners, lamps or power equipment can learn from the pharmacist to improve their business. This is the idea of the group.
You could be ‘flying solo’, or you could take advantage of an advisory board, an accountant, and the mentor/mentee relationship to develop a great team for your business.