Even the savviest business owners in a booming economy need advice. And in a crisis, good guidance from people who understand the ins and outs of the economy, business ownership, and management can help you steer your ship more confidently. So how can you find the right insights for your business and the right person to give them? Consider this game plan.
Determine your pain points and questions
The first step is to think past, “I need help fixing my business” and instead consider the specific challenges you face. Sit down and write out what exactly you need help with. If you’re struggling to define your challenges, try researching the issues online or talking to your inner circle — the people you regularly go to for informal help. They can help you gather your thoughts and pinpoint specific questions to seek advice on.
Here are some suggestions to help you formulate questions:
- Be specific, but not too specific. If you start with an extra-specific request (“How can I estimate the cost of upgrading my online marketplace?”), you may miss out on ideas. If you’re too vague (“How much is digital marketing supposed to cost me?”), people may not know how to answer. Be specific, but not limiting (“Can you help me figure out how to affordably reconfigure my website to attract more customers?”).
- Categorize your request. Determine whether your question is unique to your industry or more general. Is it related to crisis management? Tied to something everyone else is going through, too — like the ongoing effects of COVID-19? Categorizing your question can help you find the right person to talk to.
- Prioritize. If you have multiple questions, try to prioritize them. You might focus on the most expensive challenge first or the most time-sensitive one.
Find the right advisor/mentor
Talking to your inner circle may not provide enough guidance. And knowing who to ask for specialized advice can be difficult. Start by looking for other business owners whose guidance you trust, including owners outside of your field.
For example, a dentist could get valuable advice about rescheduling appointments from a chiropractor. You might also get great advice from specialists or executives that aren’t business owners themselves.
Keep in mind that getting advice is one thing but building a more formal mentor-mentee relationship can take time and effort. You want to make sure you’re a good match.
To help you find the right person or people, consider these tips.
- Tap into business networks. The Small Business Administration offers resources to connect with other owners, as well as a mentorship resource called SCORE that can help you find (or become) a mentor. Also consider the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) and the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), if applicable. (You’ll find links to these at the end of this article in “Sources.”)
- Seek a specialist when needed. If you’ve determined your problems are niche, look for an expert in that field. For example, if you’re trying to understand the pros, cons, and terms of different types of financing, you might call your banker.
- Get social. Tap into your existing network, using tools like LinkedIn, to see if anyone you know can share insights. Or ask your connections if they know people who could help. This is where having a summary of your request helps; it can make it easier for your contacts to find the right person.
Action tip: Do your homework before approaching a new contact. If you want insights on rebuilding, for example, it can help you to know that your contact rebuilt their business after a natural disaster.
Get the most out of the conversation
Sometimes, a mentor’s answers are only as good as the questions. Since you researched their background, use that information to ask follow-ups. If you know your mentor innovated and expanded during times of recession, and that’s an area of interest for you, ask how they identified opportunities and what they did to fund growth. Specific questions can help you get the best responses.
If you want to continue asking this person for advice beyond your initial conversation, start by thanking them for their help and, later, providing them with an update on how you applied the advice. If you don’t follow their advice, explain why in your update so they understand your reasons.
What you do is ultimately your decision but following up shows that you valued their insight.
Action tip: Consider becoming a mentor yourself. Think about what you have to offer and make yourself available — it could open you up to new insights and opportunities.
Developing relationships can feel challenging at first, but finding someone you trust for advice is worth the effort. Having a guide to help you make decisions can go beyond insights and help provide peace of mind during a difficult time.