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Business Theory vs. Business Reality? The difference can make or break your business.

Many MBA students and Professors of Business approach me for entrepreneurial advice. At first, I thought it was because, after a brief encounter, they learned I started a few of my own businesses and might be able to help answer a few basic business questions.

When I received my MBA at Kellogg School of Management, I already had the business reality. Although the information I learned in graduate school was beneficial to enterprise-wide organizations, I sat in my classes thinking, very little applied to small businesses. I learned business theory is different than what happens in reality. Not all companies in the USA have a level playing field. Small businesses will not receive the same treatment their vendors, alliances, and suppliers provide to larger organizations. Owners of successful small business startups learn tricks to get around the unbalance in our capitalistic society.

After graduation, I was approached by several class members of my cohort for business startup advice.  During our conversations, I realized class lectures did not always provide the nuances a startup requires to succeed. For example, my professors never discussed basic information on negotiating a lease, establishing a banking relationship, or creating a niche in a saturated market.  New business owners learn the hard way landlords and banks will want personal collateral outside of the business to protect themselves.

Where do people go to search for mentoring and advice in launching a new business?  Typically many start by buying books, taking business classes in night school, researching the Small Business Administration for startup tools, or searching online for a coach.  How many of the authors of these sources know what it's like to use their own money to create a new enterprise? I don't know the answer to this question; however, I suspect not many, or I wouldn't be called by many of them asking for help.

What can you do to ensure you are getting the soundest business advice?

When I started my first business, I began learning by asking others who launched businesses before me. I was lucky to find a prior business owner in the same industry.  From that point on, every company I began, I searched for advice from someone who did it before me. 

To ensure you get the best possible advice, ask potential mentors, where did you do this before?  How many businesses have you started? What is your success rate in growing companies?

I discovered one of my early free business mentors was a self-proclaimed expert. However, when I researched their background, I learned they stretched the truth about their experience.  Although I felt I didn't pay this mentor directly, it wasn't free. Their suggestions that I implemented cost an extensive investment that did not provide me with a positive return. Whether through social media, universities, or business training organizations, when interviewing an expert, don't be embarrassed to ask them: Where have you done this before? It's your hard-earned money starting a new business, and you cannot afford to start on the wrong foot.  Get someone who has been in your shoes before.

Where do you find these experts?

You have many options available to you.  I met business experts at workshops, trade shows, and more currently online.  These people may or may not be actively selling consulting services.  When I met someone I felt could help me take my business to the next level, I hired them to hold my hand every step of the way.  If you don't have an introduction, don't worry.  Today with social media platforms, you can connect and send messages. Today I receive daily messages on my Linkedin account asking for connections. One of the easiest ways for business owners to communicate with someone who did it before them.

How do you negotiate a mentorship arrangement?

Decide how you want your mentor to help you and then negotiate an arrangement. I found meeting once per month and answering my phone calls between sessions was a perfect way to work with my mentor.  Each month my mentor gave me a list of suggestions on how to many the business operationally, financially, and strategically.  Once we developed my long-term goals, my mentor held my hand throughout the process. He agreed to accept a fixed-rate monthly payment that fit with my budget. And my business grew.

Written by Darlene Ziebell 




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