Don’t Rely On DIY: Why Your Startup Needs Outside Advice
We all need experts. Just as you wouldn’t expect your surgeon to repair your car, you shouldn’t try to figure everything out yourself. As entrepreneurs, this often goes against our DIY startup mentality. While you might find yourself wearing multiple hats and delving into tasks outside your area of expertise, getting a business up and running doesn’t mean you’ll know how to handle every situation that arises.
The key to running a successful business is knowing when to ask for help and, most importantly, from whom. At my company, for instance, we’re working on building our sales team. I’ve never led a sales force, so I’ve consulted with experts to learn about hiring, sourcing candidates, sales strategies, and more.
Besides simply working outside your area of expertise, here are a few more signs that you could benefit from outside help:
- You’re doing something different from every other firm in your industry — rightly or wrongly.
- You’ve tried more than three solutions to a problem, without luck.
- That thing you’ve always done has suddenly stopped working.
- A new competitor is stealing your market share.
- You’ve lost a big customer and can’t figure out why.
There’s never a wrong time to ask for help — it’s the source of the help that really matters. You’ll need to find thoughtful, unbiased experts you can fully trust.
Finding and vetting your expert
Seek an expert who really understands your specific situation and has been in your position before. For example, my company is a relatively new startup, so a Fortune 500 company CEO isn’t going to help us much. But a startup founder who raised money just a few months ago and is still going strong could be an incredibly valuable resource.
There are many ways to find help like this. If you know someone who’s already an authority in the field you’re interested in, ask for a referral. Experts in one area are usually a great help in finding others in a similar field. If you’re using an online service, find one you can try with a minimal financial commitment to ensure you’re getting a good value. You want an expert who gives you the most value for your investment.
Don’t get taken in by someone who’s knowledgeable but can’t provide the specific help you need. Here are some red flags to watch for as you’re vetting potential outside consultants:
- Red flag 1: He’s got knowledge a mile wide and an inch deep. These types of experts will clam up when they hit a snag. Look for someone who’s been through dozens of situations similar to yours and will know what to do in a jam.
- Red flag 2: He already knows everything. Be suspicious of a consultant who immediately assumes he knows what you should do. A person who can’t admit he’s wrong or that he doesn’t know something shouldn’t be your trusted advisor.
- Red flag 3: He’s unwilling to refer you to other experts. Look for someone who recognizes his limitations and is willing to bring in someone who’s more prepared to deal with a given situation if necessary. These are the experts you can trust.
- Red flag 4: He doesn’t listen or ask questions. Someone who spouts off his opinions without asking you questions isn’t going to help you very much. A good candidate will listen to your opinions and experiences with respect.
Getting the most from your expert
Once you’ve identified an expert or a consultant who’s right for you, define the problem thoroughly and determine the specific questions you need answered. Secondly, consider aligning compensation with results. Offer your expert a contingent fee or bonus tied to the outcome of your project. Expert consultants should get results.
As a leader, you want the very best outcomes for your business, but no one can be expected to know the answer to everything. Know when it’s time to bring in an expert, vet potential candidates thoroughly, and don’t be afraid to seek a second or third opinion. If you’re talking to the right people, you’ll definitely see a positive outcome for your business.
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