You are probably drowning in well-intentioned advice and ‘helpful opinion’ from family and friends. However, good business advice spoken from commercial experience is another matter entirely.
That’s not to say it’s hard to find, but discerning the wheat from the chaff in the Internet age is sometimes less than straightforward – especially if matters are pressing.
This is why, for good times or bad, developing a network of peers or seeking out a business mentor can be a great idea.
Small businesses often operate in isolation. Developing a network of peers and colleagues is a good way to keep in touch with new developments, and you’ll have a great resource to access when you need input and advice. There are a number of options to consider and you’re not limited to joining only one or a few.
- Your local chamber of commerce: Your local chamber of commerce is likely to be a useful resource. They should be able to put you in touch with industry bodies, refer you to people who will be able to give you professional advice, and might also have information and resources to help you deal with the issues you are facing. Attending meetings and events is also a good way to brush up on skills, and meet and network with other business people operating in your area. Local chambers can be found online through the US Chamber of Commerce.
- Your industry body: Most industry sectors have some sort of organization representing the collective interests of businesses operating in the sector; some will have more than one. They will be able to give you industry-specific advice and put you in touch with other people in your line of business for input.
Both of these sources should also be able to refer you to reputable outside professionals if you need the help of an accountant or a lawyer, for example. They will generally also hold regular meetings where you can meet and get to know other small business owners.
Once you’ve met or made contact with a business peer or business professional, swap business cards and keep their details on file. While you can do this manually, it would be more effective to include their details in your contacts on your computer and mobile phone, and to connect with them through other networks like the business-focused LinkedIn or even Twitter. If you keep people’s contact details, you can give them a call whenever you need assistance. Even if they are not able to help you, they might be able to suggest someone who can.
LinkedIn is a great networking resource for business people. There are a number of online groups you can join where you can ask relevant questions and get good advice. If you can’t find a forum to suit your needs, you can also create your own.
Credible online sources of advice
For financial or legal advice it would probably be best to meet face-to-face with your banker, accountant or lawyer, depending on the sort of advice you need. But there are a number of additional resources you can turn to for assistance.
- The Small Business Administration (SBA) has been designed to help small and medium businesses, and contains a lot of useful information and online training.
- The Internal Revenue Service has lots of advice and information on tax issues.
- The United States Trademark and Patent Office website allows you to do a number of functions online.
- If you’re looking for advice on breaking into the export market or export issues, then it’s worth visiting the Export.gov website.
- For the answers to a number of employment or health and safety issues, have a look at the Department of Labor website.
If you’re not looking for business advice on a particular problem but are more interested in long-term advice to help you grow and develop your business, you should consider getting a business mentor.
Mentors can act as an experienced sounding board for ideas and help you consider long-term strategies, assess your business from an independent but supportive point of view, and even connect you with others from their own business networks.
A mentor could be a family member, a friend, colleague or business acquaintance – or even a suitably qualified person who you’ve not met yet. If you don’t have someone in mind to approach to be your mentor, you can contact SCORE, a business advisory and mentoring body sponsored by the SBA, which provides one-on-one and online business advice. Small Business Development Centers, administered by the SBA, can also be found in every state. They provide free and confidential educational services to business owners and prospective entrepreneurs.