Need Small Business Advice? Just Ask

The following post is from Lisa of Working Naked:

source: laughlin

When I started my first two businesses in college — a singing telegram business and a survival kit business — I didn’t ask anyone for advice. I was young, and I knew all there was to know about everything (or so I thought), and I wouldn’t have listened to anyone anyway.

After graduation, I sold one of the businesses and closed the other, worked in the corporate world for several years, and then went out on my own. This time I asked for advice from anyone and everyone who was willing to help. I learned what to do, and more importantly, what not to do with my business and how to get new clients.

The advice other business owners gave me was invaluable.

Whether you’re starting a new business or have been in business for years, there’s always something you can do to grow your business. The first place to start is by asking others for help.

Research your competition honestly.

Don’t pretend you’re a large client so you can get marketing and pricing information. There’s room for everyone to compete. Start by e-mailing the owner of the type of business you want to start and ask if you can set up a time to call to ask a few questions. Let him or her know that you need only 15 minutes,and then, stick to that amount of time. Create a list of questions ahead of time. Their time is valuable, and you want to make sure you don’t waste it.

Seek help outside of your immediate area.

Not everyone understands the “room for everyone” thinking and will feel threatened if you ask for help. Instead of asking for advice from the business owner down the street, contact someone who lives out of state. They’ll be less concerned about helping a competitor if it’s someone who doesn’t want to start a business in the same city or state.

Be willing to pay for someone’s time and advice.

Business owners are busy most of the time and any time that they spend talking with you is billable time. Depending on the type of business, offer to buy an hour of the business owner’s time. He or she probably won’t accept your offer (actually, they shouldn’t), but by offering to pay someone, you’re telling them that his or her time is valuable.

You could also offer to trade services. Let’s say you’re a web designer and want advice on marketing and PR. Offer to help the business owner with simple site tweaks or something that will help the person with his or her business.

Talk with people who are using your competitors’ services.

It’s tough for a business to be everything to everyone. The best way to find out what a business is missing is to ask others who have used your competitors’ services or products. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Maybe you can add something to your business that would differentiate it from everyone else.

The help, advice and guidance you need for your business is out there. All you have to do is ask for it.

What is the best business advice anyone has ever given you?

Home office expert Lisa Kanarek is the founder of and the author of five books about working from home including Organize Your Home Office for Success. Lisa works with entrepreneurs and home-based employees through seminars and individual consultations, to create functional home offices that meet each individual’s working style.