Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

You’re starting your new company based on extensive knowledge and experience that you have accumulated in your field. Or, if you’re not an expert yet, you will be soon as your overwhelming desire to make your company successful courses through your veins. Your know-how and energy are why you’ll soon turn prospects into customers. Except that the trees keep getting in the way.

You used to sit back and observe other business ventures from a safe distance and think, “I could do it better.” Since you’re not at a safe distance any longer, it will be hard sometimes to tell if you’re actually doing something better, or if you’ve gone completely off course. Starting now, seek periodic advice from others with similar expertise. You need someone who will listen to you and help you see the things you can’t.

My background is marketing, but the most difficult company to market is the one I’m a part of. I don’t always have an objective viewpoint on how to promote my own stuff. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day aspects of the company rather than looking at the big picture. We have bills to pay, so we spend a lot of energy ensuring that we can pay today’s bills, rather than the ones that will come due in five years. To compensate, I occasionally touch base with other marketing people whom I’ve known for many years. We meet over lunch so that we can each talk about our respective companies. We share that month’s challenges. I tell her the ones I face with mine. Often, I can offer some perspective that helps her deal with a particular obstacle. She may offer a suggestion that seems obvious to her, but is foreign to me because my mind is cluttered with small details she doesn’t have to deal with. Conversely, I sometimes get the chance to offer her suggestions that should seem obvious to her, but aren’t for the same reason.

I don’t expect to have a “Eureka” experience at these lunches, though that could happen. What often occurs, though, is that I get to hear someone I respect tell me something that I tell myself. But when I hear it from her, it sounds smarter than when I think of it. It validates my suspicions about things I, or the company, could be doing better, or a course of action we may have considered, but had never followed through on. That’s usually the greatest benefit: I know what I should be doing, but I wait until someone tells me firmly to get on the stick.

Even though you feel that you’re on your own now, you have such colleagues, too (unless you burned all your bridges when you decided to start your own business). You and your colleagues can still lean on each other a little. They can offer prescient insight into matters concerning your success that you can’t see just because you’re too close to the problem. If you’re having trouble dredging up serious prospects, for example, an associate from outside your company may offer some helpful tips. He probably knows some prospects, too.

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