Blog | Entrepreneurship

A Little Small Business Advice

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Choosing your advisors wisely is the key to your success

Years ago, I took a magnificent bicycle tour through the famous Loire Valley in France with four girlfriends. The five of us are all entrepreneurial women. Kathy owns a branding and marketing company. Lisa owns several upscale drug and alcohol rehab facilities. Ronda owns a school dedicated to the troubled students that the public-school system will not accept. Lee Ann is a business consultant to several major corporations.

Aside from being entrepreneurs, we had similar stories that led us to financial freedom. We all started our businesses from the ground up. We all made a ton of mistakes, but even the biggest fiascos didn't beat us (although there were times when every one of us wanted to quit). There was no safety net, and nothing to fall back on, which was good because it forced us to keep moving forward.

The trip we were on was organized by a company that offers first-class biking, hiking, and walking trips all over the world. Our guides were two women, who were responsible for our hotels, transportation, meals, biking itinerary, and most importantly, making sure all 25 of us in the group made it to the next destination along our journey. Riding through wine country, we fully expected magnificent views, fresh air, exercise and lots of laughs — but we had no idea the trip would end up changing somebody’s life.

Emily's Journey

Over the course of six days, we got to know our two group leaders pretty well. The last evening of our trip, the entire group gathered for dinner in the dining room of a beautiful historic boutique hotel where we were staying. At the end of the meal, Emily, one of our guides, sat down next to me, and we talked. Turns out that while we were on our journey through the backroads of France, she was standing at a crossroads trying to figure out the next chapter of her career.

"I love what I do, and I'm very good at it," she said. "Yet, I'm ready for my next phase in life."

I asked her, "Do you have any idea what that next phase is?"

Emily nodded. "I want to start my own business. It's along the lines of what I do now, but a completely new and unique market. I've been researching it for about a year."

"What's your next step?" I asked.

"I think I'm going to go back to school," she replied, "to get my MBA."

I was a little surprised she would need a Master’s in Business Administration, so I asked, "Why do you want an MBA?"

She replied, "I believe an MBA will give me the skills I need to be an entrepreneur."

That was all I needed to hear. It was time to stage an intervention with Emily before we parted ways, so she wouldn’t waste time going down the wrong path. I knew my girlfriends could help steer her in the right direction and I didn’t even need to prep them about my plan — their truth would come flowing out naturally. So, I invited her to join me and my friends for the last ride of our trip the next morning.

Good Small Business Advice

The next morning at 7:30 a.m., the six of us women got on our bikes and rode off. To kick-start the discussion, I asked Kathy, "You have an MBA. Did it give you the skills you needed to be an entrepreneur?"

As if on cue, she just laughed. "No! An MBA is designed for people who want to work in the corporate world. It trains you to be a corporate employee, which is where I started."

Lisa turned to Emily, "Do you want to be a corporate employee?"

Emily looked a bit stunned, "No. I want to start my own business."

Ronda asked Kathy, "Was the MBA education worth it?"

"Interesting question," Kathy replied. "The education is good. It will give you tools and strategies you can use in your business. But I don't know of an MBA program that will teach you how to start and run your own business — how to be an entrepreneur. You also need to look at the time and money you will spend on your MBA versus putting that time and money into your start-up business."

We biked for three hours. The conversation was non-stop, lively, and very candid. We laughed about the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur. Every new story seemed better than the last. The five of us were having such a good time reliving our past business adventures that we didn't notice until we stopped riding that Emily had become very quiet. Her eyes were as wide as they could be. "No one's ever told me this before!" she exclaimed. "And I've spoken to quite a few people about this."

Bad Small Business Advice

"I'm curious, Emily," I asked. "Who suggested that you go back to school and get your MBA?"

"Several of my bike-tour clients," she answered.

"What business were these clients in?" I prodded.

"They were retired," she said.

"Retired from what?" I kept pushing.

Emily started to laugh. "They all had successful executive corporate jobs!"

Lisa jumped in, "So they were giving you advice on how to do what they did — not knowing what it is you want to do."

"That's exactly right," Emily realized, "because what the five of you are saying makes so much sense to me. I was always a bit confused about the MBA path."

I added, "That's because we are all doing what it is you want to do. If I'm going to ask someone for advice, I seek out people who have actually done what I want to do. I want to learn from people who are out there doing it."

Emily was starting to understand that her current job of leading groups of adults, handling budgets, working with vendors, and dealing with emergencies on a daily basis was probably the best education she could get toward her dream of becoming an entrepreneur. She already had the skillset, thanks to years of hands-on experience.

Not All Small Business Advice Is Equal

Emily told us she assumed that if a person was successful in their profession, they were smart in all areas. She had been taking advice from successful people who were employees of companies. They have a much different mindset than a person who owns the company. In fact, you must always question “expert” advice to be sure it will actually get you closer to your financial dreams.

This all goes to prove that just because a person is successful in one aspect of their life does not mean they know everything about everything. And it also goes to show, not all advice is equal advice.

In life, if you want to be successful, you must learn to choose your advisors wisely. Start by using these four tests to find good advice.

Original publish date: November 14, 2013

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