The other week I had coffee with Chris Stewart who is a Melbourne based entrepreneur and strategic foresight consultant. Both Chris and I have lots of different skill sets and we both enjoy starting new ventures. We tend to catch up around once or twice a year and discuss what “wisdom” we have gained since the last coffee.
Last week we decided that three questions were critical for the multi skilled or generalist entrepreneur to answer. They were:
- What can you do?
- What will you do? and finally
- What should you do?
We felt these questions were wise because its all to easy getting caught up doing tasks that aren’t the best use of your time, or taking on a task that you never get around to.>
This line of thinking got me pondering over getting assistance, and what form it should take. I decided it might be worthwhile identifying and describing the different roles that “helpers” may take. Mostly because all to often I hear the phrase -”I need a mentor”, when in my opinion in may be the last thing you need. Now some people may argue over the definitions each type of “helper” I have given below because nothing is fixed, but I think its worthwhile focussing on the definitions, not the label.
So here’s a bunch of people that offer you help, with my definitions.
|Type of Help
Helps you understand your
Tells you what they think
you should do.
Tells you what to do.
Shows you how it can be done.
Teaches you how to do it.
|Gets it Done
Does it for you.
So at a Strategic level you have three options
Advisor –Helps you understand your options.
Great Advisors give you a framework for decision making and lets you understand your options. They understand that the decision is yours, as are the risks and the rewards. Some Academics can make great advisors and so do people from outside of your field who have no “buy in” to any particular option. Outsiders tend to have great clarity of thought. I would recommend having an advisor to almost everyone as despite how wise you are, the hardest person to give advice to is yourself. Sometimes an advisor can just be a mate you catchup with and use as a sounding board.
Consultant – Tells you what they think you should do
Great consultants have professionalism, experience, expertise in their field and are aligned with your goals. With consultants you tend to get what you pay for so great consultants cost a lot. Understand exactly what the outcomes you want from them look like as the clearer your brief, the more efficient and effective response you will get.
Mentor – Shows you how it can be done
A great Mentor is someone who has been successful in the same field or area as you and is prepared to help you. Their own experiences offer a set of winning solutions for dealing with uncertainty or options. Great mentors are either incredibly busy because they are at the top of their field (don’t be scared of asking these people) or are recently retired and want to give something back.
At a tactical level, you have three other options.
Manager – Tells you what to do
Management is a different skill set from entrepreneurship. Most Entrepreneurs will at some stage in the life cycle of their business choose to bring in professional management. The high energy, high risk, shotgun approach of the entrepreneur doesn’t always benefit you, in fact many small businesses will employ a manager to keep the entrepreneur focussed on performing activities that they know are important. Having great management though depends on you understanding the roles you play and separating out your shareholder role from your employee role.
Coach – Teaches you to do it.
Coaching is all about skill transferral and improvement. Ex sports trainers tend to be very good at the psychology of skill transferral and improvement. Its easy to find a coach, just Google the skill and the word coach , plus “site:.au” to get Australian coaches. Be wary though of those that have products to sell you, eg financial coaches with insurance packages. That’s not about coaching, its about selling.
Contractor/Employee – You tell them what to do
Finally understand what you shouldn’t be doing. Either you are rubbish at it, you won’t get around to it, or it will suck up your time and prevent you from growing your business. I can’t give advice on what makes for a great employee, as I’m simply not sure I know. Most literature tends to focus on how to be a great leader or manager, not an employee although Bill Lang has had a look at it with his 8 skills for career success.
Of course in real life, your helpers will probably play multiple roles, however understanding what you need and where the strengths of the helper are is critical. My other thought on the topic is that it appears that those who attempt to sell their services at a strategic level, generally have the least to offer. Great strategic people, other than consultants, are normally way too busy being successful at their own activity to want to charge a fee for their service.