Advice: Taking It with a Grain of Salt or Embracing It with Open Arms
One day an angel may land on your shoulder and whisper such wise counsel in your ear that you’d be crazy not to take it. But not all advice will be so good, and if you fall into the trap of leaning too heavily on advisers, you run the risk of abdicating your leadership role and letting others run your show.
When I first started out, I was so in awe of CFOs, accountants, and lawyers that I tended to take their word as gospel. After all, who was I to question their advice? I had a high school education and they were highly trained professionals. But one day a friend told me about some challenges he’d faced selling his company. Finally, he said, “I told the lawyers and accountants to get out of the way.”
I was shocked. “Are you telling me you didn’t take their advice?” I asked. “Isn’t that what you’re paying them for?”
He had a different take altogether. His view was that it’s the job of CFOs, lawyers, and accountants to bring the entrepreneur up to speed on all the risks and everything that could go wrong, and the entrepreneur’s responsibility to listen and become fully informed about potential hazards. But at the end of the day, the entrepreneur has to put everything in perspective and make the final decision about how to push through the roadblocks, achieve the goal, and then instruct his advisers to execute his decision. If you can’t do this, too, you’ll never get there.
Once you’ve made a decision and figured out what you’re going to do, professional advisers can be invaluable in helping you figure out how to make your goals happen.
For the first time, I understood the difference between somebody whose job it is to keep me well informed and somebody whose job it is to make decisions and reach conclusions. Once I understood that a professional’s job was not to talk me out of what I wanted to achieve, but rather to advise me, protect me, and help me structure things in a way designed to help me achieve my desired result, I started to have very different conversations with my advisers.
Once you’ve made a decision and figured out what you’re going to do, professional advisers can be invaluable in helping you figure out how to make your goals happen. After years of relying on his own “trial and error” approach to growth, Calgary entrepreneur Derek Bullen discovered how to get the most out of professional advisers—a move that would help his IT staffing business, S.i. Systems, achieve atmospheric growth.
It was 1999, and Derek had built up his firm to roughly $5 million in annual sales when he invited a seasoned entrepreneur to buy a 15 percent stake in the company. Derek’s hope was that his new partner and mentor would help him grow the company more than he could on his own. Over time, the pair decided that they wanted the company to grow from roughly $5 million to $100 million in sales. Derek immediately started mulling over how he was going to create such high-octane growth when his partner urged him to make the biggest single layout of cash he’d made since he started his business.
“He told me to go out and hire a company that makes business plans for companies that do $100 million a year in sales,” Derek remembers. The price tag? A hundred grand. Over the next few months, the consultants studied Derek’s company, the marketplace, and the economy, then put together an in-depth business plan designed to help him achieve massive growth in a five- to 10-year period. Most of what the firm suggested, Derek says, he would never have thought of on his own. For example, the company suggested S.i. Systems raise $2 million for a proprietary enterprise software system. The consultants also suggested a number of strategic acquisitions of IT staffing agencies in other parts of the country.
On the one hand, Derek was thrilled with the overall plan. On the other, he felt uncomfortable with the degree of change. “It was very different from anything I’d ever done before,” Derek explains. And he was worried about “losing control” over daily decisions. What’s more, Derek would be bearing the risk of implementing any of the strategies laid out in the plan—strategies that, for the first time ever, he hadn’t devised mostly on his own. “It was scary. I was still focused on short-term growth, but this plan was built for the long term.” Derek credits his mentor and partner for getting him through. “He was more experienced and was more comfortable looking that far into the future than I was.” When Derek started doubting himself or the plan, he’d check in with his partner, who coached him through his fears. In 2006, S.i. Systems hit roughly $50 million in sales, and that number doubled the following year. In 2013, the company is slated to bring in close to $300 million in revenue—all of it from the $100,000 business plan.
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Excerpt from All In © 2013 by Arlene Dickinson. Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. All rights reserved.