We all depend upon others outside our own group. Outsiders have certain skills
and abilities that we don’t have, and the fee often worth the value provided. We all freely use the services of a teacher, clerk, barber, doctor, mechanic, banker, plumber and many others without giving it a second thought. Yet many mangers forget that there are dozens of business professionals available to help and most of these are either free or at low cost. Managers who make good use of available, economical resources save themselves from expense, stress and mistakes. They often gain major advantages over their competition.
Our objective with this section is to explain and demonstrate some of the most typical low cost resources available to managers of small and mid sized firms. You will find many are familiar, while others will be new or will remind you of forgotten sources. The demonstration will show how these resources can be used. Then we will provide a practical project form for you to plan your own outsider help program.
We’ll look at the real costs of using resources and some guidelines for wise application that will get you more results per dollar than your competitor might be getting. The key resources that we will review are your accountant, lawyer, banker, supplier, business friends, technician, ad agency, chamber of commerce, consultant, tax service, board of directors, trade associations, service club, realtor, SBA, SCORE, SBI, SBDC, college seminars, industry workshops, library, college instructors, bookstores, credit rating services, publicity agent, personnel employment agency, travel agent, the US Dept. of Commerce, State Department, EXIM bank, and many others that the above sources can recommend.
Here are some general guidelines that apply to almost any resources you might use. Employ these and you will generally get high value per dollar or hour invested.
- Recognize that these resources exist and are usually readily available. Know where the nearest ones are.
- Know their approximate range of abilities and stay in that area. Ask a banker for advice on finance, not on marketing.
- Don’t be afraid to contact the resource. It costs nothing to ask. A short phone call may do it. The person may not be able to help you, but might know someone able to help you.
- When you visit clearly define both your problem and your goal. This wll save a lot of time and get you faster results.
- Try to cover the who, where, why, what and when in their response. The fee. Sometimes the how.
- Remember that the real cost of using outsiders is their fee plus; your time plus; the cost of bad advice; use your resources with some reservation and with care.
Your accountant or auditor is, according to recent survey, the one outsider used most frequently than any other. Some firms visit with their accounting service professional every week or so. Managers make two common mistakes in working with this resource. First, they forget that the accountant often recognizes things in the figures that point to dangers or opportunities – places to economize or steps toward greater progress. Too often the manager looks on the accountant as a number cruncher. The manager should ask the accountant whether he sees any clues that would help improve profits or management efficiency.
The second error is the flip side of this. expecting too much from the specialist. Few accountants are executive or management experts, and don’t pretend to be. Keeping records and counting numbers is one thing, managing resources efficiently is quite another.
Your lawyer is a good source of advice and insurance against legal problems. A lawyer should be consulted when any major project is planned or even in small, new programs where there might be the slightest question of legality. For example, a new marketing program: don’t ask the lawyer to design the strategy, but to advise you on its legality.
Your banker can be a good friend, business associate, and advisor on finance. The recommendations are usually free. Ask him or her to look at your financial statements and forecasts. He sees many such items from other companies, both good and bad, and will be quick to spot a potential problem before it gets serious. Such an ally is also likely to help you with a loan or other financial help, if needed.
Suppliers can offer a wealth of information. They sell to many other customers and they know what the smart operators do. Perhaps those managers have long ago solved a problem that you may be facing right now. Suppliers are usually glad to share this information with you, at no cost, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Business friends can be another source of good advice. You will be wise to join a group , get to know a few local (non-competitive) professional managers, then select some you respect; have lunch with them occasionally. In time you will build friendships of men and women you can ask for (and offer) advice on a wide range of subjects. You’ll be getting counsel from successful people that you trust, and advice that is likely to be pretty good and free.
Technicians are expensive. But some of your men or women business lunch friends may well be a current or former engineer, architect, economist, or chemist. Your professional / social relations can sometimes ripen to the point where you both feel comfortable in asking technical questions. You might even bring one of your people to the lunch and discuss problems and solutions.
Advertising agency officers often get to know their clients quite well. This is good for both parties. It saves time for everyone and leads to more efficient programs, plus an enthusiasm that can generate that little extra plus in the marketing strategy. Agency people often work on market plans for many clients and pick up methods that can be effectively translated to different products and other clients. Many agency people are marketing specialists, yet their advice can sometimes be had for the price of a lunch or a dinner.
Your local chamber of commerce represents two major resources. First, it is a source of business friendships, and a way meeting good people in the nearby community, people with similar interests, rather than only through the golf course or bowling alley. Second, your chamber of commerce often has economic departments, or people very familiar with local conditions and statistics, as well as other services available at little or no cost.
Management consultants can be excellent sources of advice and information on an occasional basis. The great advantage is that they usually offer a wide scope of training and experience. After a few years there is hardly a problem that they haven’t worked on. They know what works and what doesn’t They become very practical.
Your local tax service can provide tax advice on an as-needed basis. Their help can often save you expenses well in excess of their fee. Ask your other contacts to recommend a good commercial tax service.
The members of your board of directors are not exactly outsiders. In many cases, much of the board is made up of company executives. Major mistakes made with appointing to the board are appointing uninterested or unqualified people, and not using the talent and experience of individual board directors often out of fear that they will attempt to take over the operations of the company. That is rarely their desire. They have more than enough to do. Further, they are large shareholders, they can influence control anyway. It is best to become close associates and let them be friendly advisors.
Trade associations are one of the greatest sources of information, yet one of the most ignored. Nearly every industry has some kind of association. These usually publish monthly or quarterly journals, often full of good industry information and advice. Further, an inquiry to their head office can get you back issue articles on almost any industry subject, usually at low cost. Such annual industry reviews can become your industry analysis, saving you thousands of dollars in time.
Service clubs such as the Lions, Rotary, Shriners or Kiwanis are excellent sources for meeting other company managers, executives, or specialists. Properly developed, through lunches, sports, cultural events, or community service projects these can lead to valuable business friendships.
Your realtor is not the type of person that you wish to contact very often, but you will be wise to know at least one or two. Realtors can be a good source of news about better locations, trends in the field of facilities, and what other in your area are doing.
The SBA, or Small Business Administration, is another excellent source of information.
SCORE or the Service Corps Of Retired Executives, is a program sponsored by the SBA. These are former owners and managers of their own businesses, volunteering to help small enterprise owners solve their problems. There is no charge.
SBI or Small Business Institute, is a program run through a number of colleges in each state. The colleges will, on request, send a team of two or three senior college business students supervised by a senior college instructor to help a small company.
SBDC or Small Business Development Center program is also run through business colleges. The SBDC will provide senior college business students and professors for short term intense counseling.
College and industry seminars are often offered in nearby facilities.
Credit rating services can save you far more than they cost in the form of reduced loses due to bad debts prevented.
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