...from the desk of       Elly Valas
Issue: 08-05  Date: May, 2008

Elly Valas

Biz News You Can Use

Quote of the Month:

"In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield."

--Warren Buffett

One Is The Loneliest Number

If you want to learn about what’s really happening in the world, watch your kids. Today’s youth are not only hooked on social networking, they invented it. It seems like every day a new site comes online to join MySpace, Classmates.com, and Facebook. Yes, I have pages on all the sites and I’m now officially “the coolest.”

I’m still not entirely sure how people find me, but I’m amazed at how often I get an invitation to become a “friend” or hear from one of my contacts. Just this afternoon, I learned that my niece Rachel drinks cosmopolitans and that her childhood friend Adelia got a wicked sunburn over the weekend. The staff at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, where I sit on the Board of Trustees, have all added me to their list of approved Facebook friends.

LinkedIn and Plaxo are similar networking sites for grownups and business people. These sites can be valuable tools to find recommended business resources.

But this column isn’t about online social and business networks. It’s about the power of having a network.

Independent business owners are often hampered by their independence. Having shunned opportunities to engage in Corporate America or to work for someone else, they are driven to do their own thing, create their own successes, and develop their individual business identities. Too often, they are alone and isolated. Ego keeps entrepreneurs from seeking input, feedback and advice.

They’re walking a tightrope without a net.

But the best leaders surround themselves with a network of people who will challenge them, give them new ideas and help them navigate turbulent times.

There are many ways to create a group to exchange ideas with. Before doing so, however, check your ego to be sure you’re open enough to really accept the input others may offer. You’ll have to become a great listener and encourage free interchange. If you rush to defend yourself or adopt a “can’t do that” posture, you’ll soon get little or no useful dialogue.

If you read some of the postings on Facebook, you’ll see the depth of the honesty among the participants. They are willing share their shortcomings and failures as well as their successes. That’s what makes a good network thrive.

Here are some networks you might build for your business.

Consider those on your own team. Your staff understands your business, knows your customers and your competitors. They appreciate your strengths and your challenges. Given the chance to provide feedback will empower them and create loyalty.

Use your professionals. Don’t just use your accountant, your IT professional, your banker and your lawyer when you’re in trouble. Schedule regular meetings with them and ask what their other clients are doing and seek their ideas on how to improve your business process and bottom line. Be sure you understand new laws and regulations that might affect your company.

Hire a coach or consultant. Find someone to help you see the flaws that you may overlook in your own management style. Use a consultant to bounce ideas off of before you take them to the marketplace.

Create a peer review group. Sometimes called mastermind groups, peer groups hold formalized meetings with other similar business owners who do not directly compete with each other. They may meet for a day before a trade show or industry event or it may be better to rotate between hosting members. Meetings have pre-determined agendas and each group member is required to participate in the meeting process.

The mission of one group I facilitated was to help members develop visions and strategic plans for their companies. When one member presented his plan to the group, the group chided him for his seemingly timid goals. They sent him back to the drawing board to design a bigger vision based on the quality of the team he’d built, the financial wherewithal of his company and his reputation in the community. He returned with a plan for not only one but two new stores. The new stores are hugely successful and the entrepreneur far exceeded what he thought he could ever build. The power of the group pushed him beyond what he thought was possible.

Establish an advisory board. The idea of having a board of directors frightens most entrepreneurs more than an IRS audit. But a good board can be a valuable business asset. Start with your key managers and add other business owners in your community. Meet quarterly to help review your strategic plan, your financial performance, your personnel, your marketing and your customer satisfaction. Use your board to review your performance as CEO and to help improve your management skills.

Business today is too complex to manage without some help. The best leaders are those who create strong networks and use them effectively. It’s a world of connectivity and relationships.

Who’s in your network?