What kind of support can you expect from a business advisor and how does that match with the objectives they are set in supporting you? This is not a perspective that we often hear, so we asked Professor Gary McEwan, the Chief Executive of North East Scotland-based business accelerator Elevator, for his opinion.
“The ability to identify a good business opportunity is difficult to teach. Those naturally inclined to entrepreneurship have an ability to see what others don’t, to ignite themselves with a spark of inspiration. Beyond that, everything else can be learned…but from whom?
If you were handed the keys to an aircraft and asked to take off, fly and land safely without any instruction or guidance, would you consider jumping on board? What if an experienced co-pilot was sat alongside you? Surely the latter would make for a more fulfilling – not to mention, safer – experience?
For all the same reasons, working closely with business advisory support when starting your own business greatly increases your chances of success. But only if you recognise and accept how to get the best from your business adviser.
What should you expect from your business adviser?
There was a time, especially in the ’80s and ’90s, when the government used grants (and lots of them!) to grow an entrepreneurial culture in Scotland. It was soon recognised that one did not equal the other, now grants of this nature are very rare and targeted very closely to certain things. In my own experience, I have been lucky to have clients come back to me years later to thank me for that one nugget of advice, that one challenge I set them or for changing their view on their plan. Never in my 30 years of business has someone said: “Were it not for that £2k grant, my business would not have flourished.”
You see, the real value of a good adviser is not the small grant they may unlock for you, it is in the experiences they have had, the information they can provide and the business contacts they can open up for you. This is where the true value is!
I have watched many short-sighted people walk away as soon as they realise an adviser does not have an open chequebook. This is a great shame because your business adviser, like that co-pilot, may well be the difference between a successful flight and a crash.
How do I know if I have a great business adviser?
In Scotland, Business Gateway business advisers must all achieve a standard known as Premier Adviser, where they are thoroughly tested before getting their accreditation. Whilst they all must achieve the standard, the very best go on to develop and hone their skills to become really good in helping you start and grow your business. I call this ‘High Impact Business Advising’.
You will have limited access to your adviser – precious little time in fact. They have a lot of people to support all the time. But what you and they share is a need for your time together to be spent wisely, where they can help make the best impact on your business. So, be prepared, and be organised when you meet with them!
The best advisers have four key characteristics:
1. It may sound strange, but they rarely – if ever, give business advice. They will take you on a journey helping you to arrive at the right answer, meaning that not only do you now have the right answer, but you know how to logically find your way to similar answers in the future. You have been taught, not told.
2. They don’t try to develop your business for you, that’s your job! Their job is to help you grow as an individual so that you have the tools and skills needed to make your business a success.
3. They will constructively challenge your thinking in a safe environment. They won’t placate you and tell you you’re great the way family and friends might! They will ask you to delve deeper, to uncover the full picture, prioritise and then decide the way forward. They will bring structure to the chaos that many start-ups have. It might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but you will soon get used to it and see the benefits of this approach.
4. If they are at the top of their game, they will focus you on the plan and the strategy, not dwell on detail. Detail is a job for you later on.
How do I get the best from my business adviser relationship?
Recognise the value of a co-pilot. They have years of experience not only themselves but through watching many businesses start, win or lose; the experience and information they hold is highly valuable. They will point you in the direction of others who can help you. An hour with your adviser could unlock six hours of time from other people, so please use that. Immerse yourself in learning, it is time very well spent.
Starting and growing a business needs the person running the business to develop their skills too. Often the biggest limiting factor within a business is the person at the helm gets so immersed in the day-to-day activities that they side-line any notion needed to personally develop the skills needed to sustain the business and grow.
Find a co-pilot that will help your development: they will be worth their weight in gold.
Gary Mcewan is Chief Executive of Elevator, a serial entrepreneur and started his first business at the age of 5. He now leads a team delivering a range of accelerator programmes across Dundee and the North East of Scotland.