Asking for help can be tough for small business owners

Anyone who has been in business for any period of time knows you can’t tackle everything yourself. Sometimes you just need some help. But let’s face it, asking for help can be tough.

You might be a “private person” and not want to tell someone outside your business about the issues it’s having. Maybe you’ve got a great idea for a new product or service and don’t want to risk telling someone else. Maybe your business has struggled in some areas (a common problem in the last few years) and it’s hard to admit this to an outsider. Or maybe you’re just concerned about the expense.

Getting real help requires having a willingness to be open and honest. Sometimes this means revealing the skeletons in your closet and, in some cases, admitting failure. So how do you recognize when you need help and who can you turn to?

First, recognize that “helpers” come in different forms. Of course there are professionals — accountants, lawyers, consultants and specialists, and these usually do come with a price tag. But not all advisors require that you write a check.

You can also look to trusted advisors for help and advice. These can be other business owners you respect and trust, associations, retirees who previously ran successful companies, or businesses in your industry in non-competing regions. Quasi-governmental agencies, such as SCORE, SBDC, and PTAC are also good resources.

Whoever you turn to needs to be someone you trust, who will keep your information confidential, who is qualified to advise you and, above all, someone who will put your interests ahead of their own.

Now let’s talk about times when you should ask for help.

When you’re having downward trends or even a crisis. You may be experiencing fewer sales and lower profits, or you may be having difficulty obtaining new customers. Your entire industry might be going through a downturn and you need to figure out how to diversify your business. Or maybe your business just isn’t going in the direction you want it to go. Anytime you see a negative trend in your business, you may need to bring in someone to help you analyze the situation and strategize solutions.

When you just need some new ideas. Getting stale in business can be a kiss of death. Because the marketplace, technology and other factors change so rapidly, business owners need to continually come up with new ideas to keep their companies viable and competitive. We’ve used a couple of advisors in the past to help create new ideas for our companies and it was amazing to see how their minds worked. They came to the situation without preconceived notions or biases, and shot out ideas faster than we could write them down.

When you need a specialist. For issues requiring a professional’s specific expertise, you can’t just turn to anyone and only a specialist will do. Examples might be assistance with buying or selling a company; a lawsuit, pending bankruptcy or intellectual property issue; search engine optimization; or a marketing plan to help you obtain new customers. These are times when you need to spend the money to hire a qualified professional.

When you can’t find a solution. You might encounter a problem and give your all to finding an answer, but still not be able to solve the issue. A specialist might be needed but other outside advisors might also be tremendously helpful. An advisor we’ve used in the past is a retiree who owned a very successful West Coast company. We respect his wisdom and expertise, and know he can be trusted to hold in confidence anything discussed with him.

No one can always “go it alone” in life and business ownership is no different. None of us have all the answers all the time, and sometimes we’re too close to a situation to be able to see it clearly. While asking for help can be tough, the right person’s advice can be worth its weight in gold.

Laddie and Judy Blaskowski are partners in several businesses, including BusinessTruths Consulting. They are authors of The Step Dynamic: A Powerful Strategy for Successfully Growing Your Business.