Link my business to your business and see the road ahead

So much of what I do as a business owner is stuff that I’m doing for the first time. Even after doing this for a decade or more I’m still learning new things every day. On the one hand, that’s something I like about what I do – I’m always learning! On the other hand, it means I’m sometimes making high stakes decisions with very little experience or knowledge. It means that I frequently feel like a beginner, or like I’m experimenting on my business (and life).

One of the things that makes this tolerable for me is having a great community of business friends that I’ve linked up with over the years. These folks are peers, other business owners, who also face lots of things that they don’t know how to do. Sometimes I call them with my challenges, sometimes they call me with theirs. If I’m lucky one of these folks has just the answer I need, but more often than not each of them has a piece of the answer. I get one insight from one, a caution from another and another perspective from a third.

I’m sure that to someone in a more typical job this process looks terribly inefficient. Wouldn’t it be easier to have a list of experts on call instead of a hodgepodge of business owners? I do end up spending endless hours on the phone. But all of us are smarter than one of us and when I call a friend to ask for help, I usually give as much as I get. As for that list of experts – where would I find them? How would I get them up to speed on my situation?

As inefficient as it may be, this distributed form of learning is eminently practical because there is no way we could each learn everything we need to know on our own. The job of the business owner covers so much territory; you need to know much stuff about so many different areas there’s no way to master it all. Instead we all specialize in area that interest each of us. I’m a Mac nerd, so my friends call me for advice about apps and hardware. Candy has long had a completely distributed workforce – so I call her for advice about cloud-based phone systems. Gini is a successful Vistage speaker and I call her when I get the bug to do more speaking and she helps me to make sure I’m turning speaking gigs into business! The list goes on and on…

I’ve gotten valuable advice from all of these folks – advice I would have paid for. Why would they give it to me for free? We all hate to have our “brains picked” — why is this different?

When I pick up the phone and call a stranger, or someone I’ve met casually once or twice, and call to ask for help in their area of expertise – the thing that clients pay them to do –that’s brain picking. But if I have a relationship with someone where I’ve referred business to them, or connected them to valuable resources in the past; I can call and ask them about something that we are both thinking about or working on. This is not me stealing their expertise; this is a friend calling a friend for advice. Candy is a bookkeeper; she doesn’t sell phone systems – but her experience with phone systems is valuable to me.

My business would never have as it has without this informal community of other business owners to bounce ideas off of.

Who do you rely on for advice?

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