In his book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ben Horowitz discusses the hardest things about building and running a business. One of those “hard things” is that as the CEO or founder of a business, you know things that no one else knows, so you have a perspective that no one else has.
We find that this unique perspective of advisory firm owners is often a two-edged sword. It enables them to make the best decisions for their businesses, but it also means that other people inside and outside their business often don’t understand—or buy into—their ideas. Not only does this make the owner’s job a lonely one, it also can erode their confidence, which is their single most important asset.
To help owner-advisors maintain their confidence (or to get their confidence back) and make good business decisions, we suggest they consider these four guidelines:
1) Don’t Turn to People Who Know Less Than You Do
As a business owner or CEO, you don’t need a consensus or buy-in from your employees or clients or anyone else. The idea of being a “visionary” is that you see things that other people don’t. Of course, we encourage getting input from people inside and outside of your business about key decisions. But it’s the leader’s job to decide what information is useful, and what isn’t.
When leaders hold off on their ideas waiting for a “consensus,” the conditions that made their “idea” a good one at the time often change. The delay can thus make those ideas less good, or even bad.
2) Don’t Seek Approval
When business owners lose confidence in themselves, they often seek approval from their spouse, social group, colleagues or employees. They want to hear that other people think what they’re doing is okay. But just as with a consensus, the people they are seeking approval from know less about their business than they do themselves. Consequently, their approval or disapproval isn’t really helpful.
The bottom line is that business owners need to believe in themselves. No, you won’t always be right: but you have a much greater chance of being right about your business than anyone else—and of making the appropriate corrections when you are wrong.
3) Don’t Rely on “Tools”
When they need to take a big step in their businesses, owner-advisors often want to use prepackaged “tools” to do it for them: a marketing plan tool, a human resources tool, a client communications tool, etc. While there are a few useful “tools” out there, the problem with most of them is that they are generic: they aren’t based on the needs or the unique features of your firm. Instead of looking around for a ready-made solution, we find that what most firm owners need is clarity about what they are doing, and why. Armed with a clear vision of the problem they are trying to solve, owners can then use their experience to find the best solution for their business. For instance, look backward to how you brought in clients in the past. Undoubtedly, some things worked and others didn’t.
Look for what you learned from both experiences—not just what you did, but how you decided to do it—and how you monitored its success. Then apply that process to the current situation.
4) Be Adaptable
You can have a perfect plan, but the moment you put the plan into action, and it comes face to face with realIty, things change. I see a lot of owners get so attached to their strategies that they can’t admit when they aren’t working. In the Army there’s a saying: “All battle plans go out the window the moment boots hit the ground.”
While some business strategies are better than others, there are very few plans that are so good they don’t need a bit of tweaking when they become reality. It takes a visionary to create good growth strategy: but it also takes a visionary to know when to make changes to it.
There is no silver bullet to growing an advisory firm: owners need to use all of their knowledge, experience and vision to find the best next step. Most of all, they need to have the confidence in themselves to make those hard decisions—and to tweak them to make them successful.