Coaching Other Business Owners


It’s uncomfortable to offer what we perceive to be unflattering feedback.  Whether we do it out of genuine concern or because someone asks for our opinion, we must tread carefully, yet provide honest feedback, particularly to other business owners. 

One way to set a more comfortable tone for your conversation is to start by making positive statements about their successful experiences or approaches they’ve taken.  

Dale Carnegie’s Method of Providing Feedback

The principles Dale Carnegie articulated in his 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People still apply today.  He advises us to: “Begin with praise and honest appreciation.”  Starting with positive attributes and even rehearsing an opening statement helps make both of you more comfortable in a feedback conversation.

Carnegie also suggests that we “Talk about our own mistakes”.  This demonstrates our understanding that we’re all just “works in progress” and goes a long way to showing that you’re genuinely concerned in supporting this person’s success. 

He goes on to recommend that we ask questions instead of giving direction. Let’s say, for example, a business owner asks for feedback about a presentation he gave in which he missed a critical piece of information.  Rather than directly pointing out the omission, Carnegie’s approach might sound like: “In the competitive analysis you’ did a great job of showing X.  What did you find out about Y?”

Providing Honest Feedback Builds Trust and Respect

Like any relationship, business relationships can grow deeper over time.  And as in any relationship, honest communication builds trust and respect.  Respecting other business owners enough to offer (and accept) constructive feedback builds relationships that are strong enough to last no matter where your careers take you.

We’ve all heard the saying “charity begins at home”.  In this case, a mutually supportive and strong network begins with collaboration, public support of and honest communication with other business owners.

Leah Ward-Lee is a entrepreneur and business writer based in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.



Collaborating With Other Business Owners

Given the inherent challenge of being a small business owner, making time to collaborate with other business owners can be a challenge, particularly if you’re in the start-up phase.  However, established business owners know that collaboration is the best way to become and remain successful in today’s marketplace. 

When I started my consulting practice in 1998 I didn’t know this.  My marketing strategy was to include a handwritten note in the several hundred holiday cards I sent out each year.  Unexpectedly, the demand was fast and furious.  I wasn’t experienced enough to know that when someone seeks a consultant they typically need one now and tried to take on several projects at once.  As a result, I over-promised, under-delivered and ended up in the hospital.  That was a wake-up call. 

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Maintaining Your Peer Group from Previous Organizations or Affiliations

Peers with whom you’ve previously worked, attended school, or shared a common purpose can be valuable members of your network.  This is because your shared history provides a ready resource for sharing job intel, references and referrals, making your investment in the relationship a worthwhile one.

Easier said than done, right?  Since you no longer share an employer and may not even be in the same geographical location, finding mutually convenient ways to keep in touch is the challenge.

Maintaining a Network Takes Conscious Effort

Even with social media, email and texts (not to mention phone calls), sustaining productive relationships with former colleagues requires time and attention.  The reality is that this is true for everyone. Few of us have the mindshare and focus to communicate regularly with a huge network, but we can respond to opportunities to support Individuals. Taking the time to comment on posts or on significant personal or professional events is always appreciated and keeps these relationships alive.

Consciously seeking and taking opportunities to endorse someone takes a little bit more of your time; and providing introductions, references or referrals takes even more.  Each of those actions, however, is a surefire way to maintain valuable long-term relationships—and they don’t have to be reciprocated every time to keep the lines of communication open.   Consider establishing a regular time and cadence to your network relationship management.  A few moments per day, or per week, or per month to be in touch with former colleagues or associates pays dividends on many professional and personal levels—not the least of which is the link between connectedness and emotional health.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Fernandina Beach, Florida and Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups. 

Leveraging Professional Organizations to Build Your Network

Goal Clarity is Essential When Choosing Professional Organizations

Professional Organizations and Associations are another place to build your referral or client network.  A clear goal, the right organization and smart participation can make your time and/or monetary investment worthwhile.  Most industries or professions have at least one professional organization and many have a wide selection of organizations who would love to have you as a member.

Finding the professional organization where you fit best is worth the effort.  Be clear about your goal and about what each type of group can offer you.  Organizations in your own industry are a source of referrals and can provide continuing education and social opportunities.  Organizations that serve your target clients offer opportunities for you to share your expertise and increase your visibility.  Being generous with your expertise is a great way to develop new client relationships.

Models of Professional Organization

There are many models for professional organizations. One model is as a business whose purpose is to provide education, training, and certification in a specific field.  These organizations work to legitimize the need for the certifications they offer and to attract new members who will purchase the training to earn these certifications.  They typically have a paid professional staff that facilitates their efforts and produces conferences that are educational and offer networking opportunities for their members.

A second model is used by organizations formed to work on issues that are common to their profession or industry and advance the collective knowledge.  They often publish a periodical with articles of interest written by or of interest to their members.  Companies who are suppliers to the businesses within the industry, or of interest to the members of the profession, often sponsor annual conferences attended by hundreds of members.

A third model is an organization formed solely to allow their members to network.  These run the gamut from meet-ups open to the public to those with memberships limited to specific groups. The costs associated with membership range from a small fee to attend each meeting to an annual fee of six figures for a professionally facilitated meeting of CEO’s or business owners.

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Leveraging Our Network: Professional Referrals

Making a professional referral is the trifecta of networking.  The person you refer is a winner, the person who fills their vacant position is a winner, and you’re a winner.  And just like a bet on the ponies, referrals can pose risk.

Providing a Professional Referral

Referring someone for a position you’re not 100% certain they can fill sets up what we might call a reverse trifecta. A referral mismatch disappoints all parties. It can set the referred person up for failure, which may reflect poorly on the person who hired them and can diminish your credibility with your network.

Seeking a Professional Referral

When you’re seeking a professional referral you increase your odds of success if you provide key information, including  a careful definition of WHY you’re seeking the referral, clarity about WHAT you have to offer, WHICH company needs your offering, and WHO the decision maker is at your target company.

For example, let’s say you learn in your Linkedin feed that Smith Engines just won a multi-billion-dollar design and manufacturing subcontract for a defense contractor. Your company is in the business of providing aerospace design engineers and has had success augmenting the staff for several other defense contractors.  You believe the decision maker at Smith Engines is the Vice President of Engineering. You could certainly figure out who that individual is and place a cold call … but so could every other engineering firm in your space.  This is where you leverage your 500-connection network.  

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