Part of the thrill of being an entrepreneur is the opportunity to create -- whether it's building a new company, a new product or a new way of living or working. Most entrepreneurs have more invested in their work than a typical employee. But like an employee, entrepreneurs and emerging businesses need guidance, advice and help to achieve their goals. With anyone who wants to succeed, mentorship from those who have "been there, done that" is one of the keys to making your dreams a reality.
Working with peers and experts in your industry can bridge the gap in skills and knowledge that new business owners sometimes struggle with. Global companies and established businesses have a lot to offer you too, even if there are notable differences in execution. Here are three lessons entrepreneurs can learn from global companies.
1. Outside perspective.
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For some entrepreneurs, an outside perspective on a problem or struggle you’re facing can feel like an unwanted second opinion. However, it’s important for entrepreneurs to remind themselves of the value of context. Context is the lens through which you can view the current state of your industry. Working with peers and experts in your industry can provide this context by using what they know and have experienced to inform your future decisions and strategies for your growing business.
Recently, Disney offered an excellent example of this. You may assume that an older company like Disney would turn to some of their newer studios, like Pixar, or franchises -- like the popular kids’ movie, Frozen -- to make big investments for the future. But it’s in a new 14-acre Star Wars land that Disney’s investing some big bucks -- a movie franchise that’s almost 40 years old. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but consider this. In 1977, the first Star Wars movie earned $775 million worldwide, surpassing the extremely popular movie Jaws to earn the title of highest-grossing film of all-time (until 1982).
Having someone provide outside perspective can incite the same innovation for growing companies that Disney was able to provide for itself. Instead of taking a big bet on a new franchise, Disney looked to re-invest in strategies that worked before. In a similar way, global companies can provide emerging businesses with an important perspective on your industry that could uncover opportunities for future growth.
2. Operational expertise.
Entrepreneurs and business owners have a lot of tough decisions to make -- what to prioritize and what to let go, what to spend money on and what to cut, who to hire and who to fire. There’s always some type of balance to be struck or some compromise to be made in order to get where you want to be. For most, that’s true of life in general.
But in a business sense, one of the hardest decisions can be the shake-up of a team or operational changes that affect the core way the business runs. As an entrepreneur, you may not have the experience necessary to recognize when an operational or personnel change is needed, rather than another shift elsewhere. The ability to recognize this needs to be part of every entrepreneur’s skill set and business strategy. Until you gain this insight, you may not have the internal resources to make these judgments.
Back in May, Coca-Cola restructured their management team, the first move by new President and Chief Operating Officer James Quincey. This created a new international group focused on growing target markets. It’s not known if he made the changes by recommendation of a board of directors, strategic advisors or outside consultant. However, with this change came a solution to a current struggle Coca-Cola is facing -- sluggish soda sales have had a measurable impact on profit and revenue, with soda sales volume flat after five straight quarters of increases.
There’s likely other ways to attack this issue from inside the business, but someone like Quincey, with experience in high-stakes decision-making, knows which route to take and when to take it. One of the most important pieces of your business strategy is timing, and having the knowledge of when to make a move that will make a big difference.
3. Strategic guidance.
As an entrepreneur, passion and drive for your work matter just as much as the team that shares your passion and drive. Part of being a successful entrepreneur is forming your tribe, a group of people you turn to for advice and strategic guidance. These could be people in your industry, past mentors or other successful entrepreneurs like you.
Creating your tribe will only get you halfway to success. The other, more difficult part, is actually taking in and digesting the advice and guidance from this group. As the leader, it’s up to you to decide when to listen and what advice to take into consideration. But remember this -- a smart entrepreneur takes advice from all; a wise entrepreneur acts on advice from a few.
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For example, Dan Gallagher of the Wall Street Journal recently wrote that companies are starting to care less about scale and more about focus. Citing current business changes within Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, Gallagher brought up the notion that the ground shifts quickly in technology. Now more than ever, big tech companies need to decide what their winning strategy will be because the bigger you are, the harder it can be to change direction.
Entrepreneurs can set themselves up to receive this necessary kind of strategic guidance from a few trusted peers by creating an advisory board that can collaborate with you to succeed. This group, chosen by you, can be used to help set present priorities while thinking about the long-term plan for growth, scale and more. Since an advisor has no fiduciary or legal responsibilities for the company, they can focus on giving you strategic guidance without financial or legal pressures.
Unless you're ready to give up shares of your company or hire expensive executives who have worked at global brands, consider working with an on-demand executive to provide you with the necessary strategic guidance, operational expertise and outside perspective to be successful. You can hire on-demand executives on a temporary, interim or consulting basis depending on your business needs. No matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey -- just starting out, settling in or getting ready for your next big adventure -- consider taking an on-demand executive along for the ride. It may end up being the reason you are still in business down the road.