When attempting to start your own company, it is vital to surround yourself with people who can not only help guide you along the treacherous path of small business ownership but also those who might help you eventually grow your new venture.
You need to establish "Centers of Influence," says business coach Heath Suddleson, president of Executive Achievement. "Your circle of influence is about 250 people and not all of them are going to be a buyer for your product," he says. "Centers of Influence are those people who seem to know everyone and are always happy to connect people. If you don't already know people on the other parts of this list, a Center of Influence can help you."
Here are the top 15 people to include in your circle:
1. Who is your target audience? A regular customer or client can give you valuable insight to how your service or product is being perceived and used. "A customer. A real live breathing, interested customer. For feedback, for focus, for honest input of the prototype, and ideally for the purchase intent letter that will clinch angel funding," suggests Katherine Cleland, co-founder of the Willamette Angel Conference, Board Member of the Seattle Angel Conference, Entrepreneur, Angel and adviser to start up businesses.
2. Market mentor. It is important to have someone you can turn to to give you a heads up on market trends. This allows you to stay ahead of the game and to make your company progressive. "Someone with deep knowledge of the market. Someone who knows the players, the market dynamics and solution requirements," notes Cleland.
3. A friend at the bank. Get to know your banker and make sure your banker understands your business's needs. "Cash flow is essential to surviving. Finding an understanding banker will help," says Patrick Lynch, president of The Frontier Group and managing partner of OI Partners Atlanta.
4. Financial adviser. When it comes to deciding how to manage your money, it is best to get an expert. "A person that is responsible for helping to keep the books in order and has a finger on the pulse of the business and its financial health. They can ensure that a business is moving in the right direction monetarily and will help to make wise decisions with the money," says business consultant and coach Brian Ford, founder of BlessedWithBusinessGrowth. "One of the top five reasons that businesses fail is because the owner used the money for self or in other ways that took away from the business instead of adding back to it."
5. CPA or accountant. Keeping on top of your money is key to your company's survival. "CPAs/accountants are critical at every stage from business valuation to cost management to tax compliance," notes Lynch.
6. Investor. Of course, having a willing investor in your corner is great. "When an investor can be a part of the start up, there needs to be a stricter use of the money invested. Make sure that the investor will not try to change your business or implement their own strategies," advises Ford. "Look for investors that are willing to invest in you and the company. This shows that they believe in what you are pursuing and are willing to back you and your start up business. Also, try to make sure that there is great communication and you are both on the same page."
7. Someone who knows the ropes. What better way to maneuver the tricky process of entrepreneurship than to have someone in your corner who has been-there, done-that. "An experienced entrepreneur who has done at least one, and preferably more start ups who knows how to get things done on a budget, how to pitch and how to pivot (change strategy when the first approach isn't working), and is willing to help you do the same," explains Cleland.
8. Business consultant/coach. Sometimes we all need an outside opinion and someone to offer suggestions on decision-making and plans. "Someone who has expertise in growth strategies and systems to implement can help with a growing and learning curve for a new person in business," says Ford. "The experience of the consultant or coach can replace the lack of experience of a new person not familiar with all that is needed to start, run and grow a business. They can help in creating a stable foundation for the business to grow on."
9. Branding expert. Just having a business and not building a brand is stagnant. In order to grow, you will need to constantly expand and fine tune your brand. "This is more than just logos and letterhead. A true branding expert will work with the visions developed with your coach or consultant," Suddleson explains. "This will help you focus your message to know who you are trying to serve and how you are trying to serve them. By knowing this information, they can help you develop a brand that helps you sell your product or service in a quick and concise series of benefit statements."
10. A great sales person. Many entrepreneurs can come up with with great ideas, but you need someone to sell them. "Someone who will help you build your sales force and sales and marketing materials," says Cleland. "Unless you're a natural sales guy, you need someone on your team who will help you figure out how to get the right people on your team to get both clients and investors."
11. A legal eagle. You don't want to get caught in a legal bind because you don't know the regulations. Have a lawyer. "A lawyer familiar with the every complex and now changing (because of the Jobs Act) Securities law," Cleland points out. "You want to be sure that you are not doing "general solicitation" unless you really intend to, and that if you are looking for outside investment, you are doing so without hamstringing your future growth and future investors." Don't skimp on your legal representation.
12. A partner. Sometimes you can't go it alone and a business partner can be a real asset. "A real business partner can provide strong communication and a different perspective for achieving the same goals in business. Make sure that you both want to achieve the same goals," says Ford. "Create good communication between both of you and make sure that the ideas for the business do not split up the stability of it."
13. Family member. Generally you can trust family to guard your secrets and to also give you honest feedback. "Whether it's a wife, child or parent, it would be great to have some support from people that you care about. It can be difficult to find this support in family, so if it is possible then use it to your advantage," says Ford. "Make sure that they are supportive because there will be times when all you can do is lean on the people closest to you.
14. Your spiritual guide. You don't have to be religious to have a spiritual guide. A spiritual guide could be someone who gives you positive motivation. "Listen, even if you're not that spiritual, it helps to surround yourself with someone who can guide and direct you to live with more peace, joy and a better perspective," offers business consultant and marketing specialist Kris Hamilton of Optimal Impact Solutions, LLC. "This is essential if you want to make it long-term and truly run with fuel and a balanced life, because being a startup beckons all sorts of overwork and overwhelm that, in the end, isn't sustainable without proper life-balance perspective."
15. Yourself. Sounds strange, but you must be present in your inner circle--you have to believe in yourself and company. "As crazy as this may sound, you have to be in it to win it, if you are 110 percent committed to your dreams, goals and business then you will become lost in the madness of trying to get your business off the ground during your process of gaining clients, etc.," concludes Patrice Tartt, CEO of Patrice Tartt Publishing, LLC.