It’s Your Business: Picking the right small-business coach for me

Penny Godfrey, program developer at the Small Business Center at Central Piedmont Community College, asked me last week to name the biggest threat to my small business. Without hesitation I said “money,” referring to the shortage thereof.

The more I pondered her question, though, the more I felt I should amend my response. As important as cash is to any business, I know that after six years of daily struggle, I face a far greater foe in the form of owner fatigue.

Put simply, I’m tired. I wear too many hats and work too many hours. And that, in turn, affects my business in ways large and small.

I had gone to see Godfrey because, in 2014, I promised myself I’d seek help this year from a qualified business coach, and the Small Business Center is one of the resources I’m weighing. My other option is SCORE, formerly known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives.

In the coming weeks I’ll make a decision and pick one or the other. I’ll then chronicle the highs and lows of my journey in this ShopTalk column.

Basically, I’m looking to get organized this year and move beyond what is essentially a one-man shop. As revenues have increased, I think it’s time for my business to leave the toddler stage to become a scrapping adolescent.

My meeting with Godfrey went well. She asked me lots of questions about my needs and goals (I really liked that), and I peppered her back with questions in return (I’m good at that), such as why I should pick the Small Business Center over SCORE.

She talked about the resources that would be available to me at the Small Business Center. In addition to full-time counselors, she said, the center has a team of part-time volunteers with expertise in diverse fields. If I needed help with accounting, there would be a volunteer with expertise in QuickBooks. If I needed help with marketing, sales or staffing, the center could provide advisers in those areas as well. All the while, Godfrey said, she would act as orchestra conductor, keeping all the musicians on time and in harmony (my analogy; not hers).

Her biggest selling point, however, was that each adviser has real-world experience as a small-business owner. That was huge for me, because building a small business is nothing like managing within a large or mid-size corporation, where even the most cash-strapped departments enjoy a relative abundance.

Godfrey gave me a homework assignment and warned me that, if I chose the Small Business Center, I would get no more out of the effort than I was willing to put into it. She and the other counselors would not chase after me or force me to make or keep appointments. “You’re an adult,” she said.

And with that, I left to prepare for my encounter with SCORE.