“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” -George Bernard Shaw
I have met some college professors who teach entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship that have never done it. Actually, one professor had the courage to tell me the she would never want to actually do it because the work is too hard. Yet, she is teaching on a Master’s Degree level to people who actually want to do it. And we wonder why college and post-graduate study do not prepare people for the real world…
But there is something that gets under my skin even more…
It is a growing phenomenon in the world today…
You can call growing phenomenon a lot of different things: coaching, mentoring, consulting, advising, teaching and a lot of it is being done by people who only know theory.
Basically, this growing phenomenon is people who help entrepreneurs but the only business they have started is their coaching practice. These people give advice and know a lot of theory but they have never actually been there and gone through the things an entrepreneur must go through. Their business model is really simple. They do not NEED staff. They have not sought out investors. They don’t have the overhead cost. They don’t have to buy a product to sell besides their own advice.
Here are two stories from my own experience…
SCORE – I met with a SCORE mentor once. He was a great executive at whatever big company he used to work for but he totally did not understand my business plan. For example, when looking over my financials, he asked why I did not plan to buy a cheaper coffee maker. I said, “Because the cheaper version makes horrible coffee.” He was going with his head knowledge of the importance of lowering costs as much as possible, which is great in theory. Yet, I knew from doing an apprenticeship with a woman who started a coffee shop that the quality of your coffee matters way more than anything else when your business is a coffee shop. Seems like a no-brainer to me. I guess it is not to someone who has never been there and is operating in theory land.
COUNSELING – I met with a therapist a few times. She was great at being a therapist. She even gave me homework because I shared that I like homework. I only saw her a few times though because I could tell she was operating in theory land. I could not relate to her on a deeper level. Plus, I studied psychology as an undergrad so I could see through the theories she was using. But most importantly for me, theories are not what I needed at the time. What I needed was someone who had been through what I was going through to tell me their story. I needed them to tell me how they got through it and that life is much, much better on the other side.
A very important note: meeting with a SCORE mentor or seeing a therapist might be perfect for where you are right now. I admit that they might be perfect options for me at some point in the future. I do NOT want to say, “Never use these tools.” I am just saying that when I was in the planning stages and the first few years of starting my business, I needed mentors and coaches that had gone through similar things. The best advice I have ever received and still come back to over and over again came from a mentor who started a coffee shop and a coach who had started a bookstore.
Now, to be fair, there is an ideal that a coach could coach anyone from any field or area of expertise. Actually, coming from somewhere totally different or from very limited knowledge of the field might bring new and fresh perspective that you cannot get anywhere else. This might be true. In fact, I hope it is true. So I’m keeping a slightly open mind.
Also, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I have received some great advice from an owner whose business was started four generations ago. He is not the entrepreneur who started the business. His advice was so solid poignant to my situation though because I want to see my business exist four generations from now. He is where I want to be or, more accurately, where I want my great, great grandchildren to be. This is another way to think about getting help. Find people way, way, way farther along and where you want to be. Get advice from those people.
The people way, way, way farther along probably will not meet with you regularly though or will cost way more money than you can afford at this point. That is why I recommend finding someone who is a few steps ahead and learning from them. They will be more available and cost way less. Plus, they are more likely to remember going through the same challenges. Those challenges were only a few years ago for them.