Celebrate Black History Month . . .
Overcoming the “Trust Gap” to Get the Expertise Your Business Needs
Most entrepreneurs have an independent streak and, understandably, believe no one can manage their business like they can. Still, it takes a village to raise a child and a support network to grow a business. Peers, friends and family can help to a point, but outside expertise may be needed to take your business to the next level.
Black founders are less likely to tap into external know-how, such as legal counsel, accounting services, marketing and financial planning, that can help businesses thrive. Only 58 percent of Black owners hire professional services, compared to 70 percent of white owners, according to McKinsey & Company. Even programs specifically targeted to supporting Black-owned businesses (an area that grew in 2020) tend to be underused compared to similar programs open to white founders.
Some of the reasons may be expense and availability, but the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) also points to a large “trust gap” that makes people of color less likely to seek help.
The Trust Gap
A history of marginalization and direct experience with individual and systemic racism may lead many Black founders to distrust the institutions and experts that entrepreneurs often need to succeed. Some experts also point to an ethos of self-reliance and tendency to “go it alone” (sometimes borne out of necessity) among Black Americans that can result in limiting business size and growth.
But the data on Black business ownership is just too powerful for founders to limit their aspirations. According to the AEO, Black business owners are wealthier than their peers who do not own businesses, and business ownership creates new wealth faster compared to wage employment. In fact, the median net worth for Black business owners is 12 times higher than Black non-business owners. Black businesses also fuel employment and economic growth within communities of color.
Still, trust can be difficult to cultivate, especially if past experiences make you wary. But not tapping into helpful resources also carries the risk of missed opportunities and avoidable mistakes. If you decide the time is right to seek outside help, remember you are in the driver’s seat and the choice has to be one that gains your confidence. Consider these hallmarks of a quality consultant to get — and vet — needed support.
- Outstanding character and professionalism. Recommendations from fellow founders are a great start, but don’t allow a referral to shortcut your own judgment. Read online reviews, talk to several current clients and, if there is anything about the person’s behavior that makes you uncomfortable, keep looking. Exaggerating expertise or results, speaking in generalities, sharing private information about other clients or pressure to cement the relationship immediately are red flags.
- Proven expertise and problem-solving. Deep expertise in finance, accounting, social media, IT or other subject matters is what you’re hiring when you contract with a consultant. But levels of expertise vary and price alone is not a reliable indicator. Ask pointed questions specific to your business and make sure the consultant can explain her answer in lay terms to your satisfaction. Ask for examples of how she has helped other clients solve similar problems or capture opportunities.
- Relevant experience. Even the most qualified consultant might not be the right fit if he has never worked with a small business before. Someone with directly relevant experience may provide stronger support and get up to speed more quickly. A consultant doesn’t have to have done the exact same thing before, but he should know how to play in your ballpark. It’s a decided plus if he’s taken the time to acquaint himself with your business before meeting.
- Excellent interpersonal skills. Any consultant worth your investment should be a good listener first so she understands the challenges and opportunities you face. Then, she needs to be able to convey her advice clearly to empower you to take action. Excessive jargon, a patronizing attitude or lack of respect are cues to keep looking.
- Responsive and deadline driven. How quickly will the individual respond to questions via phone and email and how often will they be available for meetings if needed? Ask what sorts of obstacles would hinder on-time delivery and what is needed from you as well. While courting you, a consultant may make you feel like his only client, but you need a realistic sense of what the real working relationship will be. If there are critical deadlines related to your work, it’s best to get agreement to those in writing.
Trusted experts can become key team members whose contribution helps build your business and decrease stress. Connecting with a supportive founder community also helps ensure you don’t have to go it alone. MonicaMotivates provides business owners with a trusted community where you can access expertise targeted to women and underrepresented founders.