February 2012 Getting the Help You Need
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Getting the Help You Need

By Steve Strauss. ARCHIVE:

In my blogs this month, we are looking at some of the best ways to meet and beat business challenges. In my last entry, I looked at how business problems can often be reversed by using what I called “business Jujitsu.” This week, I would like to drill down a little more into the issue and idea of getting help when you need it.

A problem not a few small business people have is that they don’t have enough hands on deck. Lacking help, their business becomes stagnant. So what do you do when you have a great idea – or business – but it’s more than you can handle on your own?

Get a partner, that’s what. That’s what a (literal) genius by the name of Chester Carlson did.

In 1930, Chester Carlson landed a job in the New York City patent offices of a small electronics company, where his job was to assemble patent applications. Patent applications are extremely long documents, and Carlson’s job of duplicating the drawings and specifications by hand was boring and tedious. Frustrated by his day job, and already prone to inventing, Carlson decided that there must be a better way.

He began to study photography, the physics of light, paper treatment, and printing. Carlson’s research paid off when he stumbled upon photoconductivity – the method in which light affects the electrical conductivity of materials, thereby allowing him to reproduce documents electronically. Hoping to find a corporate sponsor for his invention, or even someone to sell it to, Carlson then spent the next few years meeting with, and getting turned down by, the likes of GE, RCA, and IBM. He had no luck; he was a genius, but not a marketer.

The break Carlson had been hoping for came in 1947 when Joe Wilson, the president of a small photographic company called Haloid, and a marketing wiz, came to see the electrophotography machine he had read about. After seeing a demonstration, Wilson exclaimed, “Of course it’s got a million miles to go before it will be marketable. But when it does become marketable, we’ve got to be in the picture!”

Wilson and his company eventually pumped $100 million and 10 years into the invention before finally turning Carlson’s idea into a workable machine. Deciding that “electron photography” and “Haloid” weren’t snazzy enough names, the marketing wizard decided to rename the process and the company to – Xerox.

The moral of the story is that, often, the best businesses are those that are started by two people of different backgrounds and with different skills sets. You may be a marketing genius, but know nothing about finances, and you might have a friend who is financially literate but knows nothing about business. Together, you may make a great team.

Business partners can take many forms. You may be able to find a “silent” partner who merely wants to invest in return for a share of the company, or you might find someone who is interested in becoming an active participant.

The important thing to remember when looking for a partner is that you will get the help you need only if the partner gets what he or she wants. Does he want to be involved in day-to-day operations? If so, you better be sure that this is someone you can work with. Does she just want a return on her investment? Then you better have a solid financial plan. Ask them what they want and the give them what they want.

Bottom line: If you copy the genius who invented photocopies, you are on track to duplicate his success.

(For even more business tips and strategies, check out the new podcast on iTunes that I am doing in conjunction with Greatland called Small Business Success with Steve Strauss, Powered by Greatland.)