You've got a vexing business problem that's driving you crazy. And, whether you like it or not, it's up to you to solve the problem. What's the best way?

Well, you can always ask a guru. In my unending and, some would say, hapless quest to improve my business acumen, I joined a teleseminar where the Internet guru said he hated the word “guru,” while he extolled his own services. I rather liked his attitude because the word has become overused, tossed about like the loose coins we drop into the tip cup at a coffee shop. We have gurus by the bushel. They're everywhere. There's even a website, www.guru.com, which bills itself as “the world's largest online marketplace for freelance talent.” I've never used them, though I've used a competitor, www.elance.com, and was reasonably pleased.

But how can you tell if the guru really has the right answer for you? How do you know that what he accomplished worked for him but might not apply to you? Or that he might not even have been able to replicate his own success more than once — all he does now is peddle the same information in seminars? Did the guru face exactly the same problem with specific solutions or does he provide the broad framework that leaves all the implementation (which means the tactics) to you?

How can you easily and, hopefully, inexpensively get on the track of solving your business dilemma?

If you really want to improve your business and solve problems, you absolutely, positively, must look beyond yourself to grow. I think we can all agree on that. And it's natural to want to learn from the very best. We pay large sums of money to speakers to give us the “inside deal” on how to conduct our business. Usually, we're looking for some edge, and we presume that if the guru did it, so can we. Money-making seminars of this nature, for example (both legitimate and bogus), abound. This thirst for knowledge extends to the tens of thousands of books that divulge business secrets that promise, at least tacitly, that we can run our business more effectively AND profitably by following their advice.

There is, of course, another approach that is virtually free and, in the “real world,” often as effective as the very best business books: Talk to someone who had the same problem(s) that you have and ask how they solved it. Often, unless it's a very direct competitor, they'll tell you everything. That's why HARDI has a mentoring program with geographic separation that allows a current successful member to share knowledge with someone new who (probably) won't be a competitor.

Having been in this business for years, I just have to pick up the telephone to get a real guru. I just did it the other day with a marketing problem. I naturally turned to Adams Hudson (www.hudsonink.com). Adams is unfortunate when dealing with me in several ways. He's both a friend AND a real guru, which is reflective in his knee-bending hourly rate. Fortunately, he regards me more as a friend than as a bewildered fish swimming in the business sea. When I want a broader viewer of the distribution industry, Frank Hurtte with Davenport, Iowa-based River Heights Consulting (www.riverheightsconsulting.com) is right there on my speed dial.

Recently, I received a short case study from Intuit Eclipse (now Activant) that contained the name of a David McIlwaine, president and founder of Mt. Joy, PA-based HVAC Distributors. It was unusual for several reasons. First, instead of just touting its product, David went on the record explaining what some of his software issues were and how the Intuit Eclipse system solved them for him. Second, and maybe more important, David also shared very specific numbers of how his business grew. If you are having a software problem or are considering a change, David might be worth contacting at dmcilwaine@hvacdist.com. I suspect that many of you know David because he's the secretary/treasurer of HARDI. (For a copy of the case study, send a request to distribution@activant.com and ask for the case study involving David. See how easy it is.)

Another approach is to contact someone you don't know but are aware that they confronted the same problem. Ask if they can help you. It's amazing how often I get a positive response when I simply ask. My favorite line is: “You have to eat, can I buy you lunch and get your expertise?” Unless the person is a direct competitor, you have a high chance of getting the luncheon date. But life isn't a one-way street. Whenever someone helps me, I always conclude with: “Now, what can I do for you?”

And I mean it.

HVACR Distribution Business welcomes letters to the editor. Please send correspondence to: Tom Peric', Editor 2040 Fairfax Avenue Cherry Hill, NJ 08003 or e-mail tsperic@penton.com.