Employees can always look to their superiors for answers and instructions. But as the company ladder's rungs rise higher, there are fewer people to turn to. And once at the top, where do CEOs and presidents of contract cleaning companies go for help when they have a problem or a question?

Despite reaching the tip of the ladder, there still are a number of options. For legal advice, there's the corporate lawyer; financial questions, an accountant or the company CFO might be the right person for the job; for technical snafus or product information, distributors and manufacturers are willing to help.

But beyond these people with specific skill sets, there are still others that CEOs can look to as a sounding board when at a crossroads. Trustworthy colleagues, mentors or an advisory board can be in place to offer help when needed.

And, presidents and CEOs shouldn't be forced to go it alone during times of doubt. The ramifications of bottling up the problem and handling it alone can be detrimental.

“Many times, CEOs are not sure they are making the right decisions about their business,” says Pat McClure, consultant, HLH Systems, a facility management consulting firm, Dublin Ohio. “Often they are crucial decisions and this takes a very big toll in other areas. Some get ulcers, high blood pressure, and diabetes from the stress of trying to do it all themselves.”

Friends in need
Most building service contractors already know where to find basic technical help, but issues such as wage concessions, market growth or problematic customers can be a bit trickier to handle.

A good place to start is by networking within the industry. Getting out and talking with fellow contractors at trade shows, conventions, and associations is important, says Dennis Richards, president, Puritan Cleaning Professionals, Missoula, Mont.

However, it is a good idea to turn to friends in other parts of the country, rather than ones in town who may also be a competitor, Richard says.

“I loathe to let them know what I'm doing,” he explains.

BSCs in other regions or markets can also provide a different slant on the same problem — a variant viewpoint is sometimes the key to finding an answer one could never think of on his own, says Keith Brown, president, Tridon Services Inc., Harrisburg, Penn.

Also, talking to other BSCs could help you discover your problems aren't unique; finding BSCs who have already experienced the same business questions can help save time and money.

“You're trying to avoid mistakes other people have already made. There's no sense in reinventing the wheel,” says Dick Dotts, president, Diversified Maintenance Services, Los Angeles.

The next level
Friends can be great resources, but sometimes it may be more beneficial to have a mentor to help develop your business.

A good mentor has agreed to help and is cognizant of the time it will take to help, says McClure; the mentor's objective to help. The mentor will take time to meet, talk, have lunch or do whatever it takes to benefit the company. Generally, mentors have already been down the same roads as the CEO, so they know what roadblocks to expect ahead of time. They can advise on better courses to take.

Often times, the mentor relationship extends past the professional relationship — he becomes a friend, may get to personally know the family. Therefore, trust between the parties is crucial, says McClure.

Be on board
Sometimes when seeking advice, it's better to hear from more than one person. That's why having a group of individuals already set in place on an advisory board can be a tremendous asset when making potential company-altering decisions.

Advisory boards act similar to a board of directors by providing advice and serving as a sounding board for ideas. But unlike a board of directors, the person setting up an advisory board gets to handpick the members. Also, the decisions made by the advisory board are not final, just recommendations.

“The advisory board is not accountable for the decisions that are made,” says McClure. “They merely provide advice and direction and then the CEO makes the decisions.”

So, who makes up a quality advisory board? Typically, boards consist of other CEOs or upper-level managers, perhaps some who are retired. It's important however, to get a mix of entrepreneurs from different businesses, says McClure. For example, BSCs should look for potential members outside of the cleaning industry. This way, CEOs can obtain people with skills that they are currently lacking, says McClure.

“You need people with different backgrounds so you can come up with solutions you never thought of,” she adds.

For over 10 years, Brown has been part of an advisory board put together by his local chamber of commerce. The group he belongs to is made up of four other individuals from all over the business map: a lawyer, an accountant, a human-resources specialist and a civil engineer. Brown enjoys the mix because he's not looking for technical information like how to wax a floor, but rather answers to insurance or financing questions. The group meets once a month, but phone lines are always open, says Brown.

To Brown, the group is about networking as much as anything else.

“The job of the CEO of any company is to protect the assets and see [that the company] moves forward,” he says. “The only way to do that is to get out and network and communicate. You have to stay in touch with the business community. Things change so fast in today's business environment.”

Keep searching
These are not the only places BSCs should turn to for help. Family members, whether they are a part of the company workforce or not, are another valuable source for answers and support.

Also, CEOs shouldn’t be afraid to try new sources. Even though it may be a challenge, you have to delve into other sources, says Brown. Pick up the phone or search someone out via the Internet. Help could just be around the corner.

A higher power
During times of doubt, many spiritual CEOs turn to a religious deity, church or organized religion for answers.

“God is the grand manager and we’re just playing out our part,” says Dennis Richards, president, Puritan Cleaning Professionals, Missoula, Mont. “With more than 100 variables that could ruin a business, at the end of the day, you really have no control over success or not. You need somewhere to turn to or you go crazy.”

Through prayer, Richards asks for direction.

“It’s more than just soul searching,” says Richards. “That doesn’t provide answers.”

Prayers are answered in many ways, say Pat McClure, consultant, HLH Systems, a Facility Management Consulting Firm, Dublin Ohio. One of those ways is by introducing new people into a CEO’s life. These people — friends, colleagues, mentors, or otherwise — may be the ones who hold the solution to the challenging decision at hand, she says.