When you start your own business, everyone has an opinion. Your brother-in-law thinks you should hire his kid. Your neighbor thinks you should solicit investments from his friend, who is apparently a venture capitalist.
Log into your social media accounts, and you become even more inundated. Put the word “entrepreneur” in your bio, and you’ll find yourself spammed with advice from self-proclaimed experts on the subjects of starting and growing a business.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, put on your earmuffs for a moment and take a deep breath. It’s actually pretty easy to recognize whose advice you should take and whose you should ignore.
It’s said that good fences make good neighbors, and that’s especially true when you’ve mentioned that you’re starting a business. There’s always that neighbor at the block party who seems to know everything about everything. He’s clever and charismatic, and even though you’re the one who knows your business, he’ll probably have you agreeing with him by the end of the conversation.
Don’t do it. Know-it-alls like him are toxic to entrepreneurs like you. These advice-givers are people who think – wrongly, I might add – that just because this is how things work in their industry, then it will be how things work in yours. Sometimes, they are right, but you have to be very particular about taking the business model from one industry and applying it to another.
Instead of listening to that know-it-all neighbor, try a business incubator. You may not learn anything specific to your industry, but you will grow your business network. Does your network have to be limited to your industry? Definitely not.
Just be deliberate in your networking, so it’s not all a waste of time. Don’t stress about your first impression; if you don’t typically wear a suit, then don’t do it at all. Formal networking events will often turn into glad-handing and a forum for the know-it-alls. Instead, be yourself and look to forming lasting business relationships that may lead to something even more fruitful for your business.
Find Your Yoda
Now that you’ve built up a good network, it’s time to look for someone whose advice you want – not someone whose advice they think you need. Steer clear of those who call themselves “entrepreneurial gurus” but offer empty, generic advice. The people who call themselves techie Jedi masters and ask for $35 for their eBook will likely have much less to offer you than a Yoda you have to ask to be your mentor.
Seeking out a mentor from among the members of your business network is a great way to learn more about starting or growing a business. Look for a mentor who isn’t afraid to do things a little differently. Businesses take risks, and if you look to someone who’s a little too cautious in business decisions, you might stymie your own business before it can grow.
Choose your mentor wisely. Look for a mentor who reflects a lot of what you bring to your industry and what you want to accomplish. Your mentor should be experienced enough to offer constructive advice when you ask for it. Find a mentor who has values that are similar to your own. You don’t have to share the same vision for your businesses, but you should at least value the same things, like hard work, family, or creativity. Otherwise, you and your mentor will be talking at cross-purposes.
Ask the Right Questions
Once you’ve decided who you’ll listen to, it’s up to you to be proactive about soliciting advice. Take your cue from recruiters and steer clear of general questions. Asking specific questions of your mentor will get you better information than something like, “Tell me about your business strategy.”
Don’t be afraid, either, to ask these questions of more than one person. The same sticking point in a business plan may solicit that golden solution from an entirely unexpected source.
In the end, it’s up to you to seek out those whose advice will be valuable to yourself and your business.