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Help Me, I'm a Student

Hit up power players for advice now--while you're young and nonthreatening.

You may dream about one day having a personal chat with the powerful, highly influential star players in your industry. But if you're like young entrepreneur Devin Lazerine, you won't have to wait until some far-off day to chat with the who's who--you can do it now. Lazerine, now 22, was e-mailing and calling big-name publishers and famous rap and hip-hop music stars to help launch his magazine, Rap-Up, in 2001--at the ripe old age of 17. Running www.rap-up.com, a website that discusses the ins and outs of rap music and culture, Lazerine initially thought he'd wait until college to get the magazine off the ground--but one day after school, he just decided to get going. "I started pitching this idea to publishers," he recalls. He simply went to newsstands and found the names of the bigwig publishers with whom he wanted to get in touch, and then e-mailed them.

According to experts, it really is that easy to start ramping up your high-profile contacts. "You can call anybody--and in a startling number of situations, people you were scared to call or thought you couldn't call will not only take your call, but will be helpful," says Bruce Kasanoff, a professional speaker and author of Making It Personal: How to Profit from Personalization Without Invading Privacy. "Paradoxically, you often have an easier time reaching out to entrepreneurs, executives and politicians while you're in college than when you're actually out in the job market, because you're not perceived as selling to them directly."

In other words, as a college business owner, you're looking for contacts, mentors and advisors when you seek out high-profile people--you're not begging them for a job. The key to getting your foot in the door is to disclose your student status and explain why you're looking to that person for help. "Think big. Be confident. Be passionate," says Kasanoff. "Anybody who's successful admires drive and energy."

It was certainly Lazerine's drive that got him talking to publishers--and got him in contact with artists like Destiny's Child and Diddy. In fact, when Lazerine spoke to Diddy's publicist and told his story of being a student entrepreneur starting a magazine, the publicist told Diddy--who agreed to be interviewed for the magazine just because he supported what Lazerine was doing. "Be very honest, then listen to the advice they give you," advises Debo-rah Crown Core, professor and MBA director at Ohio University College of Business in Athens. And yes, you will likely face a lot of rejection. Some people won't return your calls or e-mails, but don't take it personally; just move on to someone who will.

To increase your chances, do your homework--know whom you are going to talk to, rehearse your brief opening and the contents of the phone call before you dial, and triple-check your e-mails for errors. Your boldness and drive will pay off, just as it did for Lazerine and his partner and brother, Cameron, 20. The pair estimates circulation of 90,000 and sales of $300,000 for their Calabasas, California, magazine in 2006, as they continue to publish and edit Rap-Up themselves. With plans to eventually launch an entire media empire, someday these two just might become the bigwigs with whom the next generation of student entrepreneurs yearns to network.

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This article was originally published in the May 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Help Me, I'm a Student.

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