You have a great idea for a product or service that you can’t stop thinking about. You know this is your time. You want to get started now. You’re tired of working for someone else. Deep down, you feel that becoming an entrepreneur is your calling.
You know that there’s risk involved with becoming an entrepreneur. You recognize that you don’t have much experience -- and that you’re underfunded. At this point, you’re smart enough to realize that the best thing you can do for yourself is to find a mentor. But the reality is that mentors aren’t simply readily available to those who need them. In my experience, finding the right one is not unlike finding a needle in a haystack.
Thankfully, I know it’s possible to coach yourself to success. I do have a mentor that I rely for guidance and advice. But I’ve had to teach myself much of what I know. He isn’t an expert on everything, after all. Here's how I did it:
1. Study up. There’s a plethora of avenues to get help from, including books, blogs and podcasts. I’m stunned by the amount of advice and insight that is available to budding entrepreneurs today. From marketing to finance, it’s all out there.
Take advantage of others’ experience by studying up. I’ve immensely enjoyed reading Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki’s business books. Pat Flynn has a killer podcast. I’ve learned about manufacturing techniques from YouTube videos, which are another great resource. Some coaching sites give information away for free in their newsletters.
It’s easy to get lost in the sheer amount of information out there, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
2. Join a startup. From my point of view, the fastest way to learn about business is to join a startup. I worked at Worlds of Wonder, a toy company startup, in the late ‘80s. It was hands-down the best work experience I have ever had. I was invited to contribute to each project the startup undertook. As a result, I absorbed a tremendous amount of information. I should have been paying them!
I helped design products, learned about overseas manufacturing, attended tradeshows and worked with the marketing department. I took what I learned there and started my own company. They thought I was working for them. In hindsight, it feels more like I was being taught how to get a business up and running.
3. Take online classes. They’re extremely affordable and you’ll be able to fit them into your schedule easily. The United States Patent and Trademark Office teaches a free course on how to file patents, for example.
4. Ask to be taken on a tour. I’ve toured everything from marketing-design firms to manufacturing facilities. Make sure to ask a lot of questions. If you find the right person, he or she will talk your head off. I’m betting most businesses in your town will welcome you. I’ve made friends in law offices and distribution centers this way.
5. Attend a tradeshow. Walking the floor of a trade show is one of the best ways to learn about an industry quickly. What are the new products? Where is the industry headed? Who are the major players? Who is your future competition? Where are the opportunities?
You can answer these questions and more at a trade show. Shake hands and give out your card. If there’s a free lecture, don’t miss it. Collect as many free magazines as you can. Get to know who the writers are and follow them.
6. Network. There are meet ups for entrepreneurs in almost every city. LinkedIn groups are another great resource. You might even find a partner. I also highly encourage you to check out SCORE, which connects aspiring entrepreneurs with small-business owners who are willing to offer their time, energy and advice.
Coaching yourself is really about learning. Think of yourself like a sponge: How much can you soak up? There’s more information accessible online than ever before. But don’t just settle for reading and listening. Get creative! Who can you ask for help? Your success depends on your willingness to put yourself out there. Good luck.