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You’ve got a great idea. Maybe you’ve even got a business plan or a product in development. You’ve also got 1,000 questions about what to do next. One of the smartest things an aspiring entrepreneur can go is seek the counsel of someone who has accomplished what he or she is trying to do. Here are five smart ways to go about doing so:
1. Seek out common venues
It’s certainly much easier to approach a possible mentor when there’s already an established common ground. Buy tickets to attend conferences or other events where you’ll get access to an array of people who have been through a similar experience. That could be a broader gathering, like Entrepreneur Middle East's forums, or something more localized by either geography or business type. There will be enough opportunities for networking that aspiring entrepreneurs will often be able to ask for advice as a part of a larger one-on-one conversation.
2. Use your mutual connections
If you’re already moving forward in trying to get your business established, you’ve most likely met with a number of potential investors, incubators, lawyers, and maybe even an architect who has built out spaces for similar enterprises. Use their relationships to your advantage. It’s much easier to ask someone you are already in contact with if they know anyone who has succeeded at whatever roadblock you’re facing to put you both in touch.
3. Cater your elevator pitch...then make the ask
You’ve probably perfected your 15-second summary of your business venture for prospective clients and investors. Now think about how you want to do that for someone you’re hoping to get advice from. When you meet someone in a setting where there isn’t much time for a long one-on-one conversation, describe your project as succinctly as possible (or even have a 30-second demo video on your phone just in case), but end it with a specific request depending on the person. If you’re speaking to someone who started a successful tech product, it could be as simple as “I feel like our projects both target the underserved, but I’d love to hear more about how you were able to raise your visibility and marketing. Could we schedule a call or coffee at some point in the next week?”
4. Get creative
There’s a reason why lots of business traditionally takes place on a golf course. It’s much easier to get to know someone over a shared activity rather than at a forced networking event or within the time constraints of a packed weekday. For example, a number of venture capitalists and business advisors jumped on motorcycles this past August and rode from town to town listening to pitches and offering advice to local entrepreneurs, holding meetings in barns, antique train stations and other unconventional places. A "business biking" trip might not be the obvious place to find a soundboard for ideas, but it’s certainly one of the more fun ones.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask what went wrong
Sometimes the best thing you can learn from a successful entrepreneur is what not to do. Not all startups find their way right off the bat, so you might be able to get more out of a conversation by asking someone “What shouldn’t I do this?” rather than “What did you do?”
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