With a Little Help From My Friends

A strong support system will see you through the start-up phase and beyond.
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This story appears in the June 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Starting a business can be one of the most exciting--and yet scary--times of your life. To get through the tough start-up phase, every entrepreneur needs a great support system. Just ask Terri Levine, a business coach and founder of Comprehensive Coaching U in North Wales, Pennsylvania. "Think about creating your own network from day one," says Levine.

For instance, find other businesspeople in your industry through your local chamber of commerce or Young Entrepreneurs' Organization (YEO) chapter. You don't have to actually join these organizations-just meet people through open mixers and similar events. This worked well for Jeff Behrens, founder of The Telluride Group Inc., a technology management company in Newton, Massachusetts. When he incorporated his company in 1995, he networked every way he could-through YEO, with a local group of CEOs . . . everywhere. "The more people I talk to, the more I learn," says Behrens, 35. "Invite them out for lunch or coffee--it's remarkably rewarding and surprisingly easy to do." He found people were more than willing to advise a young start-up. All he had to do was ask. Even now, Behrens says he discusses both his business and personal life with his trusted support network.

Ideally, your support system should include mentors and advisors as well as business peers. Even people you don't know in the flesh can be a support, says Levine. You don't have to physically know a person; you just need to keep their words in your mental arsenal for when the voices in your head shout you down. The essays of an entrepreneurial guru, perhaps, or even a cartoon character can help. One of Levine's clients put Mickey Mouse on his team--to serve as a supportive mind-set to return to when the entrepreneur needed to remember to have more fun in his venture. He would just ask himself: What would Mickey Mouse do in this situation? Says Levine, "I really invite people to get creative."

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