One of the biggest accelerators to business success I’ve discovered is building a network of people who really care about you and your business; people you can go to get person-to-person help. Find a business mentor (or better, mentors) is one of the smartest things you can do for your business.
You need independent people, besides your parents, with business experience and energy to guide you. Without doubt, this has been the single best thing I’ve done in terms of getting help from people.
Knowing people who will take the time to answer an email, or chat on the phone about problem you’re having with your venture is invaluable. With parents, there’s always going to be that parent-child situation. With someone else, this dissolves.
The Internet is Great, but...
Nothing beats face-to-face interaction. Sure, go join online communities, get stuck in, @ people on Twitter and exchange emails, but none of those comes anywhere near swinging by someone’s office at the end of the day, sharing your ideas over lunch or merely catching someone at a conference - face-to-face is where its at.
Facebook - the ultimate example of online networking - is more or less entirely built from relationships you build face-to-face, then nurtured online. Think of the internet from that perspective, and keep it real!
Seth Godin sums it up nicely...
“Business folks” like to think networking involves going to events, meeting as many people as they can, exchanging business cards, then trying to follow up with all of them. Like speed-dating, there’s not much value in each interaction.
“Networking” is B.S. Making friends in the business environment, on the other hand… - Will Critchlow, Distilled
One meaningful relationship is worth thousands of ‘card exchanges’. Focus on individuals, one at a time. Start with your closest circles of influence; people who know you, or know people who know you and explore potential partners around there.
How to Win Friends and Infuence People
Most business skills are really just people skills. If you can really master good people skills - how to communicate, inspire, negotiate, present and make friends - you’ll go far in business. Starting by just winning over a business mentor, by selling yourself to a potential mentor.
Get hold of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and read it cover to cover. Sure,
you could just read a book summary,
but what’s great about getting your own copy of the book is you can read and understand why these techniques work so effectively, then, make it work for you.
Get Your Parents Onboard, Always
This is important for so many reasons. Friction between you and your parents is not going to help either of you. It really pays off to be on good terms with family, parents in particular - don’t make life hard unnecessarily - then you can just focus on having fun and making money.
Talk to Friends and Family
You’ll likely have some friends (or family friends) or family members interested or in business who you can contact, and run ideas past. A “manager” or someone like that might not necessarily be as useful as someone who starts businesses - an entrepreneur - or someone who deals with entrepreneurs. I’ve been lucky in finding both, but you may have to scout around a bit.
Go to Local and Industry Events
Go meet people at local business events, or events relating to the industry you want to work in. It will probably mean spending a bit of money on travel, and even money to get in, but being smart, identifying people you want to meet before hand (hint: use Twitter) and then focusing on just getting your time with them. Take their card, follow up with an email or Skype call. Follow each other on Twitter and for heavens sake, stay in touch!
Ask Your Awesome Clients and Customers
If you’re young, offering a service and have attracted some interesting clientele, then provided you’re sensible about it, clients (who are still people) are often interested in young entrepreneurs. Even just talking about your industry - a natural conversation anyway - is going to be worthwhile.
But my favourite technique for getting awesome mentors is...
Go Get an Internship
Get an internship in an industry you’re really interested in.
It worked for me,
so it can work for you too. Working with people in an organization focused on the same things you care about is only going to be incredibly fun and fulfilling! But building relationships with people in an office over a few weeks or months is invaluable - you simply can’t get that at a networking event.
Better still, as a teenager, its kind of expected to be asking for internships; its not that out-of-line. Pitch something which is beneficial for them; “I’m interested in design. Here’s some best-selling t-shirts I’ve designed. I can do good work for you this July. Let me know what you think.”
Maybe there’s a few companies whose blogs you’ve been following, maybe you've been watching some founders on YouTube talking about their industry. Maybe there's an awesome business who really stand out in your eyes? Go pitch them for an internship.
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