THE BLOG

Shut Up and Listen to Your Mentors

02/20/2014 02:06 pm ET | Updated Apr 22, 2014

How to Surround Yourself with Advisors/Mentors that Will Help Build Your Business Faster + Stronger

It takes ego and hubris to launch a startup.

It also takes an overwhelming faith in your ability to execute and a seemingly poor understanding of probability to believe that you can succeed. Oftentimes you have to ignore the doubts and conservative advice of loved ones, and make the leap of faith into entrepreneurship.

But moments after you quit your stable job, you need to shut up and start listening to those who are smarter than you.

The truth is that no matter how brilliant your idea, or how high your IQ, or how amazing your mom thinks you are, you're going to need help in building your company from industry experts. You're not going to reach success by believing that you know more than seasoned professionals. Do not let the ego and hubris that emboldened you to launch your startup prevent you from receiving guidance that is critical for growth.

Heeding the advice of other entrepreneurs, key account managers, former executives, investors, and many other valuable mentors can increase your iteration cycle drastically. Listening to sage advisors will pivot your company towards repeated success, while avoiding the burn of lessons learned the hard way.

So how do you get the right advisors around you?

So 1) how to meet them, and 2) how to keep them interested in continuously to helping you and your business.

So, let's start with #1: Meeting your potential mentor.

Don't go after the celebrity mentors first. Use LinkedIn or other social networking sites to find the same caliber of C-level decision makers who don't have millions of emails coming into their inbox every day.

Most early entrepreneurs that I meet understand the importance of advisors, but do not know how to land the first meeting. I challenge you to try two different approaches when attempting to secure a Very Important Person to meet for coffee:

Approach A: "Hi, VIP. My name is Dave and I want you to help me get my amazing new tech company funded. We need 1.2M. We're crushing it right now and our company is going to disrupt the whole marketplace in 3 months. My time is precious, but I'm free this weekend at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday. Can you call me at that time?"

Approach B: "Hi, VIP. My name is Dave and I'm being introduced to you via my good friend Jill. She said that you have experience in this marketplace and could potentially answer some of our question. My best friend and I started a company that is taking off and we really need advice on how to scale this growth properly.

I know you must be very busy and I can only imagine how many emails you receive asking for advice, but we would appreciate your advice immensely. Are you free sometime next week or the following week? We'll work around your schedule."

If you like approach A, send me your email address so I can filter your emails. Just kidding.

But seriously, approach A is often the hard-charging tactic that we think a Steve Jobs-type would use in order to schedule a meeting. Sure, sometimes it works, but it often fails. What's worse is that you'll build a reputation in your professional ecosystem for having an ego the size of the Titanic. Consequently, no one will want to help you or work with you. Or worse: they'll wish for you to hit an iceberg and watch your dream company sink to the bottom of the startup ocean.

Approach B shows that you understand that you're asking for something with little to no return for your advisors (or at least not right off the bat). This email also acknowledges that you respect their time by allowing them to set a convenient date/time to chat. Lastly, this method explains how they could be useful to you by laying out exactly what you're looking for from prospective mentors. This allows them to ease into a relationship with you and build something meaningful without being guarded.

During the meeting with the advisor, begin with a brief background on your company and why you reached out to him/her. And then shut up and start listening! Prepare by compiling questions and talking points. Then, spend the bulk of your meeting time asking, listening, and learning. At the end of the chat, outline a list of reasonable next steps. Be sure to ask for concrete items, like future calls and introductions to other contacts.

Congrats! You just had a great first meeting.

Now on to #2: Keeping your advisors interested.

After you have the first meeting with a new advisor, how do you keep this person involved in your company?

The answer is quite simple: Implement their advice.

Then keep them up-to-date on company growth and the success of their advice. And always ask more questions. You'll find that in a short amount of time, those mentors will become invested in you and your organization.

Time and time again, Soapbox's mentors have told us that the reason they continue to offer assistance is because they can see the demonstrable effect of their guidance. Additionally, they notice our appreciation for their wisdom. At the end of the day, advisors and mentors want to see the pay off for the time they're investing in you.

For most people, time is the most precious commodity they possess and they want to see ROI. If you can demonstrate that their donation of time is well spent on you, then they will continue to invest.

You can show appreciation by sending gifts and hand-written cards, but only if you are sincere. Whatever you do, do not limit your interactions to only when you need more funding or help.

To recap:

1) Be respectful and diligent in your initial approach in attaining mentors.
2) Ask questions, listen, and then implement their advice. Keep them in the loop through the good times and bad.

Building a support network of smart advisors and investors can spell success for your company. That support network can sustain you when you need them most, if you have built strong relationships with people who are invested in the success of you and your company.