There are several contenders for the “most important” factor to a business’s success, including the strength of the idea, the timing of the company and the cohesive force of your employees. But my money’s on experience -- the industry and entrepreneurial experience of the person in charge and the cumulative experience of the team.
The trouble is, all entrepreneurs are inexperienced the first time they launch a business. And there’s only one way to overcome this inexperience quickly: by engaging in a mentorship or advisor program, thereby drawing on someone else’s experience.
If you’re sufficiently insightful and humble, you'll recognize the importance of asking for help and being open to external feedback. Mentors are the way to achieve this.
But, how do you find mentors? There are dozens of ways, but these 10 have my highest recommendation:
1. Networking events
Networking events are designed to put people in contact with one another, making these events perfect opportunities to expand your professional network. Try to talk to as many people as you can, and don’t be too forward with your goals; instead, wait for a potential partnership to make itself evident to you.
2. Entrepreneur 'hot spots'
If you live in a city with a thriving startup scene, there are probably several entrepreneurial “hot spots” in the area -- I use that ambiguous term because they vary so wildly. For example, there might be a startup incubator with an open workspace where you can get some work done and still meet some new people in the industry, or else a weekly brainstorming meeting among creative minds at the downtown library. Keep your eyes peeled, and attend whatever you can.
3. LinkedIn and Twitter
I'm tempted to put “social media” here, but Twitter and LinkedIn are the big players for connecting with professionals. Find potential candidates based on your industry and/or demographic area, and be sure to introduce yourself casually and unassumingly before asking for a more significant engagement.
4. Small Business Development Centers
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are independent organizations that provide resources, expertise and advice to emerging entrepreneurs in major cities across the country. Drawing on Small Business Administration federal funds, state and local government funds and resources from the private sector, you should be able to find free consultation at an SBDC near you.
SCORE is an organization dedicated to helping individuals start, run and grow their own businesses. There are currently more than 11,000 volunteers in the program, with 320 chapters around the country; you can check here for a chapter near you. Through SCORE, you can request a free face-to-face meeting with a mentor to discuss your business idea -- and you may be able to form a more lasting partnership.