Written By: Nadine Robinson, Co-Founder, Flok
I co-founded my company with someone who is a fearless networker, a stout risk-taker, and is not afraid to ask anyone anything. She constantly asks for and takes feedback gratefully and thoughtfully, using it to fuel her onwards. These qualities, however, don’t come naturally for me. I am instinctively risk-adverse, I hate asking for help, and I’m a bit of an introvert.
Needless to say, my co-founder, Clio, has the stereotypical personality of an entrepreneur, and I perhaps have the personality of a librarian (no offence to librarians). However, by being by her side, I have witnessed the incredible power of simply asking for feedback and advice. I honestly believe that without it, we wouldn’t have raised the capital we needed, found our initial employees, met our advisors, or built the product we now have in nine short months.
Here is my list of my top ten tips for asking for, listening to, and (sometimes) ignoring advice.
1. Reach deep into your rolodex
When starting out your business, do a thorough scan of everyone you’ve ever worked with, met at an event, are friends or acquaintances with, or even dated. Make a list of each person that you think would have any experience or advice for any aspect of your business, or even those who may know someone who would. Make a point to reach out to each person individually to let them know what you’re working on and ask if they’d be willing to grab a coffee or have a quick call.
2. Remember that most people love to help
I always thought that asking someone to take time out of his or her day to provide advice to a newbie entrepreneur would be a burden. Surprisingly, most people see it as quite the opposite and are more than happy to help if they can. It’s safe to say that every successful person got to where they are today because others helped them out along the way.
3. Do your research
Before you meet, learn as much as you can about an individual’s past work experience, education, and any organizations with which they’ve worked. This will help to keep your asks on track and show them that you’re taking their time seriously.
4. Pitch to anyone who will listen
You may be unsure whether it would be worthwhile meeting with a few of your contacts as you’re uncertain about potential alignment. When in doubt, meet anyways. The more people you talk to, the better you’ll become at pitching your business and talking through your challenges – and you never know how helpful someone could be.
5. When in doubt, trust your gut
This really surprised me, but sometimes there is no right answer. For one question you pose to three very smart and successful people, you can receive three completely conflicting pieces of advice. This is when you have to edit the advice you’ve received and trust your own instincts.
6. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know
Candidly admit if you’re facing a question or issue in your business with which you have no experience. It’s ok. No one expects you to be an expert when you’re first starting out. Feel confident in the knowledge that you do have, and open to learning what you don’t know. After all, that’s why you’re meeting in the first place.
7. Actually listen
If you’re going to take time out of someone’s day to ask for advice, make sure you’re ready to actually consider what he or she tells you. You may not love the advice, or agree with it, but do yourself a favour and legitimately consider it. Also, remember to take notes either during or after your meeting so you don’t forget any details.
8. Show your gratitude & return the favour
Make sure to follow up every meeting with a thank you note – email works great, but think about going the extra mile and sending an age-old hand written thank-you card. Or, for someone who helps you significantly, a bottle of wine or flowers goes a long way. Also, if there’s any way you can help them with what they’re working on, jump at the chance.
9. Always close with a small request
This is one of the most important things to remember: at the end of every meeting, ask if there is anyone else they can introduce you to that would be interested in or aligned with your business. Cast that net as wide as possible!
10. Keep in contact
When you ask for early advice from someone, it really builds a tie to your business. When you start seeing success, they will feel like they were a part of your journey. Make sure to send the occasional note to update them on your progress and thank them again for their contribution. It helps to keep your company top-of-mind, and you never know what can come of it.