“Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”

Chances are you’ve heard some version of this quote, commonly attributed to the music artist Mark Ambrose, and if you haven’t the meaning is fairly straightforward – we tend to become like the people around us.

Therefore, we must choose our company wisely. We must do this even more so when buying a business or starting a new one of our own.

Networking is one of the primary ways we work towards achieving our future goals. In the first blog post of this series, we looked at how entrepreneurs can set SMART goals in seven areas of our lives, but how are we supposed to accomplish them?

Sitting down with someone who has succeeded in their field to find out how they accomplished their goals will often help us achieve ours. This process can become a healthy mentorship, which is a critical factor in the success of newly owned businesses.

Yet, even though we may know the importance of networking and finding good mentors, it’s not always obvious how to go about it. No one wants to go to a networking event only to end up wasting a whole evening trapped in a corner with someone who is trying to sell you something.

So to avoid that awkward scenario, and to help you surround yourself with mentors who can positively impact your future, I talked to three people in my own network: Brennan Turner, President, CEO and Co-Founder of Farmlead, Alain Goubau, COO and Co-Founder of Farmlead, and Sam Sawchuk, Co-Founder of InTheirShoes.

Together, we’ve come up with three tips that will help you network for success.

1. Be Selective

The first tip is to be as specific as possible about what you need and who can provide it.

If your issue is outlining the steps you need to take to achieve your goal, consider connecting with people you know in the same field who have achieved similar goals. If they’ve managed to run the whole race and win, they can certainly help you find the starting line.

If you need to step outside of your usual network, either through social media like LinkedIn or at an event, don’t be afraid to approach someone directly, openly, and honestly. The latter may be the most important and difficult since it requires being honest with yourself as well.

“As entrepreneurs, we rarely want to suggest that we are uncertain about something, or that things aren’t going exactly as planned,” says Alain. “That’s where building a strong network of contacts and mentors helps. They aren’t there to hear your pitch. They want to hear the truth, and nothing but the truth, to really help you. Being honest with your network is the best way to avoid making costly mistakes.”

2. Don’t Waste Time

Once you’ve arranged time to meet someone who can help you, don’t waste it! Prepare questions in advance, at least five, that relate specifically to your issue. Don’t bother asking anything you can find out online.

“Check out their personal website, blog, LinkedIn profile, Twitter account – everything you can before having a conversation with them,” says Sam. “It will not only help you make the most of your time with them, it will also make a strong impression and build a good foundation for future mentorship opportunities.”

“Treat every contact like gold,” adds Brennan. “They are offering you a precious commodity – their time. Show them respect, and they will always make themselves available to you.”

3. Re-View Your Goals

Once you’ve received the advice you were looking for, look again at the goals you initially set. In light of this new information, are they still appropriate, or will modifying them improve your chances for success?

Are your immediate goals actually going to move you towards your ultimate goals? I had nine goals going into a Pitch Party event, and after receiving some excellent mentorship, I removed three of them completely and shifted my immediate goals to communications and marketing, something I hadn’t previously recognized as an issue.

“Always come out of a mentoring interaction with a set of action points that you are going to execute on,” says Sam. “Conversations are great, but you should always make it a point to come out of them with a purpose.”

“At the end of the day, your network – and especially your mentors – understand that you (the business owner) are best suited to make the final call about your business needs,” says Alain. “They can help you think through the problems you’re having and draw parallels with their own experience or industries. If you have a good rationale for adjusting your goals or actions, there’s nothing wrong with doing so.”

Who are you going to surround yourself within the upcoming year? Entrepreneurs do not need to reinvent the wheel. There are many great mentors in our communities both locally and globally that would be willing to pass on their best practices and help you become the person you want to be and achieve your goals.

Written by: Alison Anderson, Founder, Succession Matching

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