Information abounds online, in-print, and through face-to-face meetings that can tell you how to be an entrepreneur. If you look long enough, you will find “the 10 steps to starting a business,” “how to do a feasibility analysis,” and essentially anything else you could possibly need to know to make your dreams a reality. Before you seek these out however, perhaps you would benefit from better defining what your “dreams” really are.

What are the consequences of poorly defined “dreams”, or, goals? Let’s consider a hypothetical University student whose goal in college is to “earn a degree.” If the students goal is to earn a degree, they will only be motivated to do the bare minimum to earn a grade that will allow the attainment of a first job. This ultimately makes them less intellectually curious, hindering their work ethic and decreasing the extent to which they learn how to teach themselves things.

However, if their goal was to “enjoy learning”, or to “master their area of study”, or something similar, the motivation to pursue new challenges would be entirely different. In this scenario, challenging but open-ended assignments from Professors would not feel like hurdles to be overcome but opportunities to learn something new. The student would develop personal areas of interest and realize that through effort they can learn and apply almost anything that they choose to.

This concept also applies to starting a business. Due to the tendency for media to show successful entrepreneurs (as opposed to failed ones), a variety of thought leaders who discuss how to automate business (e.g., the 4-hour work week), and other reasons, many people initially want to start a business because they believe it will make them a lot of money. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs, on average, don’t make much more than the typical employee (Shane, 2008), even though the low percentage of extremely successful entrepreneurs do make much more.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is that being an entrepreneur to make a lot of money inevitably will set you up to fail, just like the University student who is only in school to earn a degree. Why? Because entrepreneurship is rife with failures, dead ends, twists and turns, etc. It is extremely rare for an entrepreneur to achieve the glamorized success that is often portrayed, and even when they do, it tends to be after years of extreme sacrifices. In a University setting in America, you can get by with only putting in half the effort and doing the bare minimum to get a good grade. However, in a competitive entrepreneurial environment this is not the case. You need the self-discipline, motivation, and resilience to persist through the difficult times. If you go into it “for the money”, I contend that you will find it difficult to display these qualities consistently.

If you shouldn’t start a business with the dream of making it big, then why should you? There are many possible motivations, but I would contend that one essential goal is adding value to someone. For example, a new dry cleaning business may seek to “make University students comfortable and confident for their first interviews.” This can involve sub-goals, too. For example, a restaurant owner, in addition to providing delicious food, could see their establishment as a way to “teach high school students how to feel empowered through their work” or to “instill the value of teamwork and unity to employees.”

Each of these goals has inherent motivational value. Why do you persist when the going gets tough? Because it will facilitate purposeful goals: adding value, improving lives, giving back to the world, etc. If you are finding yourself lacking motivation, ask yourself: why am I doing what I’m doing?

P.S. For a related reading, check out this article from Jayson DeMers on Entrepreneur.

A student of mine came to me after class today. He is a bright student pursuing what I believe to be an interesting idea. Specifically, he is interested in opening an Urban Lounge. This student spent the last five weeks attending a weekly meeting of entrepreneurs which culminates in all attendees giving a 90-second elevator pitch for cash ($500 / $1,000 / $1,500 for 3rd, 2nd, and 1st place, respectively). Yet, he told me that despite preparing to pitch his Urban Lounge he now wanted to pitch a new idea altogether.

After talking over his second idea, it was clear it hadn’t been thought out as well as the first. Further, something seemed fishy about the sudden change of heart. After probing into the logic behind moving away from the first idea, I found that the only reason he switched was because he was afraid that the judges weren’t interested in Lounge concepts! He was willing to give up on his dream, despite never pitching this idea even once, purely because of the fear associated with sharing his idea. If this isn’t prove of the power behind fear, I don’t know what it is. Thankfully, when I noted to him that this was not a good reason to avoid pitching his Lounge, he stepped up to the challenge and decided he would pitch his Lounge after all. If I would have let him back down from his pursuits, I would not be doing an adequate job as his teacher and mentor.

Despite my capability to help my student with his fear, I am struggling with my own. With my dissertation defense quickly approaching (March 15th!), stress levels are at an all-time high. Everyone things I shouldn’t be stressed given that I am meant to be an “expert” on stress; however, we have all seen overweight doctors, haven’t we? Unfortunately, this is no different. I can understand the stress process, but it doesn’t necessarily make me immune to its effects. I am human, after all.

Fortunately, two things happened today. First, Nick, an entrepreneur that I have had the pleasure of working towards my PhD with, gave me some strong words of encouragement. Second, I happened to stumble upon an intriguing Facebook post. It was written by an entrepreneur who I once had the great pleasure of working for:

“Some of you have and are probably working through ideas yourself. If I can do anything for you, I hope that I can encourage you to believe in the unbelievable. Work on your idea. Spend time with it. If you don’t have time then MAKE TIME. No idea is too crazy. Like I told [my son] last night. Nearly Everything that you see around you was once just an “idea”. Some crazier than others. But they all share one thing in common. They started as just an idea. And I’m damn thankful that they didn’t give up. Get the most of yourself. Surround yourself with people who make you better. And play with your ideas. Someday people you don’t even know may be as thankful as I am for what you’ve done!”

Both my conversation with Nick and this Facebook post were therapeutic for me. They’ve given me atleast a temporary sense of calm in what has been a stressful period. Namely, it has helped me to see that while my dissertation is not perfect in any way, it is the kernel of an idea that could grow into a respectable idea someday. Although my expectations for myself are high, and I have lofty goals, it is okay that I’m not there yet. As I told my student through an email later in the day: “Overall, I think you have a good idea and you are a good writer! Confidence is something that is built by persisting through struggles. Nobody has ever been confident who did not struggle beforehand. You are going to do well at the pitch, but, the fact that you are doing the pitch at all is what really matters! “

So don’t forget to do your put to help those that are below you; and don’t forget that those ahead of you will share their help in kind!

I had the pleasure of engaging in a brief interview with the founder of Read Up, a reading platform for kids. You can access them here!

What is your business, and what led you to start it? 

Read Up. I was sending my daughter books and they were expensive. I thought parents should have an unlimited supply of books for a small fee.

What is it about your business that brings the most happiness to your life?

The fact that the idea came from interactions with my daughter. The content is original and it can really help kids with their reading.

What is the largest source of stress from operating your venture?

Making sure there’s a steady growth of subscribers.

If you had to tell a new entrepreneur one tip to stay healthy as they begin building their business, what would you tell them?

Depending on the business, make sure you invest time working on your business and not in your business.

What is the most important resource available to you that helps you deal with stress from entrepreneurship?

Talking to other entrepreneurs!

For those unaware, there is a thriving entrepreneurial community on r/entrepreneur (“r/” is used to indicate a community group on Reddit, and is typically referred to as a “subreddit”). They discuss all things related to entrepreneurship, and come from a wide variety of industries, backgrounds, and ages. One member of their community, u/Byobcoach, recently posted their entrepreneurial story, and agreed to let me share it! I have added in a few headings with their story and pasted it below. Enjoy!

Introduction

House painting! Everyone needs it. So few do it, and if they do…in most cases (they’re not operating efficiently)

Actually, a majority of House painting companies are 1 or 2 people painting houses…doing everything…

Estimating

Keeping track of numbers

Following up

The actual painting

Doing touchups

Answering the phone…

Etc etc…

Is there anything wrong with this? Of course not. Nothing wrong with people going out there and making a living. Actually, some of the BEST painters I’ve seen come from this 1 and 2 man operation.

Here’s the problem…

They’re afraid to delegate. They are so used to being hands on that they can’t see themselves taking on a CEO type role.

What’s that do?

It limits their capabilities.

What I did differently:

I’ve never been a professional painter, actually, the only painting I ever did was one summer with my Dad. That’s the only exposure I’ve had.

But, due to a passion to help my dad get back on his feet, and my fire for entrepreneurship…I ventured in just two years ago.

First, I quit my bank job and took the leap.

Then, I rapidly gained exposure by using paid lead resources like HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, and Thumbtack. The more jobs I booked, the more confident I was to bring on another person.

and another…

and another…

Eventually I began delegating roles and responsibilities.

We were repeating the same process over and over… My job as the owner was to do my best to make it as easy as possible for my painters to complete.

Since then (I’m in my 3rd year) I’ve grown my company to a $60,000+ per month painting company. We have 10 employees and average 4-5 houses per week.

My daily responsibilities:

Check in with project managers

Do estimates (occasionally)

Follow up with CRM software

Follow up with customers

That’s it.

No office, no company vehicles…just a system, that works.

Some houses we paint in a day, others…two or 3 days depending on the size and the specifications.

And to be honest, my theory was simple…

“I’m going to treat house painting like every other business that succeeds out there… someone at the top delegating and calling the shots with a birds eye view”

It’s impossible to do everything from the bottom level…and if you’re operating a business like this, then I strongly suggest you begin delegating and developing systems so you can truly get in the driver seat.

Book recommendation: The E-Myth

I’m sharing this because a leap of faith got me to this point, and thus I want others to see that it’s possible to make money outside of what everyone else is doing. There’s a ton of money to be made in this type of industry, and there’s a ton of people out there willing to do the work for you. You just need to provide a good enough foundation (system) for them to do it in.

Conclusion

Wow! There is certainly a lot to take away from this story. Here are three big takeaways that stand out to me: First, apply logic from other industries to your own! u/Byobcoach saw that other organizations tend to have entrepreneurs who are “at the top delegating and calling the shots with a birds eye view”, and thus figured it was worth trying this in the painting business! This brings us to our second point: do not be afraid to delegate! As discussed a long time ago in the 4-hour workweek by Tim Ferris, the key to your own well-being is keeping yourself out of the venture as opposed to keeping yourself in. Third, passion and confidence may be instrumental in finding early success.

Did you find this an enjoyable read? If so, please subscribe to get more entrepreneurial content!

The action which follows an opinion depends as much upon the amount of confidence in that opinion as it does upon the favorableness of the opinion itself – Knight (1921)

“Overconfidence is ego. In my experience, overconfidence leads to dumb mistakes that you otherwise wouldn’t make if you managed your ego. When you don’t manage your ego, you lose focus, attention to detail, and become complacent. Confidence is great, overconfidence is never good. In the industry I work in, overconfidence will get you or someone else seriously injured or killed.” – u/ChooChooBuckaroo, a Reddit Entrepreneur.

What is Overconfidence?

Overconfidence can be defined simply as “overestimating the probability of being right” (Busenitz & Barney, 1997: p. 2). Evidence suggests that entrepreneurs, compared to managers, are more likely to be overconfident (Busenitz & Barney, 1997). Not surprisingly, three factors that make entrepreneurs more likely to exhibit overconfidence are: youth, being the founder of the venture, and having less education (Forbes, 2005). Yet, these are just averages: any entrepreneur may experience times of overconfidence. As a result, it may be worth considering the possible upsides and downsides to overconfidence.

The Upsides of Overconfidence

Overconfidence can have positive aspects. Entrepreneurs oftentimes need to persuade others to join their cause, and a confident attitude could help to generate the enthusiasm necessary for that persuasion to work. For example, entrepreneurs may need to inspire co-founders, investors, and the first employees to take substantial risks on something that may very well fail. How likely would you be to join a firm if the entrepreneur was not confident in its success, despite the odds?

In addition, entrepreneurs often experiences many small, medium, and large failures on their way to success. Indeed, stories abound on Podcasts like “How to Start a Startup“, and others like it, where entrepreneurs find themselves pitching to over 100 investors before getting just 1 yes. Overconfidence may be a necessary ingredient to this continual pursuit despite the seemingly never-ending failures to get there.

The Downsides of Overconfidence

However, overconfidence can have negative ramifications. Just as overconfidence can serve to facilitate support from those around an entrepreneur, it can also be a turn-off. Indeed, if one is too overconfident and does not deliver on expected results, soon available social networks will start to realize that the entrepreneur is indeed overconfident, and likely not taking the necessary actions to support that overconfidence. If you are always very confident that you will succeed, but you spend more time thinking about how confident you are than you do actually working towards a tangible goal, then overconfidence is holding you back!

Entrepreneurs, in addition to building their ventures, need to make strategic decisions that may reap great rewards or result in failure. When making such strategic decisions, an overconfident entrepreneur may not adequately assess the external environment, causing the firm to pursue a supposed opportunity that never really had a chance. Or, perhaps worse, overconfidence may lead an entrepreneur to be blind to alternatives that would be better, if only the time was taken to look. A Similar logic applies to the pursuit of the business opportunity to begin with.
As Albus Dumbledore once said: “Entrepreneurial opportunities can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

In closing, overconfidence is prevalent in entrepreneurship, and can be used for good or bad. How are you using it?

I had the chance to talk with Chad Turner, an entrepreneur hustling to develop brands on Instagram and Twitter. His comments were very insightful; in fact, I provided my 5-BIG takeaways from this talk down below. You can find him at @whiteridernow on Twitter!

What is your business, and how did you identify your business idea?

My business is a social media marketing company that manages Instagram and twitter brands for targeted growth. I identified my idea after a few other affiliate companies I was marketing went out of business. I realized I should do my own thing and I had unique skills in this area from years of marketing on social media.

After identifying your business idea, what steps did you take to figure out if it was an idea worth pursuing?

I Did test marketing, and the demand was high. I also had highest retention of any other products or services I have marketed in the past by far.

What is the most important trait of a successful entrepreneur, and can it be developed over time?

The most important trait is cultivating the right mindset to be able to take daily, consistent, and flexible action toward the goal.

What is the largest source of stress from operating your venture?

As far as I can see when you enjoy what you do the only place for stress would be feeling like you don’t have enough resources, or not giving yourself the gift of time.

Has entrepreneurship developed a sense of purpose in your life? If so, can you describe how?

Yes, entrepreneurship has developed a sense of purpose in my life from being able to rise every time you fall. To be able to get through each obstacle without loss of enthusiasm. It’s an amazing journey, but isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. This quote from the Lord of The Rings came to mind and seems to be a good summary of my experience so far. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

My BIG-5 Takeaways from this interview:

  1. Prior experience may unlock a unique business opportunity.
  2. Validate your idea with market data instead of pursuing blindly.
  3. To succeed in entrepreneurship, mindset matters!
  4. Your venture will consume your life, if you let it!
  5. Watch LoTR for awesome entrepreneurial quotes!

I did a brief interview with the founder of The Optimists Voices. After reading the interview, you can find the founder,
Victor Perton, on twitter at @OptimistsVoices.

What is your business opportunity?

Asking people “What makes you optimistic?”

How did it start?

I came back to Australia after working across North and South America as a Trade Commissioner and then working as Senior Adviser to the Australian G20 presidency. Everywhere I had travelled and worked, there was a rightful admiration for Australian leadership, innovation, “get up and go” and humour. However, in Australia, I found bleak conversations about Australian leadership. It made no sense to me. I founded The Australian Leadership Project and have asked over 1200 Australians about what makes a good Australian leader. It became clear: there are millions of Australians leading in Australia and globally with the three key Australian leadership traits of (1) “egalitarian leadership”, (2) “self effacing humour”, and (3) “no bullshit plain speaking.” So why the disconnect? My Eureka moment was the Global Integrity Summit 2017 where I keynoted on a panel I had proposed the Board, “The Case for Optimism.” The reaction was incredible. It was clear people wanted stories and messages of hope and optimism. Optimism breeds action while pessimism paralyses.

What is the most important trait of a successful entrepreneur, and can it be developed over time?

Realistic Optimism. Generally, entrepreneurs are natural optimists but it’s important that they generate optimism in their team, their friends, family and beyond. Demonstrating gratitude is hugely important from a thank you to the waiter, the bus driver and the street cleaner to the leaders in their ecosystem.

What is the largest source of stress from operating your venture?

I don’t get stressed in work and business. I look for the joy and happiness. I recently delivered a workshop in prison and was asked by the prisoners to return. On the return, a notorious convicted criminal returned for a second workshop and told the other prisoners to listen to me: he said optimism was crucial to survival in prison but even more important in the outside world to succeed and not to return to prison. To be a recidivist was to be a [expletive] he told them. What joy I got from hearing his interpretation of my work with his fellow inmates.

Has entrepreneurship developed a sense of purpose in your life? If so, can you describe how?

No. My sense of purpose is derived from helping other people to become more optimistic and happier. My entrepreneurial venture was derived from that purpose. My nickname at the G20 was “Captain Happy.”

Is Entrepreneurship For Me?

In my prior post, I asked “What is Entrepreneurship?” Such a large question cannot be answered in one blog post, but I am hoping that the discussion was helpful. Now I want to explore if entrepreneurship is the right thing for your life or not. This is the exact question I posed to my class, and I am thrilled to share our discussion with you!

Entrepreneurship
The combination of my students’ wonderful minds and my ugly writing!

How is Entrepreneurship Different From a Job?

First, I asked the class to write down as many differences as they could between entrepreneurship and a normal job. As you can see in the photo above, they came up with a lot of great examples. What we found interesting is that each difference brings unique advantages and disadvantages. For example, not having a boss does offer a lot of autonomy to pursue your passions more easily. Yet, nobody watches an entrepreneur to remind them to do their job! Thus, being your own boss requires self-discipline to consistently work hard without anyone reminding you to.

Another important difference is that the sources of stress, and options for coping with them, may be different. A job may have stressors related to an unfair, uncaring, and mean boss, which the employee may have little control over changing. Entrepreneurs do not have a boss, but as a result, may deal with the loneliness of having nobody to talk to that will understand their challenges. Thankfully, entrepreneurs have more flexibility in coping: a lonely entrepreneur can dedicate some of their “work” time to building a network of entrepreneurs who can they vent to and seek advice from (see my earlier post for advice on building that network). In short, entrepreneurship is different from a job: these differences are not necessarily good or bad but do need to be understood!

Who is the Ideal Entrepreneur?

Given that entrepreneurship is different from a job, what kind of person does it take to succeed as an entrepreneur? In other words, who is the ideal entrepreneur? Patience, optimism, confidence, the list goes on and on. But, can these be developed? In short, yes. For a longer answer, I would encourage you to watch this very cool entrepreneurial story, but don’t forget to come back here afterwards!

We agreed as a class that the takeaway of this discussion was even if you don’t view yourself as an entrepreneur now (as in, you do not believe you have entrepreneurial characteristics) that does not mean you cannot become an entrepreneur. If you decide to be an entrepreneur, then: (1) many of these characteristics can be developed over time and (2) you have the autonomy to design your environment to emphasize your strengths. In other words, you can become more patient, more optimistic, and more confident, and you can structure your work in a way that facilitates that!

Thus, in closing, no matter who you are and what your background is, you can be an entrepreneur! Please leave a comment below to let me know what you think about this post. If you have a friend who is interested in entrepreneurship, please share this blog on your social media!

The first question to ask yourself if you are interested in entrepreneurship is “What is Entrepreneurship?” I teach an Introduction to Entrepreneurship course and, as indicated in the prior sentence, focus the first day on answering this question. Below I will summarize the activity I employed to try to get my students active, engaged, and thoughtful in trying to answer this difficult question.

First, after I provided large notecards to everyone, I asked the class to independently “draw entrepreneurship.” Afterwards, they took turns explaining what they drew to a partner and why it represented entrepreneurship to them. There was an incredible amount of diversity in the drawings. One young lady seemed to be describing a process of idea generation, adding value, and receiving payment. One gentlemen drew an ominous cave to represent the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. Yet another gentleman used the simplicity of a mere hammer, demonstrating that entrepreneurship takes hard work and the ingenuity to use the same tools for a variety of different situations. Takeaway: entrepreneurship can look like many different things!

Second, I asked my students to write a definition of entrepreneurship. I intentionally dissuaded them from writing the “formal textbook definition”, and instead asked that they use their own definition. Then, each student found a partner. Each pair of partners compared and contrasted definitions, ultimately deriving a new definition that they both agreed on. They repeated this process in groups of 4, and then groups of 8. Finally, each group of 8 wrote their definitions on the board. At this point, we identified several words that existed across all definitions. Some of the most noteworthy ones were: idea, opportunity, process, passion, and resilience.

Each of these words spawned an interesting discussion for the class:

(1) What is the difference between an idea and an opportunity? We concluded that an idea can only become an opportunity through making the idea tangible, but that through tangible action it becomes more clear if the idea really ever was an opportunity at all. Takeaway: If you have an idea, move quickly to figure out its efficacy, and iterate accordingly.

(2) When does “entrepreneurship” start? The initial answers to this were along the lines of “when the business is formed.” However, what did it take to form the business? Well…an idea! What did it take to form the idea? This is where the light bulbs went off in the room. Indeed, we realized that to have an idea and subsequently form a venture, you need the requisite prior experiences to make sense of the environment and see the opportunity. Takeaway: if you want to be an entrepreneur, cultivate unique and interesting experiences that will give you the foresight to see business opportunities in a particular field.

(3) Why do passion and resilience matter? As it turns out, entrepreneurship isn’t all it is made out to be! What they don’t tell you about entrepreneurship is that it can be very stressful. Do not expect to be sitting on a beach drinking margaritas! Many entrepreneurs turn out to be such hard workers that even if they achieve financial success to pursue such leisures, they struggle to do so. Passion for your business and resilience to stressors are a very important part to a holistic strategy to cope with entrepreneurial stress. Takeaway: when looking for business ideas, consider starting with asking yourself “what do I like to do?”

Third, we played a game called “entrepreneurship or not entrepreneurship.” Everyone in the class stood up. I said a phrase, such as “Creating the first desktop computer” and the class responded in one of two ways: (1) if they thought it counted as entrepreneurship, they clapped loudly twice; conversely, if (2) they did not believe it was entrepreneurship, they raised both hands in the air. Admittedly, the whole thing was a bit silly, but I have an 8:00 AM class, so I need to be creative with waking everyone up. Here were the phrases:

(1) Developing Facebook

(2) A self-employed personal trainer

(3) A self-employed photographer

(4) Starting an accounting firm

(5) Starting a small pizza restaurant

(6) Opening a lemonade stand

(7) Selling a pre-existing product online

There was a lot of debate, but ultimately the entire class agreed that each phrase did count as entrepreneurship, despite their differences in degrees of innovativeness. Takeaway: You can be an entrepreneur in many ways; it isn’t always about developing the next big innovation, although it can be!

In closing, instead of me giving you a definition of entrepreneurship, I would like to ask you to give me your own definition! Please leave a comment below: how would you define entrepreneurship?

About 3 and a half years ago, I entered the Strategy, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations PhD program at the University of Tennessee (UT). I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by top-tier scholars here at UT who helped me navigate my development as a researcher and teacher. Below, I’ll briefly describe my favorite thing about the academic profession and tie it to actionable advice for new entrepreneurs.

My favorite thing about academia is the mentorship process. It seems hardwired into the community that when someone needs help: help them! I have found evidence of this both at UT and in the much larger academic field of management, which spans the globe. Within the UT department, I have lost count of the number of times that I have walked into a faculty members office with a question, and had them immediately stop what they were doing to give me their full attention. Often times, these faculty members must know that: (1) my question is probably a bit silly and something I could find on my own if I tried hard enough, (2) their choice to help me likely does not influence their pay, and (3) answering my questions is an interruption to the important work they need to accomplish! Nonetheless, every time I walk into their office with a question, I get their full attention, and leave the office with actionable steps to improve on the issue I had.

Within the broader academic community, it is very hard to describe exactly how committed everyone is to helping each other out. Fortunately, I have an exemplary circumstance to make it clear! I am a member of the Academy of Management Entrepreneurship Division. My first time attending the Entrepreneurship Division Social, which is likely termed ‘social’ as a way to encourage more informal discussion, I instead chose to walk around with a tiny notebook and pencil, asking as many people as would listen to me for advice on a data collection I was preparing. So, imagine you are at a social event, and this crazy person is going around asking you to work for their benefit by picking your brain for 15-20 minutes. Would you help them? How many people do you think gave me advice at this meeting? I’ll tell you: 100% of the people I asked for advice, gave me advice. All in all, this amounted to over 15 scholars, all of whom had far more experience than I did, and whose contributions made the study possible.

For an early stage entrepreneur, what is the takeaway here? In short, those who have already been where you want to be are the best ones to ask for advice and guidance, and they are also likely the most willing to give it to you! If you want to learn more about entrepreneurship, or want advice on an idea, get out there and start talking to the entrepreneurial community! Here are some actionable steps to get you started:

  1. Practice your introduction. You need to start with something concise that introduces yourself and gets right to the point. For example, when I introduced myself at the Entrepreneurship Division Social, I always started with the same thing: “Hi, my name is Mike Lerman, and I am a 2nd year PhD student at the University of Tennessee. I study entrepreneurial well-being, and am currently working on a study to understand how entrepreneurs experience stress. Would you be open to giving me some advice on the project?”
  2. Develop a list of questions that you want the answer to. You don’t necessarily need to print it out and carry it with you, but the process of thinking through the questions that you need answers to most will go a long way towards helping you drive the conversation.
  3. Find where the entrepreneurs are! Wherever you are, there are likely entrepreneurs lurking around. Look for: (1) local entrepreneurial support organizations (here at Knoxville we have the Knoxville Entrepreneurship Center; http://knoxec.com/), (2) small businesses, (3) those around you who may know entrepreneurs.
  4. Document while they are talking! Carry a small notebook to write down the important things they are saying. The benefits of this are twofold: (1) it helps you remember what they are saying, and (2) it shows that you care about their advice!
  5. Implement and Iterate! At this point, you have successfully found an early-stage mentor who has given you advice and likely their contact information. Put forth an honest effort to accomplish whatever task they gave you as quickly as possible (without sacrificing quality). Then, touch base them with your results and further advice. In speaking with several academics and entrepreneurs, one of the biggest reasons a mentorship does not develop is because the mentee simply does not follow the advice of the mentor. Of course, this defeats the entire purpose of getting advice to begin with!

In closing, I can speak from experience and say that I would have had no shot making it through the PhD program without excellent mentors. In fact, the willingness of the entire academic community to assist me in various ways has proven to be my favorite part about the profession. If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur (or in any profession), finding a strong mentor and implementing their advice could be a strong influence towards your success!

Does anything about this post stand out to you? What are you thinking after reading this? Please leave a comment below to let me know! Thank you for reading!