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January 26, 2010

Will you be one of my people?

I know very little about running a business (apparently not enough to know I should have a functioning voicemail system, hehe, thanks readers). But there's one thing I know so far: surround yourself with good people. People you can trust, whose advice you respect. People who are willing to share some of what they've learned or help you in various tiny but crucial ways, knowing you'll do exactly the same for them, and others, when you're in a position to.

So that's what I've been doing. Asking left and right for meetings with, and advice from, individuals who I believe are successful in the domains I want to know more about.

Today, for example, I had a conversation with one of my new officemates. He's a marketing expert who focuses on helping small businesses establish themselves. What more could a fresh startup hope for in a friendly neighbor?

I mentioned a few choices I'm facing and he gave me his take. It wasn't an official "counseling session" at a desk, but the kind of fluid conversation you have by the watercooler. And I left with some useful ideas and, more importantly, the awareness that everything will be experimental; there is no clear path. I'll need to try 20 things before I decide what works, and that's if I'm lucky. That's very good to know, going in. Thank you.

A few days earlier, I asked a very successful San Diego entrepreneur if she'd sit down with me, so we could chat about what it takes to get a business up and running. It wasn't a total cold call, since I went to school with her kids and I'm often in her establishments (she runs several restaurants my family and I love). But it was a bit of a risk. She's not an old friend or someone I know very well, and maybe it came out of left field for her. But if I don't reach out, stretch, try to learn from the best -- if I don't at least ask and let them turn me down, instead of closing doors on my own -- how will I grow? (I mean, I can always fall on my face and learn from that, but if I have a mentor telling me, "pothole head" it might spare some bruises...)

Finally, I set up a meeting with a SCORE counselor. SCORE is a small business advising organization staffed by retired business people who offer free advice and some paid seminars. I found out about it by chance, while talking to someone else about his new business, and I made an appointment for a free Q and A session on Thursday.

So lots of asking going on, behind the scenes. Over time, of course, I hope to know enough to be able to teach others!

I can sense the focus of this blog changing, and asking becoming relevant in different ways. From asking just to ask, asking to build up courage, and asking to prove to myself and others that I'm worth an awesome answer, as I did at first, to asking because purely I wanted to, in the second half of 2009, now it's becoming an essential business tool, and something that's tied very closely to my survival.

The plot thickens.

And tell me, gentle reader, what's your take on "people" -- have you tried to surround yourself with mentors or counselors, and/or do you like to reach out and help others who are starting out? Is that valuable, or overrated, in your opinion, and you prefer learning from books, formal education or your mistakes?

[image via eistours]
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