Part of the thrill of starting your own business is learning a lot of new things really fast. In fact, there's often so much to learn that it can be hard to prioritize or know where to start.
That's where experienced mentors and startup-focused training programs can be a huge help. Insight from someone who's been there can save you time, spare you some headaches, and let you focus on what makes your business idea special.
Of course, starting a business means you're also pressed for time. So we've put together a quick list of resources for finding mentors and hitting the virtual books to sharpen your startup skills.
Finding your mentors
Yep, that's mentors, plural. It's always a good idea to seek out more than one wise person for advice, especially in a field as broad and dynamic as entrepreneurship. Each person you learn from will have a particular set of specialties and recommendations for success. Another reason to have multiple mentors: people at the top of their game are usually busy. You may have more success getting five people to give you half an hour of their time on specific topics than one person to devote half a day to sharing all their career tips.
So where should you look?
Work your LinkedIn network and join some groups
Start with your own network and go from there. Maybe there's a former boss or colleague you'd like to ask about their new venture? Maybe someone in your network is closely connected to a thought leader you'd like to learn from.
Or maybe not – if you're coming up empty in your own network, join some industry groups on LinkedIn. You may pick up some great advice in those discussions. You may discover that you hear the same successful folks mentioned all the time. That's like a nice big arrow pointing you toward the people you want to study and learn from.
Get in touch with your alumni group's career center
Some colleges and universities offer lifetime access to career counseling and other services, either for free or for a relatively small fee. You may also be eligible to attend on-campus career fairs to meet and connect with other people in your field. And remember to network within your alumni association, too.
Seek out the SCORE program
This all-volunteer program from the US Small Business Administration pairs experienced volunteer mentors with people who want some sage advice. The mentorship is free, and many of the SCORE program's 300+ local chapters offer in-person workshops on topics from writing a business plan to securing investment in your business.
Follow your friendly local startup incubator
Even if you're not ready to apply for a program spot for your team or business idea, you can find plenty of resources and insight at most startup accelerators. In-person events like Y Combinator's one-day Startup School and Tech Wildcatters' weekend Gauntlet Bootcamps give you a chance to learn from the experts. You can also check out their resource libraries online and lists of mentors to find people you'd like to learn from.
However you find your mentors, remember mentee etiquette. Ask only for small amounts of time and attention, offer to reciprocate with a referral or testimonial, and be sure to thank your mentors for the time they invest in you. When your company is well-established, you can pass along the support you received by mentoring other new startup founders.
Training to win the startup game
Most business schools offer MBA entrepreneurship programs, but even a weekends-only executive MBA schedule may not fit into your already overbooked schedule. To learn from the best without committing to a degree program, explore these options for everything from video interviews to online courses from top-ranked universities.
Watch Khan Academy's interviews with entrepreneurs
Sal Khan, founder of the free Khan Academy learning site, has interviewed more than a dozen entrepreneurs and CEOS, including SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk and Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson. Whether you need some wisdom on balancing business and family, moving from idea to execution, or learning from your missteps, these 30- to 45-minute videos can give you fresh perspectives from leaders who've been there.
Take Coursera's entrepreneurship courses
Low-cost online education site Coursera offers dozens of individual classes and course series focused on entrepreneurship, including a 5-course specialization series from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. Prices vary by course and series, but they're generally a fraction of the cost of university tuition. Wharton's series costs $79 per month or $316 per year. Coursera also actively recruits mentors to work with learners and answer questions on the site's message boards.
Explore MIT Open Courseware entrepreneurship classes
MIT offers a handful of undergraduate courses and dozens of graduate courses in entrepreneurship for free online through its Open Courseware program. Get the basics on inventions, patents, and intellectual property or delve into supply chain design, leadership best practices, and product innovation with MIT's online videos, textbooks, and syllabi.
You can also use these resources as a springboard to other sources of information and as training tools for new hires as your company grows. And if you need to pick up a new skill or master a new aspect of your business later on, you can turn to them again to keep learning.
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