Being an entrepreneur can be rife with challenges. It’s no wonder: you’re in the business of creation—of building something physical from an abstract idea. And no matter how innovative or timely or just plain “perfect” that idea may be, transforming your vision into reality is no easy task. One key to success is knowing who to ask for help. I call it “finding your field guides.”
Two of my passions—aside from my business—are endurance athletics and adventure travel (for more on this, check out my blog on Creative Destruction). Whether I’m running a race or climbing a mountain, the one thing that keeps me on track is the continuous direction and encouragement from coaches or guides. In fact, one might say it is even foolish to attempt these activities without trained, knowledgeable help. And yet every day, I see entrepreneurs plugging away at building a new company with little guidance at all. No matter how smart a person may be, and no matter how brilliant their idea, working solo is just as foolish. Here’s why:
Unforeseen challenges are a given.
A common misconception about starting a business is that strong preparation is all an entrepreneur needs to succeed. A well written business plan. A great education. Industry experience. Whatever. But just like a long-distance race, preparation is just the starting point. Throughout the race, you need a source of support, inspiration, and guidance to help through the challenging moments, and keep you moving until you reach the finish line. Building a business is similar. You are going to get challenged. And in those moments, you are going to need encouragement, guidance, and perspective. A trusted guide can give you the help you need when challenges threaten to derail your success.
You don’t have all the answers!
Picture this: you’re leading your team up a high, remote mountain. You’ve never been there before, and when you arrive at the saddle of a high pass, there are three paths to choose from. One path leads to a dangerous and potentially deadly cliff. Another descends into a valley filled with flesh-biting flies. Another passes through a challenging rock crag, but eventually winds its way down to a picturesque pool, complete with a waterfall and a stunning rainbow. How do you know which way to go? A guide who has been down these paths before knows what lies ahead. Your guide’s experience can save you and your team time, energy, and resources to be sure you not only survive, but thrive.
Multiple perspectives drive creative solutions.
Working in a vacuum rarely results in the greatest ideas. By seeking help from a variety of sources, you can gain multiple perspectives on the same problem, and then filter the information you receive to form your own creative solution. If the advice doesn’t fit, let it fall to the side. If it does, grab it and build on it. Look for mentors who have years or even decades of experience in the industry or specialty you are pursuing. Find people who mesh with your own way of thinking, and who challenge you constantly—without fear of retribution. These are your field guides for your personal journey.
The good news is that field guides are everywhere, which means all you have to do is start actively seeking the help and direction you need. Here are some great places to look:
LinkedIn and other business networks:
The great thing about LinkedIn is that the platform is focused solely on the business community. If you’ve built a strong network over the years, online or off, review your contacts and make a list of potential mentors. If you can find someone in your local community and can meet face to face, even better. Next, reach out and ask for their help. If they are willing to advise you —and most people will be if you just have the courage to ask—their guidance will be worth its weight in gold.
Look for books by entrepreneurs who have achieved success and share your values as a business leader. I’m constantly seeking out new inspiration, and my three recent favorites are Cheat to Win: The Honest Way to Break All the Dishonest Rules in Business (Bob MacDonald); Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike (Phil McNight), and Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson).
Audio Books and Lectures:
Don’t let your busy schedule keep you from soaking up the information you need to win. Whether you’re driving or flying, look for audio books and lectures to enrich your personal and professional development. Three of my favorites are Napoleon Hill (In His Own Voice), Brian Tracy (The Psychology of Achievement), and Grant Cardone (Be Obsessed or Be Average). These authors will give your mind the nourishment, inspiration, and encouragement it needs as you move along the journey to success.
Historical Biography Videos:
Look for videos from producers like the American Experience series that chronicle the stories of historical figures such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Nikola Tesla. Their stories and struggles are sure to amaze you and inspire any entrepreneur.
At GWG, my own journey of creating a finance company hasn’t been absent of challenges. From the credit crisis and regulatory scrutiny, to educating broker-dealers on how our product works, the challenging rocky crags of climbing the mountain seem to be around every corner. Luckily, I’m not alone as we navigate our path forward; our entire team is passionate about what we’re doing, and we’re in it for the long term. To help keep me on track to make continuous progress toward achieving our goals, I constantly turn to my own trusted field guides for encouragement, insight, and inspiration just when I need it most.
Building your business is a long, hard endurance race.
Don’t try to go it alone. Find and listen to field guides that work for you. Listen to their guidance, and allow them to help pick you up when you’re down and keep you moving forward through your most challenging moments. And most importantly, remember this: No journey is over until the moment you give up.