When I started my first business in 2014, I was a poetry major with no idea where to start, what books to read, what research to do, and most importantly, who to turn to…
I had a unique business idea. After attending so many of my friend’s weddings as a bridesmaid, I decided to start a business called Bridesmaid for Hire, where brides could hire me to be there for them as a personal assistant, on-call therapist, social director, and peacekeeper.
After a few weeks of tossing and turning the idea around in my head, I knew it was time to turn to others for their guidance, help, and confirmation that this was a business people would actually need and ideally, flock to.
Here are five people I highly recommend every wannabe founder turns to, in the first month of starting any new business.
A blood relative
The very first phone call I made when I decided to start my business, was to my mom. That’s not because I wanted to chat with a person who would be proud of me no matter what (though she was once proud of me for coming in 50th place in second grade spelling contest) but because I wanted to get her to stop me.
All of us have that one family member who serves as the “what are you thinking?” side of our brain and will be able to talk us out of doing something that we may regret later. I’m so glad I listened to my mom about not getting bangs, breaking up with the guy who had commitment issues, and not buying a pair of nonrefundable shoes during Black Friday last year.
When she answered the phone and I told her all about my big idea and how I was going to start the business, while still working full time, so that I wouldn’t rack up credit card debt or get evicted and end up on her couch, she said something to me I’ll never forget. “It’s about time, Jennifer.”
“Wait, what?” I asked back, shocked she wasn’t rolling her eyes at the thought of me wanting to become a hired bridesmaid for strangers. Shocked that she didn’t say all of the things I feared would happen, but strangely, needed her to say so that they were officially more than fears, they were truths. But she didn’t.
“I’ve never heard you so confident, so ready, so independently empowered to do something,” she added. “So go do it.”
A no-filter BFF
After using one of our Sunday brunch dates to tell my friend Katie about the business plan on my brain, she finished the last sip of her mimosa, and told me the truth. “I think it’s a good idea,” she said, and I smiled with pride. “But, you’re going to need help.”
Of course she was right. I didn’t know how to start a business. The last business I tried to start was when I was nine and my friend Jamie and I sold comic books on the street corner and made $2 in three hours. I needed all different kinds of help: Website, branding, accounting, legal, etc.
Katie took out her phone, went on LinkedIn, and wrote down a list of names of people she knew that I also needed to know. These people were a mix of entrepreneurs, business students, and people who had backgrounds in areas that I didn’t have. She then told me to do the same with my LinkedIn list and ask three other friends to do that also.
Her no-filter, honest advice was what I needed to hear as step two. I needed someone who knew me well to tell me that I couldn’t do this alone, and like a good friend does, she even had a solution ready.
An unlikely mentor
After meeting with some of Katie’s friends, I realized that I could also use advice from people who were very different than me. Most of the people I’d met with already were around the same age as I was, transplants to New York City, like I was, and also on their fair share of dating apps, just like I was.
I decided it would be best to find a mentor that had as many years of experience in business as I was alive, and who was very different from me. That way, I could get another dimension of perspective on my business plan and learn from someone who has the kind of business acumen it would take me years to get.
I did some research and found a program that matches retired business professionals with young entrepreneurs for weekly mentoring sessions. That’s how I got connected to my very own mentor, Ray, who was 83 and spent most of his life inventing products and managing a business with thousands of employees, all before there was such a thing as LinkedIn or Quickbooks.
Adding him to my roster of business help allowed me to get a perspective on things that people my age were often jaded by thanks to technology and shortcuts.
While a lot of people who I told about my business saw value in it, I knew it was important to find someone who questioned it, and maybe even someone who was completely turned off by it. I decided to chat with an internet troll.
After putting up a website and booking a few clients, my business began to take off and the press covered it. There were hundreds of nasty comments on some of the articles about me and Bridesmaid for Hire. I decided instead of feeling upset by them; I’d try to understand them.
One of the best ways to improve your business is to fill holes that you might have missed or understand the reasons why people don’t support your idea, like your product, or would ever want to use your service.
I commented back to one of the internet trolls and we had a conversation that allowed me to see, early on, the way I was presenting the services my business offered was confusing, misleading, and needed to be changed immediately. I might not have gotten this knowledge if I didn’t venture on over to the other side and talk to people who weren’t signing up to be my customers.
A complete stranger
The final person I turned to for help (the very first week I started my business) was a complete stranger. After tapping into the people I knew and the people they knew for help, I decided that I’d get in the habit of using my refined elevator pitch on strangers to get their feedback in real time.
Pitching your big idea to strangers is a wildcard experience. You might get someone who loves it, someone who doesn’t like it one bit, and someone who plays a game of twenty questions with you and helps you figure out what you need to improve on, to make your business idea more clear and successful.
I ended up having a conversation with a stranger on a park bench and when there was a lull in conversation, I told the stranger about my new business.
They immediately pulled up my website, clicked around, and then started giving me feedback that no one else gave me yet. They found spelling errors, told me to add a few additional sections on the website, and gave me other businesses to check out.
The good news is, when you start a business, you might first feel alone. Long nights of doing research, competitor analysis charts, and even product development will make you feel like you are in this all by yourself. So when you feel like that, reach out to those around you, those different than you, and those you meet on a Sunday afternoon that you’ve never met before.
Their knowledge, insight, and questions will be the added business advice, help, and encouragement you need to take your big idea to the very next level.
Jen Glantz is the author of the memoir,Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire).