2018 is an exciting year to enter the startup arena. The economy is cooking. The gig economy is maturing. And the barriers to entry have never been lower – especially in the digital arena. So, if the entrepreneurial bug has bitten you, what’s your next move? Where do you go to get the information you need to launch your future business empire? Seek out advice from those that have entered the startup arena before you. The best place to find business advice is from other professionals in your chosen field. You might have the goal of disrupting the industry. But it’s wise to get an experience-based assessment of the market first. Diving in and starting up without a firm understanding of your target market is like trusting a surgeon to begin operating on your body without first performing a medical exam. “Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it.” – Benjamin Franklin You can find people willing to offer advice in virtually any field. Even the emerging cannabis boom has marijuana consulting firms willing to help intrepid entrepreneurs light up their market. If you’re going to accept advice from someone else, there are a few key steps you can take to help ensure that their advice will be helpful. Remember, advice is only as good as the experience and wisdom it’s based on. A business adviser should have the heart of a teacher. Here’s what I look for when recruiting a business advisor: I want them to have at least five to ten years of industry experience. They need to have a track-record of working on successful projects. Pay careful attention to the dates in their employment history. Did their time with each employer or company overlap with successful time periods for those organizations? Don’t be afraid to ask them a few questions that you already know the answer to. Judge their responses to these test questions based on the context they offer, and the level of certainty that they give. Some answers should be absolute. Others should be offered with caveats. You want someone that knows when to hedge and when to make a bold statement. Don’t spend your time asking them what’s possible. Most experts in the world will try to talk you out of changing the industry they’ve become accustomed to. Instead, ask how to overcome specific obstacles, based on their experience. If they tell you it can’t be done, ask why. Their answers will shine light on the things you need to be prepared to grapple with. They need to be willing to sign an NDA. The topics you discuss could be damaging if it were looped back to your competitors. Don’t substitute someone else’s wisdom for your own. Strong leaders know when to listen to their gut, and when to follow advice. The advisor that you bring in needs to have the heart of a teacher. They should be able to help you understand why they believe what they believe. Don’t be afraid of going back to school for a class or two. There are these amazing places where they offer knowledge in return for time and money: universities and community colleges. If you need to get up to speed on a new industry or learn a core skill so that you can be more effective, take a class or two. I recommend avoiding for-profit institutions. Schools that charge high fees rarely prove to be worthwhile. Instead, look for courses available from the public institutions of higher learning in your area. Don’t worry about a “degree” or “certification”. The most important thing is the knowledge between your ears. The great thing about learning a new skill is that you can avoid spending your limited resources on hiring that expertise. And, if you do expand and bring on team members to handle that area of the business, you’ll be a more effective leader. You’ll understand what and how they need to do their job. And you can fine-tune your BS meter. Colleges have tons of free resources for enrolled students. Once you sign-up to take a course as a university or college, you gain access to a library of tools and resources that would otherwise not be available. Free software, an in-depth university library, alumni associations and a new social network can be powerful tools in your war chest. Some schools, like MIT, even offer on-campus facilities for student entrepreneurs that want to experiment with their company. Just be careful to stay on the right side of the boundaries between commerce and education. Some resources have limitations in how they can be used. You might not have to ask permission to build and operate most startups. But, it’s better to ask first when it comes to utilizing school resources in your company. Get the advice you need to thrive in the startup arena in five easy steps: In conclusion, there are a few things you can do to get answers to your tough questions. You can seek out the wisdom of someone with the experience you lack. Or, you can attend a course at a local college or university. And, I suppose you could do what I did with my first startup – just go for it and hope it all works out. I don’t necessarily recommend launching without doing your homework. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way. Below I’ve summarized the steps you can take to get the information you need for your startup: Identify what you do not already know. Be brutally honest. As you work on this list and progress through this process, you’re going to uncover other things you didn’t even know existed. Add them to the list and repeat the process. Seek out individuals with the experience you lack. Offer them compensation in return for their consultation. Just make sure they sign an NDA before you start laying out your go-to-market strategy. Sign up for a college course that covers the areas you’re vulnerable in. Some of the most successful people I know still complete at least one continuing education course a year. It keeps them grounded and up to speed with new developments. Apply what you’ve learned. Wisdom without action is untapped potential. What a waste! Assess the results of the action you took. What worked? What didn’t? How could you adjust to be more effective? If you found this article helpful, be sure to checkout my collection of entrepreneur quotes that I turn to whenever the going gets tough.