Pain Relievers vs. Vitamins

Think about the last time you were really sick. In those moments of agony, consider how much you appreciate pain-relieving medicine made to ease the torment. Most of us don’t hesitate to buy solutions that ease our pain.

Now, think about a time when everything was going your way. You may take vitamins to support a healthy lifestyle, but if you miss a day, who cares, right? Think about your medicine cabinet. For every vitamin you routinely take, how many others sit on the shelf collecting dust?

Vitamins are good, but pain relievers are great. This is an analogy we can bring into business. As you consider your product/service, are you providing something that solves the pain of a target customer, or is it a nice-to-have that may (or may not) provide clear value?

If you’re unsure, you probably have a vitamin. If people like the idea, but hesitate to buy, you probably have a vitamin. If you always find yourself explaining why someone needs what you have, you probably have a vitamin. How can such assumptions be made? Pain relievers are easy to spot. They sell as fast as the supply can keep up with demand.

Ready to mutate a vitamin into a pain reliever? Ongoing customer discovery is the best way to keep a pulse on your company and helps entrepreneurs build toward sipping from the holy grail: product-market fit. As you ease the true pain of your target customer, stories that sell (marketing) highlight how you do so. Forget the impressive jargon. Lean into the pain.

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Unrelated to this week’s reflection, I love local bookstores. I always spend more than I’ll ever make in sales of my own book on their shelf, but these places are just so cozy. It’d be hard to get rich, but the wealth of owning a bookstore must be endlessly rewarding.

Mentor Madness

Mentors help entrepreneurs without asking for anything in return.

These diamonds in the rough may be hard to find and the vulnerability to ask others for help can feel heavy, but don’t be afraid. Most entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs enjoy helping others. Not everyone is graced with extra time, but there are good mentors in every community. Local mentors provide huge in-person value and the online universe offers infinitely more ways to find good fits. The wider your engaged network is, the more strategic you can be when selecting mentors as well. Even with a wide spectrum of options, take time to consider whom you trust and who will trust you in return. Be respectful of everyone’s time, but don’t be afraid to approach the giants you admire most.

As an entrepreneur talking with potential mentors, be transparent about your situation, concise with storytelling, and clear with specific needs. Spell out your vision, the current state of your business, what makes you a pain reliever vs. a vitamin, and how this mentor’s experience could help you navigate the fog.

As you explore mentor relationships, it’s unlikely one person can support you on all fronts. This means you must get comfortable working with multiple mentors.

The more one mentor can help, the more attention they deserve. When you give a mentor more attention, it should not feel like they need to do the same. Approach each exchange with composure. Make it convenient for people who aren’t required to care. Go out of your way to be effective and efficient. Learn how someone likes to communicate and make detailed emails concise. Answer questions directly and find ways to keep connecting new dots. Think about deliberate deliverables. As things come together, slow play the delivery of assets and things you want to discuss. This will keep progress from feeling too heavy. It also creates space for concentrated feedback on more specific topics. A mentor who helps you in a meaningful way will rarely disappear, so there’s no need to overload them with too much at once. This practice helps you stay on top of ongoing conversations, while also allowing mentors to add more precise value. Optimizing mentor relationships this way will inspires trust, action fueled by accountability, and solidify a lasting sense of accomplishment for everyone interested in your success.

Along with learning from mentors, consider being a mentor yourself! Success (and failure) leaves clues so no matter what you’ve achieved in life, you have wisdom to share.

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Interested in mentorship? Here are characteristics to consider.

If you decide to offer your time in this way, be generous, but also realistic about how you can help. Mentoring can become a nagging task if you’re stretched too thin and the moment you feel resentment, the quality of your support diminishes. To avoid this pitfall, be upfront with the time you’re willing to commit and deliver whatever is promised. When volunteering a significant amount of time, be sure to feel at peace about the impact you’re making.

Your time spent mentoring should feel easy, efficient, and fun, yet challenging and rewarding as well. A #GiveFirst mindset paired with an authentic connection to founders you care about creates space for honest feedback and a magical experience for those who learn, earn, and then give back.

Follow Up

As you continue to show up and stand out, it’s important to wrap a bow on your interactions by following up. Why? When creating connections, a single encounter is rarely enough. Whether it’s an email, phone call, social media connection, or handwritten note, follow up.

These tiny touch points can root a relationship. Even if there’s no obvious ways to collaborate right away, take a moment to say you enjoyed meeting that new contact. If possible, include something memorable from your encounter to personalize the message. This is also another chance to ask if there’s anything you can do to help, then close by sharing how you look forward to staying in touch. Whether they respond or not, this follow-up will increase the chance you’ll be remembered.

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The moment you meet is an effective time to connect on social media.

As you meet more people, it can become hard to maintain this habit without support. Don’t be afraid to use relationship management tools to keep conversations organized. Hubspot, Airtable, and other free CRM tools may be a good place to start. These platforms can automate your communication efforts, but play it cool. This is not the time to sell or bombard someone’s inbox. Instead of a pre-determined cadence, make a simple note to follow up. Use this reminder to comment on a social media post, share a quick idea, suggest a meaningful introduction, or invite your new contact to an upcoming event. While these follow ups are unscripted, it doesn’t hurt to internally track how many times you’ve touched base.

This balanced, friendly, and ongoing effort to stay connected will separate you from the pack and keep you on that person’s radar. Business may not spawn from these touch points, but there will be fresh context the next time you see each other. If opportunities to collaborate emerge, you’ll have a channel of communication already in place. Either way, showing up, standing out, and following up makes it easier to explore engaging ideas with your evolving network.

Stand Out

Being remarkable in a networking environment is not rocket science. Be friendly, vulnerable, funny, curious, and eager to help without getting stuck in one place.

As you continue to show up, you’ll learn from others and also learn more about yourself. You’ll be able to ask great questions and be adaptable to any conversation. You’ll need to share your work less, which will allow you to make more introductions. This will make you stand out as a connector.

Ready to shake things up? Avoid the temptation to ask the most common question at networking events: “So, what do you do?” Instead, consider more interesting ways to get people talking.

– How are you feeling?
– How do you like to spend your time?
– What does a day inside your office involve?
– What mindset inspires your best work?
– What’s a recent project you enjoyed working on?
– Are there any roadblocks you’re working through?
– Is there anything I can help you with right now?
– Would you do this work if money weren’t a factor?
– What did you do before your current role?

You only have a moment to make a good impression. It never hurts to throw in a specific topic to help people remember you. Avoid small talk like the weather. Also, family means everything to most people, but avoid going too far down that rabbit hole. Here are a few creative conversation starters to sprinkle in.

– What are your superpowers?
– Where did you travel to last?
– Have you ever been a mentor or an advisor?
– What are you reading or listening to right now?
– How would you describe the internet to a child?
– If you’re a pro wrestler, what’s your entrance song?
– Is there anything that may surprise me about you?
– What’s an interesting paradox you‘ve answered?
– How do you define success? How about happiness?
– Have you ever regretted not doing something?

When it’s time to move on, there is also an art to exiting a conversation. This is handy when conversations have gone on too long. One tactic is to bring more people into the conversation. Kindly introduce everyone to each other. You then have the option to stick around or excuse yourself. Even if you leave the chat, your energy will remain a part of that new conversation as you mingle elsewhere. If you’re at a networking event, another approach is to joke that it’s time for both of you to go meet more new people. This lighthearted suggestion eliminates any awkwardness.

If you’re the one holding conversations too long, you’ll know it when people try similar exiting tactics on you. To improve your relationship-building skills, stop draining the energy from each interaction. Be cognizant of how long you hold onto each conversation. Abandon the idea that everything must happen in one exchange. Even if it feels abrupt, don’t be afraid to move away from conversations before they feel complete. Ending interactions a bit early leaves room for more conversation next time. This creates a subconscious gap to fill and therefore more reasons to reconnect.

Lone Wolves

A common misconception is that you must have a team to be successful. There is a limit to your own capacity, but it is possible to build rewarding endeavors all by yourself. Solving complex problems may require co-founders and a larger team, but your passionate dedication is all you need to get started.

Lasting energy is required to forge this path, but without the need to answer to anyone, you can stay nimble and be more efficient by eliminating internal delays. To avoid burnout, you must stay mindful of your personal bandwidth. Self-awareness will help you avoid market disconnects, The Headline Trap, and relationship problems as well.

To coordinate new initiatives into your career portfolio, consider how the project connects to your current work. Clear overlaps can be good, but can also cause unwanted tension. A project less related to your existing work actually makes everything easier to shuffle. Even when projects affect different industries, it’s still you making things happen. The option to build into what motivates you in different ways will energize your work on all fronts. Action on one project will provide fresh momentum for others. Learn when to say yes and no, then wisely activate your time on each front.

As a lone wolf, it’s easy to go hard toward your own dream, but know when you need help. The freedom of working alone is within reach, but execution still requires collaboration. The world is full of friends, community allies, and contractors eager to help. Outside assistance may slow you down, but it won’t dilute equity, and it may be the key to a new reality.

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Need someone to bounce ideas off of? Let’s have coffee.

If you venture out alone, prepare for intoxicating highs and crushing loneliness. The consuming nature of building by yourself will incite grit, but don’t let it blind you. It’s easy to build too far into the wrong direction without a team. This is why community and customer discovery are even more important for lone wolves.