Originally published in Inc.
Don’t be afraid to explore foreign territory. We asked successful young entrepreneurs for their most poignant pieces of advice for founders starting up in an unfamiliar industry.
The Young Entrepreneur Council asked 13 successful young entrepreneurs for their best tips for starting a new business in an unfamiliar industry. Here are their best answers.
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
If you’re new to an industry, don’t cower at networking events or do the “smile-and-nod” when you’re speaking to someone with deep industry expertise. Instead, use every interaction as an opportunity to learn. People will be excited to answer your questions—while you may worry that your queries will come off as ignorant, most likely, the other person will interpret them as engaged interest!
–Doreen Bloch, Poshly
2. Study Top Direct Response Advertisers
Find the top direct response advertisers—the companies spending money every month—in your industry and study their ad copy. Respond to the ads and document their entire sales process. The top advertisers have already figured out the best method(s) to generate leads and sales and maximize lifetime value, so start with what’s working for them.
–Phil Frost, Main Street ROI
3. Find a Mentor
A mentor is pretty much your most powerful asset in any new industry. By finding a mentor willing to work with you, you can learn from their mistakes, accelerate your growth using their knowledge, insight and strategies, and get pre-qualified introductions to big players in your space.
–Travis Steffen, WorkoutBOX
4. Leverage your Fresh Perspective
Get rid of all preconceived notions and fully immerse yourself in every aspect of the industry to gain a true understanding of the market and opportunities. Take advantage of the fact that you’re not biased and that you bring a fresh perspective and viewpoint, potentially providing you with a strong competitive advantage.
–John Berkowitz, Yodle
5. Talk to Customers and Partners Every day
In any start-up, you don’t know what you don’t know. This is especially true when you’re entering an unfamiliar industry. Get started through research, studying the competition and talking to mentors. But in order to refine your business and make sure that you are providing great value, you must chat with your customers every day. Figure out their greatest pain points and deliver against them.
–Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches
6. Presume Ignorance
If you’re starting up in an unfamiliar industry, do not presume that you know the answers. In fact, assume the opposite and open yourself up to learning. Talk to as many people in the industry as possible, ask lots of questions, get to know key players and connectors, and marinate in this new knowledge.
–David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services
7. Reconsider Whether It’s the Right Industry
There are pros to tackling an industry you’re unfamiliar with (fresh perspective, for example), but mostly, it’s cons. Without an understanding of how an industry works, who matters in the space, and what competition already exists, succeeding in entrepreneurship just becomes more impossible (though, hey, don’t let that stop you!).
–Derek Flanzraich, Greatist
8. Attend a Trade Show…
There is usually a national or international trade show or conference in every industry, where the “who’s who” all gather in one place. This is an event that you should be at. You’ll have the chance to learn the lay of the land, meet hundreds of people in person and learn about what’s new in your industry. It’s also a great place to form new partnerships. Bring lots of business cards!
–Luke Burgis, ActivPrayer
9…And Meet Your Match There!
Go to a trade show or networking event of the industry and notice who seems to have a strong presence, who knows everyone, and who is everyone talking about. Become friendly and close with that person, if they will let you. You can cut off a lot of trial and error time with the expert guidance!
–Andrew Bachman, Scambook.com
10. Hire a Trustworthy Lawyer
A few years ago I started my first business after over 10 years of working for non-profits. I found myself so lost. I was signing documents and agreeing to things left and right. Because I didn’t have my own personal lawyer or legal team advising me, I agreed to some of the dumbest terms in the history of the world and it eventually came back to bite me in the ass. I’ll never do that again.
–Shaun King, HopeMob
11. The Devil Is in the Details
Make sure that you try and plan as much as you can, but don’t let it get you so bogged down that you don’t actually do something. Know that there will be something you miss, accept that, and move forward.
–Jordan Guernsey, Molding Box
12. Learn Why Others Have Failed
People naturally want to emulate success by analyzing successful business models, but I think it’s more important to learn from companies that failed. There can be thousands of factors that contribute to business success, but when a business fails, it’s often easy to pinpoint the the reasons…and avoid making the same mistakes yourself.
–Nick Reese, Elite Health Blends
13. Accept Help from the Experienced
Reach out to your advisors. They want to help you in your new adventure, and it is your responsibility to let them.
–Caroline Ghosn, The Levo League
The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invitation-only nonprofit organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program. @TheYEC