Networking and looking to outsiders was a bit of a culture shock for me after getting out of the Marines and starting Active Analysis.  Marines generally see networking as a passive act and while we might meet other Marines in schools or during overlapping deployments, rarely do you actively look outside of your unit for anything.  Units are designed to be self-sufficient, so when you do meet someone outside your unit, you probably already have that capability nearby and don’t need any outside support.  Because of this, we seldom take the time to develop the mutually beneficial relationships that you need to succeed as a small business. Looking back at how I dealt with this early on, I know that I handled some of these better than others.  Some introductions led to new prospects, some led to great advice, while others led to almost burned bridges.

How should a new business deal with these unexpected advisors and supporters?

Thank them for their time and guidance in their world, not yours.

The type of people who are willing to sit down to hear more about my business all have a great deal in common.  They have all walked the path before me and most have either started or worked extensively in small business.  They have all had successes, overcome challenges, learned a great deal and now want to help ensure that I benefit from those experiences.  They are all teachers.

How can a new business thank a teacher?  You can start by passing the lessons they gave you on to others, allowing them to reach a larger audience than they would normally able to.  Because my business is built around a knowledge abundance approach to marketing, one element of success is the amount of traffic that I can drive to the community page.  One piece of advice that I got was to begin using Zemanta when writing posts.  Zemanta recommends links to add into the post to improve readability by adding in supporting references as well as improving the site’s ranking when searched for.  I also started using HootSuite to listen to what other people were saying across social media about topics related to my business.  Both of these resources made a noticeable impact on my business and both are recommendations that I can’t keep to myself.

No one approach will work for every advisor or adequately thank them for their time.  The point is that the mentor/mentee relationship is a two-way street.  Some might prefer that you understand what their ideal customer is and simply keep an eye out for leads and referrals.  Some are very involved in the community and would prefer access to your personal network to help them spread awareness for their cause.  As a new business spends time with advisors and supporters, ensure that you learn what their motivation is and repay the favor on their terms and in their world, not yours.