How to get advice from the best in business

Growing your network will ensure you have a group of mentors and advisers to ask for help in business.

Most of what I’ve learned about business has been from running one. Twenty-six years ago, 1–800-GOT-JUNK? was experiencing such success that I decided to drop out of university halfway through my degree to take advantage of rising demand.

Despite having learned a lot from hands-on experience, I still encounter challenges and learning curves — for example, going from $100 million to a few hundred million in revenue in a short time, or launching two new brands — and I’m reminded that I don’t have (even close to) all the answers.

It’s taken years, but I’ve grown a network of about 700 people, my “mentor board of advisors” or MBA, who will answer my questions when I need guidance. I determine who’s successfully navigated similar challenges and make contact.

For example, a few years ago, I was hoping to improve our corporate culture, so I flew down to meet with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. He gave me invaluable advice over lunch, and his expertise was a reminder to seek out the best possible advice — every time.

I believe with the right approach, almost anyone can get advice from the best in the field (and it doesn’t require hopping on a plane). Here’s how:

ASK!

If you don’t ask, the answer is definitely no. So summon your courage and put it out there. Most people don’t mind being asked for help as it’s a chance to share their expertise in a certain subject matter. Don’t be afraid to ask twice — these are busy people who may need a reminder.

PHONE

Simply picking up the phone can go a long way. When I cold-called founder of CostCo James Sinegal, I was shocked that he answered and made time for me. Phoning is also a retro way to stand out from the inbox influx your target is likely receiving (Apple CEO Tim Cook gets around 800 daily emails) and is harder to delete.

PERSONALIZE THE REQUEST

Use a specific example of why you need their input. Maybe you admire the time they righted the ship after profit losses, modernized their brand, or transformed their office culture; tell them why their advice is imperative.

BE SPECIFIC, BUT BRIEF

Finally, it’s important to describe the challenge you’re facing, and what you’d like to learn. But keep in mind that most people have an 8-second attention span, and it’s probably even shorter if you’re a multi-tasking CEO scanning a chock-full inbox.

By keeping your email brief, you’ll have a better chance of getting a response from your expert of choice.

Connect with Brian Scudamore on Twitter @brianscudamore

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