Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
There’s nothing I’m more tired of than 19-year-olds on TikTok selling entrepreneurial advice. Well, there might be one thing: the fact that people listen to it.
These content creators sell the perception that business is easy; all you have to do is buy a template and plug and play. They promise to teach you how to become rich on the stock market if you’ll only pay them $199/month to do it. But many of the creators giving this advice are not successful CEOs. They’re misleading at best and blatantly dishonest at worst. Unfortunately, an alarming amount of people in our society believe that everything they hear on the Internet is true. But we need to remember that Google is not a replacement for mentorship.
At the end of the day, you have to find somebody who’s been successful and somebody who has failed — and then learn from both of them. You can’t get that from a 30-second TikTok video.
Social media is content. Entrepreneurs can never absorb enough content, so long as it’s relevant and reputable. I don’t use TikTok for business advice; I use it to follow my favorite chefs and keep a pulse on what my kids are up to.
It’s OK to be an entrepreneur or a coach and try to use social media to sell your product.
But it becomes a problem when people sell a dream that’s not reality. It’s deceitful. And unfortunately, social media makes it pretty easy to be dishonest. In the same way, you can apply a filter to a photo, you can filter reality. And this leads to being catfished on the business side of things. A person having 1.4 million followers on social media doesn’t make them a good CEO — it makes them a good content creator. You have to vet and verify to establish the first part.
If not TikTok, then who?
The best advice I can give to someone looking for startup advice is to jump on LinkedIn, reach out to local business professionals who have been successful, and try to meet with them face-to-face. It’s much easier vetting someone’s credibility when they have to look you directly in the eye. But not everyone is who they say they are — LinkedIn doesn’t fact check resumès. Make sure you research by searching the individual’s online footprint and contacting people in their network to verify their reputation. If their online presence is hard to find, that’s a pretty big red flag.
When seeking a mentor, look for gray hairs. It’s not just because we have more experience; it’s because we likely have more time on our hands. A 31-year-old executive running the same number of companies I do probably has a lot less time; I’m a bit further down the road, so I’ve been able to figure this puzzle out. People in my stage of life are also beginning to think about building a legacy and doing something meaningful with all the knowledge they’ve acquired. It’s wise to tap into that.
But just as it’s important to seek advice from the right professionals, it’s also important to diversify your perspective. Opinions and recommendations from mentors both inside and outside your industry are critical in widening your lens and creating an all-inclusive view. When you go to these mentors for advice, make decisions that make sense — don’t take shots in the dark by asking generalized questions to people outside your industry. When you look for an outside opinion, choose someone with experience with a problem you immediately need to solve. Maybe they have the financial experience you don’t have or have found innovative solutions to an important tech problem.
This practice also indirectly introduces you to people who may be able to support you down the road. The person you connect with may have connections to bankers, business insurance reps, etc. Receiving mentorship is more than learning how to run a business; it’s about forming those necessary connections your business will need to survive. Numerous unexpected fires will inevitably pop up that you probably haven’t thought about, and this is how you plan for the unplanned.
What to expect and how to get there
Experienced entrepreneurs will tell you the truth: being a CEO is not a comfortable 9-5. It’s an 8-8, and people will have problems at 3 am. Every successful CEO will probably tell you they have 30 sleepless nights a year. If you’re actually invested in your business, that is what it takes. If you don’t work hard, work doesn’t get done. And if you want your team to work hard, you must show up alongside them and lead by example.
When you approach these potential mentors, there are a few things to keep in mind if you actually want to get their ear. The first is to do your damn research. As an investor, I shouldn’t receive a copy/paste email from you. I want to know why you think I’m the person you need to talk to. Why do you know who I am? What do you think I have to offer you? I’ve received several requests from hopeful entrepreneurs offering to meet me in person and buy me a cocktail, and because they’ve come across as pleasant human beings who have done their homework, I’ve taken them up on it.
You can’t replace face-to-face.
I’m not against online courses, in-person seminars, or other exercises in business education. But nothing can replace face-to-face. It gives you a chance to ask tough questions, be vulnerable and experience their vulnerability in return. The result is a much more valuable learning experience.
I won’t say everything business-related you find on social media is garbage; it’s not. But the opportunity to look someone in the eye and see their hard-won successes (and failures) is priceless. Take the extra time to find “real” human beings to connect with. You won’t regret it.