Call it your sounding board, circle, network or personal board of advisors, every successful entrepreneur needs one. Just as companies rely on a formal board of advisors to weigh in on investments and business practices, individuals need to have their own trusted advisors to help them as they navigate their careers.
Aside from mentors, you need peers who you can genuinely talk with and who help influence your business decisions. Some entrepreneurs count their business partners, significant others and family members as key influencers and advisors, but each person's board develops differently.
The rules for getting the most out of your support network, however, remain the same. Four entrepreneurs from YEC explain more below.
1. Allow your board to develop organically as your career changes.
As your personal and professional life changes, your circle will likely change with it.
"Different people will come into your life at different times," said Lisa Song Sutton, a real estate investor and serial entrepreneur. "The same people that you used as a sounding board maybe two or three years ago, maybe they're not the right people to talk to about things now. And that's totally okay."
Sutton, who lives in Las Vegas, runs an alcohol-infused cupcake shop, is a managing partner of a real estate company, hosts a TV program, and previously held the title of Miss Nevada United States. Between these ventures and her involvement with additional organizations, her network continues to evolve.
"I think the key thing is realizing that not everyone stays with you on your path," she said. Currently on Sutton's sounding board are entrepreneurs Ash Kumra, Deven Chase and Collin Hanks, as well as her boyfriend and mother.
Based in Las Vegas, Sutton has frequent opportunities to meet and network with people visiting the city for conferences. When you do meet people who you trust and would like to gather advice from, she says, approach them as a friend, not as an opportunistic businessperson.
"Treat them like a friend, just like how you would treat anyone else, and you'll see that the relationship and the rapport builds organically," she said.
2. Be authentic and vulnerable.
Among the members of his personal board, Ash Kumra counts friends and business partners. Many of these relationships developed after meeting people at events outside of his business and grew when they got to see each other's "authentic selves."
When speaking with people you want to learn from, be authentic and vulnerable, advises Kumra, who recently founded Youngry, a media company that celebrates entrepreneurs. Kumra turns to friends who also work in media - including podcast founders Peter Awad of Slow Hustle and Arel Moodie of The Art of Likeability - as well as his father to provide bigger picture advice.
"When I say, 'vulnerable' I'm not talking about crying or being emotional," he said. "I'm talking about being vulnerable if you don't know an answer. People want to help, but people don't want to help people who think they know it all."
Instead, be honest; say you need help with a business problem and don't know the best way to approach it.
"It takes a lot of experience, it takes a lot of self-work, it takes a lot of just getting over your own ego, in my opinion," he said.
3. Make people feel they're top of mind.
Even when you're busy with your day-to-day work, don't neglect your relationships.
"People like to feel like they're top of mind, just like you like to feel that you're top of mind to others. That applies to your friendships, your business relationships with clients, and also your mentors, so it's good to keep them close," said Deven Chase, a realtor and managing partner of Elite Homes US with Sutton. In addition to his business partner, Chase reaches out to his godfather and his mother when he needs people to bounce ideas off of.
"If they're special to you, and they're valuable to you, then make the effort. If you haven't spoken with them in a while, then give them a buzz," he said. "I set time to speak with them. ... I feel it when I haven't spoken with them. Like when I'm not in the gym, my posture tends to go a different direction."
This is a priority for Kumra, as well, who views this concept as a win-win situation for himself and those he considers his personal board members. "By being top-of-mind for your mentors, they're going to subsequently give more," he said.
4. Build a personal board of people you want to be around.
Serial entrepreneur Collin Hanks has an organized, three-tiered process of gathering input from his personal board. First, he consults family members (many of whom he is in business with), followed by close business friends with whom he has no professional relationship, and finally, reaches out to mentors and business partners. He values input from longtime friends from his hometown and from more recent additions to his circle, such as business professionals spread across the country.
Hanks, whose newest company is influencer agency BrandBridge, relies on a central theme to determine the people he surrounds himself with: They're individuals he genuinely enjoys and appreciates.
"It's really cool to be able to dream and build your dreams with your family and friends. That's one of the biggest things with partners. If they aren't someone that I would enjoy to be around, then they're not going to be a business partner of mine," he said. "Everyone works 70 percent of their life, and it needs to be as enjoyable as possible."