Ever wonder how a particular entrepreneur got where they are today? How they found seed money, a target audience, or even how they found people to hire? There’s a simple way to find answers to those questions, and it won’t typically cost you more than a cup of coffee.
The method we’re talking about involves conducting informational interviews
. The process involves nothing more than asking someone whether you can talk to them about the industry, their journey, or whatever other curiosity you have.
Keep in mind, however, what an informational interview is not. This is not a funding pitch, a job interview or a solicitation of clients from someone else. You’re simply hoping to glean some important lessons from someone else’s journey.
Perhaps the entrepreneur shares a story that makes you crave the entrepreneurial lifestyle, and confirms for you that you’re on the right path. In that case, great! You're on the right track.
But suppose their description of long hours, scarce capital and supplier issues scares you away from the entrepreneurial path. No matter which happens, you’ve done the right thing by asking someone for their insight, because it has helped inform your journey.
Reach out to Multiple People
You might know exactly which entrepreneur you want to talk to about the business, but chances are strong that not every person you contact will say yes to an informational interview. Entrepreneurs are busy, and may not always have time to spare for these sessions. So reach out to multiple people, not just the one you most want to emulate. If you don’t know who might be a good fit, check out local businesses and reach out through email, or contact people over LinkedIn.
You don’t have to send a robust note — a short introduction telling them a little about yourself and that you’re considering launching a business is a good way to start. Let them know that you aren’t seeking an investment or a job, and you’d just love to hear about their story because you are a fan of their company and want to know how they got where they are. Offer to buy them coffee or lunch if they’re open to meeting you in person. If not, consider a Zoom or phone call.
Ask About the Pros and Cons
The questions you ask the entrepreneur during the informational interview are likely to vary based on what kind of information you’re seeking, but could include the following, among others:
- What was your path to entrepreneurship?
- How did you get your seed money?
- How did you market your services/products?
- Tell me about how you got your first customer.
- What were the biggest challenges when you started?
- What advice would you have for someone starting a business in today’s environment?
- How has entrepreneurship impacted your family/personal life?
- Which productivity tools have worked best for you to get everything done?
- How did you decide when and how to hire?
Your list of questions may be different from these, but consider them a jumping-off point as you plan out your informational interview.
After the interview, be sure to follow up with a thank you email, and express your gratitude for the entrepreneur’s time. If you got all the answers you needed, it may inform your future. If you didn’t, consider reaching out to other people and getting different points of view from other entrepreneurs.