This past weekend, I attended the CEO Conference in Orlando, FL (my first conference ever!) Despite committing the rookie mistake of bringing far too few business cards and a having slight case of networking anxiety, I found the experience to be extremely worthwhile. Between representing GenFKD, meeting one of the founders of Nardo’s Natural and listening to inspiring keynote speeches (not the mention basking in the 80-degree weather) it was hard not to have a good time.
CEO, which stands for Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, is the premier entrepreneurship network, whose mission is to “inform, support and inspire college students to be entrepreneurial and seek opportunity through enterprise creation.”
As a person who arrived with zero entrepreneurial ambitions and left with a case of entrepreneurship word vomit, I’d say they’re good at what they do.
So, for the Steve Jobs in all of us, I’ve catalogued the five most memorable tips and exercises to inspire, strategize and network your way to entrepreneurial success:
1. Where Do You See Yourself At Age 30?
This simple exercise, courtesy of successful author, speaker and hilarious moderator of the conference EJ Carrion, is meant to inspire a distinct vision for yourself.
Consider these questions:
What does your future office look like?
What’s sitting on your desk?
What does your day-to-day schedule consist of?
How do you dress?
Where do you live?
What color are your office walls?
Envision living your life in this way day in and day out, and let this curated future color every business decision you make, from finding your first office space to the way you dress every morning. Live the life you want for yourself.
2. Define Your Mission And Outline A Strategy
What’s the point of starting a business if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve? If you can’t answer these simple questions beforehand, your big idea will lack the purpose, ingenuity and passion needed to flourish in today’s dynamic job scene.
Is your big idea selling a specific lifestyle, as with Apple? How do you want people to feel while using your product? (Think about how Nike sells a mentality just as much as athletic wear). Get inside the mind of your future consumer and craft a deliberate mission statement, and subsequently, overarching strategy. Having a defined plan in mind will prepare you for the many bumps along the road to success.
3. Find A Mentor
Or a role model. Or an artistic community. The point here is to make trustworthy connections that will challenge, guide and inspire you. This is the time for cold emailing, informational interviews and way too many coffee meetings. Your mom or best friend isn’t going to tell you that your idea needs work or that your art lacks perspective. A mentor will. And they’ll give you advice on how to improve. Get out there and find the Usher to your Justin Bieber (just please don’t end up like him).
4. Set Short 30-Day Goals
As a person who has trouble following through on personal projects, I found this tip very helpful. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the end goal and all the work you need to do in order to get there, take it one day, one step and one goal at a time.
Starting a blog? Set an amount of posts you want to have published in 30 days from now. Looking for a mentor? Find three people whose work you’re inspired by and have coffee with them.
5. Networking 101
I had the privilege of sitting in on Jenna Atkinson of Jenna Atkinson Consulting‘s break out session entitled “Top 10 Ways To Kick A$$ At Networking.” Here’s a summarized version of her presentation:
a. Do your research beforehand. Avoid the awkwardness of forgetting their job title and utilize Google.
b. Always think of the WIFM’s (what’s in it for me’s) and provide value. Don’t focus only on what you can
c. A little on the shy side or new to networking? Ask a lot of questions and listen attentively. People love
d. Always follow up! This is arguably the most important step. All the small talk and business card
e. Exit gracefully. Chances are you’re not attending this networking event for your health. You’re there to make as many connections as possible—don’t waste your time talking to just one person.
And, when the going gets tough (because it will), keep this quote in mind:
“We are given the problems that we have because of the person we’re supposed to be.” –EJ Carrion
Were you at the CEO Conference? Share your experience below and don’t forget to register for our free Millennial Success Conference on November 15, 2014 at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. Space is limited!