Why You Still Need a Mentor
No Matter How Long You Have Been in Business, Connecting with a Mentor Can Benefit Both You and Your Business
For many business owners, being the boss can be a lonely and stressful job. It can help to connect with others who either are, or have been, in your shoes, no matter how much experience you have in business.
“I think having at least one mentor is critical for business owners,” says Bradley Joyce, founder of LAUNCH DFW, an organization that promotes and supports technology start-ups in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. He is also the founder of Socializer and managing partner of Velocis Enterprises. “While there is plenty of information out there about how to create, build, and run all types of businesses, there really is no substitute for the advice of trusted people who have been in the trenches and gone through the same things you're going through.”
The Benefits of Having a Mentor
When you do need advice, but don’t have the resources to hire consultants or experts, finding one or more mentors can be an inexpensive, yet effective, alternative.
“Working with a mentor is a cost-effective way to get feedback on some of the challenges or opportunities you are facing,” says Jack Killion, co-founder of the professional networking consulting firm Bluestone + Killion and manager of Eagle Rock Diversified Fund. “It’s an inexpensive source of new ideas about your current business and other things. Mentors can also be a low-cost source of competitive intelligence. They can help you find resources and give you access to their connections. I don’t see a downside to finding mentors.”
When you are facing a problem in your business, developing processes, or making changes, having an impartial and experienced person to have meaningful discussions with can help you make smarter decisions and reduce your stress about those decisions.
Access to an independent opinion can be critical. Often, employees are too concerned with their standings in your company to challenge you, or are afraid of how the right direction for your business could jeopardize their jobs.
There are many different arrangements for mentorship. Some mentors advise you about a particular event in your business, like opening a new location, offering a new service, or staffing up. Others can provide specific expertise and insights on a specific project. There are also mentorship relationships that last for years.
Finding a Mentor
No matter what type of mentorship you seek, finding a mentor with the skill sets and experience you need can be as easy as tapping your own network of connections.
“It all comes back to committing to spending a certain amount of time networking,” says Killion. “You can’t wait until you need a mentor and then start networking in the hopes of finding someone who can help. Your relationships should already be there so you have people to reach out to when the time is right.”
You may not even have to leave your business to find a mentor. A customer, vendor, or service provider could have the expertise you want to tap, or they may know someone to connect you with. By striking up targeted conversations while doing the things you love from the golf course to the motorcycle club to the nonprofit board meetings synching your personal passions with your business needs can broaden your search for mentors.
“Picking the right mentor is just as critical as having one,” says Joyce. “It should be someone you trust and with whom you've developed a solid relationship. They should have experience relevant to your business, though it doesn't have to be in the same industry. It's also important to have very clear expectations of each other.”
When you approach someone to be a mentor, Killion recommends that you be clear about why you want help, how much of a time commitment you will ask of him or her, and the time frame. Do you want to be able to occasionally go for lunch with your mentor or do you want weekly meetings to discuss a specific project? Do you want to meet in person or can the meetings be held on the phone or via Skype? Lay out what you are looking to get out of the arrangement at the beginning of the relationship so that you can both manage expectations. Consider writing it down.
Just as important, discuss what you are willing to provide in exchange. Let your mentors know how you can help in their business or personal life. Offer your professional services or products. Buy them dinner regularly. Ask if you can make any introductions to connect them with someone they would like to meet.
Making It Work
One essential ingredient to a successful mentorship relationship is to be open and honest about your business issues. “With a mentor, you can go as deeply into issues as you want to go,” says Killion. “The more you are willing to share, the more benefits you are going to get out of the relationship.”
Having sounding boards of any type is critical for small business owners,” says Killion. “You are benefitting from that person’s experience. Having been there, done that, they can help you shorten your learning curve.”
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