Many articles on personal and business development will casually mention your mentor as if it were a foregone conclusion that you already have one. Frankly, that’s because having a mentor is such a significant benefit to an entrepreneur that there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t have one.
If you haven’t thought about it before, or have already decided that you don’t need one, here’s why you should get a mentor.
First Things First: What is a Mentor?
Part of the reason why you haven’t seriously considered a mentor in the past might be that you don’t want to have to answer to anyone. You became an entrepreneur to become your own boss, and entering a mentor relationship might feel a little to close to that. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A mentor is simply a more experienced person, typically also an entrepreneur, who you can go to for advice and accountability. They have no formal control over you or your business and are there to provide guidance, reassurance, and an outside perspective.
How A Mentor Can Help You
Regardless of where you are in your business, but especially if you’re just starting out, there are several concrete benefits that a mentor can provide.
As much as you may have prepared to be your own boss those first few months especially could find you a little bit adrift. You’re always going to be the easiest person to disappoint because you’ll always believe your own excuses. Having someone outside of yourself to help track your progress, is going to make it easier to stay on track.
Don’t worry, you won’t be reporting to them, and they won’t be able to impose consequences on you. The simple act of having a third party to help track your progress is going to help keep you on track and focused, and keep you from making excuses on why you’re not making the deadlines you’ve set for yourself.
Even Keeled Experience
You can get all sorts of knowledge through reading, seminars, lectures, and more. But no matter how much you might understand the business you’re getting into, each new crisis that arises can feel like the end of the world (or worse, the end of your business).
A mentor has been through all of that, and more, several times over. They can tell you how they handled it, how you should respond, and that it’s not worth panicking over. That last part is often going to be the most valuable. Having the reassurance that you can proceed calmly in the correct direction is going to be worth it for the peace of mind alone. More importantly, it’s going to prevent you from overreacting and making rash decisions.
More (And Better) Connections
Another advantage of having a mentor is being able to draw on the extra connections they’ve made in the time they’ve been in business. They’ll have established relationships with clients, vendors, and more. They’ll know who the decision-makers are, and be able to get you past gatekeepers and offer you more meaningful inroads with new companies and customers.
The fact that they’ve (ideally) been a trusted partner of these various businesses for years means their recommendation carries weight and establishes an immediate rapport with the connections they help you make.
A Long Term Relationship
As a business owner, a huge number of the relationships you form are going to be transactional in some way. You can’t confide in vendors or clients, and many of the people who would be in a position to best understand you would be your competitors. There simply aren’t a lot of outlets to have meaningful relationships with a peer.
That’s where a mentor can come in. As you grow in experience, that relationship will grow as well. You’ll be able to offer each other insight and perspective and gain the ability to have meaningful conversations about your business, without having to worry about whether it’s appropriate or good business sense.
What To Look For In A Mentor
First and foremost, a mentor should be an entrepreneur who has more experience than you, by a wide margin. You should be looking for someone who has successfully moved their business to at least the step beyond yours and has been in business for themselves for at least 10 years.
There are advantages and disadvantages to having a mentor who is still in business vs a retired mentor. You might get more up to date insight from a mentor who is still working, but their schedule might make them less available. Someone who is retired is going to have more time, and usually more experience and a completely successful career arc, but if you’re in a rapidly evolving industry their insight might be more general.
It’s also important to find someone who is going to have some insight into your industry without being a direct competitor. Your mentor should be able to provide valuable services and a competitive edge. If they’ve got a conflict of interest in doing that, no matter how well-intentioned they may be, you won’t be getting the full benefit of your mentor relationship.
Your mentor should be someone with similar strengths and weaknesses. If you struggle with a specific aspect of the business (say, managing employees) your first instinct might be to find someone who has a natural talent in that area. The problem is that if they’re a natural, they won’t have ever had to think at length about how they do it, and won’t be as helpful giving you advice. On the other hand, if you’re strong in an area they struggle with, a lot of the advice they have in overcoming struggles might not apply to the struggles you’re having.
Having a mentor might not be your first priority in the midst of all the day-to-day demands of your business. However, having an eye to the future is essential for business success, and a mentor can help with that, and many other essential parts of your business.