Like most things in life, it “takes a village” to succeed as a startup. Entrepreneurs are constantly breaking rules and making mistakes in an effort to drive their businesses forward. It’s common to be suddenly in situations where you “don’t know what you don’t know.” Yet you still have to stay in motion and make quick decisions.
The smaller your company, the faster you need to move, often without enough information to make the best choices. Without a savvy mentor as a guide, you may end up making crucial early mistakes that would have otherwise been avoidable.
If you’ve been thinking about starting a business—or you’ve been running one for a little while—having a mentor is invaluable. Here’s how to make it happen sooner rather than later.
Why having a mentor matters
It’s helpful to know that some of most successful businessmen and women on the planet have had mentors. Steve Jobs was mentored by Mike Markkula. Mark Zuckerberg was mentored by Jobs. Eric Schmidt mentored Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Famous female entrepreneurs Katia Beauchamp (co-founder of Birchbox) and Miki Agrawal (CEO and co-founder of Thinx) also both had mentors. Tory Burch thinks mentoring is so important she started a foundation just to provide women with mentoring opportunities.
Not entirely convinced that getting a mentor is worth it? There are numerous arguments why entrepreneurs don’t need mentors and should simply follow their own instincts and gut feelings.
However, in a recent executive coaching survey, 80 percent of CEOs said they received some form of mentorship. These are just a few benefits:
- Mentors provide real world experience that’s not available in books. Experience is crucial to business success. And it’s an expensive asset to come by. You earn it mostly by making mistakes. After all, there’s really only so much you can learn by reading books—it’s safe to say that most authors aren’t entirely comfortable divulging all their missteps along their own roads to success (which are often the most illuminating). The intimate relationship that develops between a mentor and mentee is one where those details are likely to be shared.
- Mentors help you grow your network. If you’re ever planning on looking for startup funding, having a wide circle of professional connections is crucial to your success. Investors trust entrepreneurs recommended by their friends. Your mentor will be invested in your success, so it’s safe to say that they’ll be glad to introduce you to people who can benefit your career when the need arises.
- Mentors offer encouragement and reassurance. Every entrepreneur is bound to encounter some type of failure along the way. The trick is not letting the consequences set you back or impact your productivity. Through good times and bad, a mentor can provide perspective thanks to their years experiencing some of the same highs and lows. Mentors offer reassurance and soothing words of wisdom when things aren’t going your way, and can provide the advice you need to navigate your way back to success.
Some strategies for finding a mentor
There are many ways to connect with possible mentors. What really matters is that you take some time getting to know possible candidates so that you find a good fit. Mentor/mentee relationships ideally develop over time into more than just a formal professional scenario.
Try to not be too rushed getting started. Your best opportunities for finding someone are in situations where you learn about people over time.
- Attend networking events and join professional organizations. Regular attendance at business-related events is crucial for every businessperson. Not only do they enable you to stay on top of the latest developments in your field, they also provide opportunities to develop organic relationships with like-minded people—one of whom may be a perfect fit to be your mentor. Additionally, many professional organizations even have an obligation to offer mentorship programs to their members. Check with your professional association’s local chapters to see if one’s available.
- Collaborate with other professionals on projects. There are a multitude of opportunities for collaboration. From renting a spot in a shared workspace to volunteering at an organization like Taproot that enables professionals to do pro bono work for nonprofits, there are a variety of avenues for professionals interested in working closely with their highly skilled peers. Collaborating in a team environment is a great way to gain contacts from a broad range of industries and markets, opening possibilities for connections that are outside sometimes-insular industry worlds.
- Follow leaders on social media and participate in conversations. Connecting with entrepreneurs and successful leaders in your industry on LinkedIn and Twitter is a great way to build a professional community. By reading and contributing to conversation threads you can be not only in-the-know but also potentially make personal connections with compatible individuals. Online communities also meet locally, giving you a great chance to personally connect with people who might be perfect mentors.
It’s an experience that yields far-reaching rewards
All entrepreneurs need the guidance of leaders and experts in order to effectively bring ideas and inventions to market. Participating in a formal process of regularly scheduled meetings with someone who has your best interests at heart is wonderful creative outlet. It enables entrepreneurs to gain valuable input and explore options with a tested veteran who probably knows, viscerally, what it’s like to be in your shoes.
While not easy, heeding a mentor’s advice and working at change is something that has the power not only to change your business but to change your life.