Business Mentors and their value for entrepreneurs
Are you an entrepreneur or wanting to be one? You might find that starting a business was the easy part. Find out the importance of mentors in business from the experience of top startup owners. Here are some valuable lessons about what to look for in business mentors and how to find one.
Entrepreneurship without business mentors is a lot like commuting by car to a new destination. The goal is to arrive quickly from point A to point B. That means choosing a route that has the fewest impediments. It may be the shortest route, but that may mean a lot of traffic, speed bumps, traffic lights, and/or ongoing construction.
You can learn the quickest route through trial and error, but that will take time. In some cases, it might mean not getting to point B at all. What can you do to avoid those scenarios? You can find business mentors to guide you.
The importance of business mentors
The etymology of “mentor” is interesting. It refers to the epic poem Odyssey, where Mentor is the lifelong friend of Odysseus. Mentor served as an adviser to his son Telemachus. It is now a common noun meaning “trusted counselor or guide.”
In modern parlance, business mentors are like user-generated navigation maps. They know how to find the quickest route through their own experience or with the help of other people. They are thus able to counsel and guide new entrepreneurs to avoid the pitfalls of entrepreneurship.
Odysseus recognized that his son needed guidance at an early age, and the same applies to startups. Once a business starts picking up, many things will start happening at the same time. It can be very easy to be sidetracked.
Matt Decoursey, a serial entrepreneur, and Startup Hustle TV podcast host points out, “You grow so fast and so many things are going in a forward direction that you run out of bandwidth. You start leaving things and scraps and breadcrumbs all over the place, and eventually you [have to] go back and clean those up.”
Mentors are not there to hold your hand and tell you everything is going to be okay. They are there to deliver home truths and give course corrections to businesses that are not always welcome. However, if given at the early stages can have a significant impact on the timeline.
Business Bro Podcast host Hernan Sias discovered this about mentors: “…oftentimes they’re going to call you out on stuff that you didn’t quite understand…. and where I might be wasting my time.”
InnovateHER KC Founder and CEO Lauren Conaway has a similar experience. “I will say Matt Decoursey has been a great guide for me. He is not afraid to kick my ass when I need it, which sometimes I don’t love, but it’s always to my benefit.”
What to look for in a business mentor
It is obviously important to choose business mentors who have achieved success in their field, or it would be a case of the blind leading the blind. However, business success is not the only criteria to make good business mentors.
Mentors need to be good leaders. Mentoring is not about telling people what to do or how to do it. They are there to see the situation for what it is and reveal it to the mentored. Galileo Galilei once said, “You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself.” Anyone who can do that is a great mentor.
Mentors also need to be in the same industry as the mentored. They have to be able to fully understand its peculiarities. Andrew Morgans of Marknology recounts his own experience. “I held a lot of advisors and guides and mentors at arm’s length for a long time because there wasn’t anyone in my space that was offering me leadership advice. Until someone could try to put themselves in my shoes or understand tech or technology, a lot of the leadership advice that was coming to me had nothing to do with what I was doing.”
How to find a business mentor
A business mentor does not have to be someone big in the industry. It may be anyone who has demonstrated business acumen. In the case of Erik Perkins of Perkins Builder Brothers, his first mentor was his father.
“My dad was actually an entrepreneur I would say and that’s where I learned the spirit of being an entrepreneur and the value of working for yourself,” he recounts.”…in his 30s he realized he was not going to be able to retire at the rate he was making money versus spending it so he quit his regular job and bought a piece of property…it was very risky but he was able to sell that piece of property for double what he bought…. the last piece he sold it for millions of dollars.”
For most people, however, business mentors are well known in an industry. They could be part of a startup accelerator or incubator, or act as one in an individual capacity. Overall, these are people willing to help other entrepreneurs find their path.
How do you find a business mentor? Lauren says, “I hear often from people that it’s difficult to find a mentor and I push back on that. I think that a lot of people tend to be afraid to ask. I feel like most of the mentors that I’ve worked with take it as a huge compliment if someone asks them.”
Of course, not everyone has the confidence or background to do that, but the point is nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you find an organization or person you believe can help your business grow, then you have to make the effort to connect.
That is not to say that if you ask, they will accept. Mentors tend to choose people to help when they feel a connection and see the potential of following through. In Matt’s experience, many young entrepreneurs lack commitment.
“I really try to help other entrepreneurs… and they just don’t handle it well. They don’t follow up or they don’t do something… it’s not that any of these people have poor intentions. It’s usually related to some level of inexperience and [lack] of understanding [of] the unwritten rules of entrepreneurship. If you want help from people, make it easy for people to help you.”
In other words, business mentors can only do so much. You as the mentored must be willing to do your part to make the process, and business, a success.
The value of business mentors in entrepreneurship is in acceleration. Entrepreneurs might be able to find the right path on their own, but perhaps not as quickly or effectively as they would have with the right guidance. Matt summarizes the value of business mentors in entrepreneurship: “The thing that’s really valuable is if you can find people that can do anything to accelerate your path to success. That could be introductions [or] it could be advice that helps you avoid time loss. Overall, if you find the right people, mentors, advisors, partners, and people that want to work with you, that has a lot of long-term upsides.”
Get more insights about business mentors from Entrepreneurs!
Do you want to know how you can succeed in entrepreneurship with the help of business mentors? Benefit from the experiences of real-world entrepreneurs on Startup Hustle TV. The program highlights the insights of top startup owners on how to run a business and deal with all the challenges that come with it.