Founder and CEO of ERG companies. Nationally recognized thought leader in the fields of entrepreneurship, investing and leadership.
“Develop your business plan.” “Practice your pitch.” “Invest meeting with investors.” As an entrepreneur, your to-do list likely contains a host of responsibilities following the advice of an MBA program or Internet search. But these vital resources often overlook one of the most important recommendations for an entrepreneur’s early career: before you develop your business plan or practice your pitch, look for a mentor — someone who can help you navigate through one of the most difficult and demanding professions.
But why and how? In this article I share four reasons why you should look for a mentor and tips on how to do this successfully.
1. Mentors help you set the right expectations.
Without exposure to entrepreneurship, it’s easy to raise false expectations about the profession. Research shows that most people become entrepreneurs to be their own boss, to pursue a passion, to earn more money, etc. My experience is that starting out as an entrepreneur requires working twice as hard for often less than you would at your full-time job, with no guarantee that your sacrifice will see a return. This was shown by a recent study more than eight out of ten entrepreneurs work nights and weekends, while the average base salary of American entrepreneurs is about $61,000.
Setting the right expectations is necessary to make it through this grueling but rewarding path. Not everyone is cut out for it, and the sooner you learn this, the better it is for your career and happiness. For me, the right expectations came from the mentorship I received from a fellow surgeon who owned and operated the surgical hospital I eventually purchased. He gave me an insight into the discipline of entrepreneurship and what it would mean to run an organization with more than 100 full-time employees and a dozen physicians.
2. Mentors improve the success rate of your actions.
Leadership. Sale. Marketing. HR. Bookkeeping. Legal. The list is complete. As a founder of a startup company, you are involved in every aspect of the business and do almost everything. As your company acquires customers and hires employees, your role evolves over time. Leadership becomes the primary focus. The same goes for strategy. Your focus shifts to higher order responsibilities.
Throughout the lifecycle of your business, you make countless decisions that have significant consequences. And this highlights another value proposition of a mentor: by “being there, having done that”, your mentor can help you make the right decisions and improve the success rate of your actions, which can be invaluable regardless whether your company is in the startup, scale-up or mid-market phase.
3. Mentors help you build a network for career success.
Entrepreneurship is a social enterprise, which means you cannot build a successful business on your own. Too often I come across founders who have the ambition to build hugely successful ventures on their own – an ambition often driven by vanity.
Mentors are key value drivers in the social enterprise of entrepreneurship. In addition to providing essential knowledge, they also introduce important connections to entrepreneurs, partners, investors and others who can help you not only with your current business, but also with your journey as an entrepreneur. (In my experience, the latter is much more important and valuable than the former.)
For example, my mentor introduced me to key individuals who helped me start and build multiple businesses. They also helped me build a career as an investor. I believe other serial entrepreneurs share my feelings about the impact mentorship can have on success.
4. Mentors are ambassadors for your company.
It never hurts to build ambassadors for your business – people who are emotionally and intellectually invested in the success of your business and believe in the value of its existence. Mentors are ideal advocates because they inevitably gain a sense of ownership in your business by investing their time, effort, and knowledge to help you.
And here’s why it matters: Positive publicity. Ambassadors can increase your company’s reach and recognition through word of mouth, social media and more, which can add value to the company in many ways.
How to find the right mentor
Getting a mentor to support your growth as an entrepreneur accelerates your path to success. But that raises an important question: how do you find and secure the right mentor? Here are five tips to get you started.
• Find successful entrepreneurs.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, you want to learn from those who have experienced success. That means finding someone who has experience starting and growing a viable business and taking it to a positive exit event, such as a sale.
• Be proactive.
Mentors are most attracted to ambitious students who are passionate about their subject, eager to learn and recognize the value of support. That is why it is important that you show these qualities in your search for the right mentor. Show interest and admiration for your mentor’s business or career achievements. Be passionate about your craft as an entrepreneur. In addition, show that you are open to coaching and that you appreciate any help they can give.
• Make use of LinkedIn.
With more than 774 million users, LinkedIn is the premier social media platform for professionals, making it the ideal way to connect with potential mentors. It’s easier to find entrepreneurs with experience in your industry and share those connections with people you already know.
• Join a local entrepreneurial community.
You will undoubtedly find formal and informal communities for entrepreneurs in every city in the US. Whether they are accelerators, incubators or non-profit organizations, these organizations are here to support your growth as a business builder and connect you with like-minded entrepreneurs.
Accelerate your career development.
Entrepreneurship can be one of the most challenging and demanding professions, and navigating it alone is risky. To increase your chances of success, seek the support of people who understand the science of entrepreneurship and what it takes to get from A to B. Beginning your search for a mentor can help you accelerate your path to success and learn some of the hard lessons other founders learn firsthand.