Do you need a mentor in your business life, or even in your personal life? Well, if you’ve been listening to The Entrepreneur Way podcast, you probably won’t have had to listen to too many episodes before this topic came up. A lot of the entrepreneurs who come on the show are big on the benefits of mentoring. If you’ve haven’t been listening to the show, or you’re just not quite convinced, I’m going to explain some of the benefits of having a mentor, and how you go about finding one.
What is a mentor exactly? A mentor is basically someone who has achieved a level of success that you aspire to, or has more experience than you, who takes you under their wing. Basically it’s someone who guides your and advices you in your entrepreneurial journey, or in any other journey for that matter, but for this article, I’m just going to be focusing on the benefits of having a mentor for entrepreneurs. With regards to the details of a mentor-mentee relationship, it isn’t really something which can be explained, because every mentor-mentee relationship is different. A mentor could do different things for you depending on what it is you need, a mentor can be a sounding board, a facilitator, an advisor, a role model, a source of feedback, a motivator, someone to challenge you, and much more.
A mentor can help you to shorten your learning curve. Rather than learning slowly through your own trial and error, a mentor can steer you away from mistakes which they may have made themselves, or nudge you in the right direction so you do something which you never would have thought to do on your own, or something which would have taken you a lot longer to work out on your own. I should point out though, that a mentor should not be confused with a coach. A mentor may be able to suggest lots of things along your entrepreneurial journey that will be of huge benefit to your business that you never would have thought of on your own.
A mentor typically isn’t paid, they usually just take an interest in your success, want to see you succeed and enjoy helping you. A lot of the time, a mentor is someone who you know personally, or who sees something in you and wants to help you, although a coach and mentor can sometimes be the same thing, that is not typically the case.
Most of the successful people you admire had a mentor at some stage in their career, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, Larry Page; all of these great entrepreneurs had mentors. The chances are, they wouldn’t have been so successful, certainly not as quickly, without being able to utilise the experience and knowledge of their mentors. Your mentor doesn’t have to have done exactly what you want to do either, they could have succeeded in a completely different industry, but as long as they’ve succeeded in some industry, they will have lots of lessons which you can learn from.
I was at a speech earlier this year, which was given by Mark Wright, who won The Apprentice UK in 2014; you can listen to his podcast on The Entrepreneur Way here. When he won the show he won a £250,000 investment by Lord Sugar, and they went into a 50/50 partnership. Mark said more than once, if he had to choose between the £250,000 investment and having Lord Sugar’s mentorship, he would pick the mentorship every time. You really cannot put a price on having a great mentor.
Even if you think a mentor may not be of much benefit to you, you’d be surprised just how much it can help you having someone to bounce ideas off. Sometimes you might not even notices flaws in your ideas until you try and explain them to someone else who probably doesn’t share your rose tinted view about your business. That’s not even accounting for any contribution which they might make for your ideas. The benefits of having a mentor aren’t just limited to having someone to speak to, and having someone who can offer great ideas for you to apply in your business.
Having a mentor can improve your confidence in your own decision making ability, because you’ll be more confident you’re making the right decision when they agree with you, and you’ll be more confident when they make a suggestion which you apply. Also, a benefit of having a mentor is it’s gets you used to being in a reflective state of mind, which can be invaluable for an entrepreneur.
If you know that someone might probe you and ask you to justify something, you’re probably going to think more carefully than you otherwise would have done about deciding to do it, or not do it. Furthermore, having a mentor can result in you worrying less, and focusing on the right things, and who knows, they at some point they might be able to introduce you to someone who they know which could lead to an extremely fruitful and beneficial business relationship.
You might be thinking ‘right okay, I’m sold, but why would anyone want to mentor me, what would they get out of it?’ Well, the chances are your potential mentor won’t want anything out of it. A lot of people who you would want to have as a mentor were probably mentored themselves at some point, so they’ll have no problem mentoring someone else when asked, because they’re aware that they might not be where they are if someone else hadn’t taken the time to mentor them. Most people would find mentoring someone a very satisfying experience, and one which they would be honoured to do. So don’t worry about people not wanting to mentor you, you’d be amazed at how will people will be to do it, and even if they aren’t, the worst they can do is politely say no.
Hopefully by this point, you have realised the benefits of having a mentor, and that people will be happy to mentor you, even honoured. So how do you find and get mentors?
If you know someone personally, say a family friend or a parent of a friend you know well, they would be a great place to start, especially if you’re still relatively new in your entrepreneurial journey. If you don’t really know anyone like that then just expand your search. Who do you know, or know if, in your local community that is successful and who you would like to emulate? Perhaps you went to school with someone who had a parent who was a successful entrepreneur. Or, if you’re older, perhaps you went to school with someone who is now an entrepreneur.
If you think hard enough, you will know someone, or at the very least know of someone who is a successful entrepreneur. Once you’ve thought of this person, the next step is incredibly simple; all you have to do is ask. You’ll be amazed how easy it is, if you know them personally, then take them out for lunch or something and ask them in person. If you don’t know them that well, ask a friend to introduce you so you can ask them, or failing that send them a nice hand written letter, or an email. As long as you don’t ask for too much of their time, most people will be happy to mentor you, and will be honoured to do so. But if you don’t ask, you won’t get.
If you decide you want to be mentored by someone who’s fairly well known, I’d still say ask. What do you have to lose? As long as you’re not asking someone like Richard Branson, who almost certainly wouldn’t have the time even if he did want to mentor you, someone will say yes. Even if they’ve been on TV or have a relatively large following, you’d be surprised how accessible and eager to mentor you anyone will be. If you’re not sure where you draw the line between being well known but worth asking and being too well known to make it worth asking, then I’d say just ask whoever, even if it is Richard Branson.
The worst case scenario is you send them a nice letter and get a nice reply saying no back or no reply at all. Also, don’t forget, just because someone is well known to you, a lot of the time you’d be surprised how few people would even ask them to mentor them, because people just assume they’ll say no. So it’s always worth asking, even if you only get to see them once as a result and don’t get regular mentorship. You can get a lot of knowledge from someone just from having lunch with someone one time and finding out what their thoughts and opinions are about different things in business.
My final point regarding mentors is even if you can’t get access to someone, you can be mentored by people as a result of reading their books, especially biographies and autobiographies. I wouldn’t recommend substituting this for a real life mentor, but you should be reading books of people you admire whether you have a mentor or not. This enables you to have mentors who aren’t even alive any more. So do read books of successful people you’d love to be mentored by if it were possible, but make sure you find yourself a real life mentor too.
Basically, mentors are great, you should get one, and to get one, all you need to do is ask. That’s it.
If you have a mentor, or know about the benefits of having one, or have any other questions, feel free to post a comment. If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, or know someone who might benefit from reading it, then feel free to share it.