The concept of mentorship has been around for as long as people have had professions. The village blacksmith didn’t learn his craft from a book, he learned it from a mentor who passed down skills through generations of training.
In simpler times, it was common practice for mentors, upon retiring, to pass the reigns to younger men lucky enough to inherit the knowledge of the trade. The idea of working your way up through the ranks went hand-in-hand with the idea of mentorship, and it still should.
But for some modern entrepreneurs, there can be an expectation of bursting onto the scene, toting a fully realized business concept, with only your ideas at the reigns. In some cases, this works; in many cases, it flops. Having a mentor can improve the chances of sustaining that burst and finding lasting success.
Even those who we think of as “self-made men” have had mentors to help them along their path to success. Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, had Steve Jobs; Bill Gates cites Warren Buffett as a major key to his success; and Richard Branson was guided by Sir Freddie Laker.
Here are just some ways that finding a mentor can foster your small business success.
Real-world advice that can’t be found in books
Knowing about your field, your product, and your technology is all well and good, but there is so much more to being a successful entrepreneur. You have to develop business “street smarts”, and quickly.
Having someone looking over your shoulder who has already been in the trenches can help you avoid real-world pitfalls, and navigate unforeseen challenges. Having a great product isn’t enough in this day and age. Entrepreneurs have to be in constant flux to stay relevant and roll with the punches.
Business networking is one of the most effective marketing and prospecting tools you can use to grow your new business. Because your mentor will most likely have years of experience, he or she will have a solid network of industry connections.
Your mentor can help open doors so you can meet people like potential partners, customers, and investors. Investors are more apt to trust startups who are recommended by friends in the business. A mentor can help you acquire those initial investors which will most likely open the door to more investors.
Self confidence and encouragement
The dream of a successful small business or startup is not for the faint of heart. Without a healthy dose of self-confidence, an entrepreneur can easily crumble under pressure. Going it alone can be isolating, and even if you have the investment you need, it can be just as important to have mental and emotional support.
There will be make or break moments in every entrepreneur’s career--when they need support and encouragement to rise to the challenge. It’s not about hand-holding; it’s about having someone in your corner who believes in you--sometimes, until you believe in yourself.
Mentorship isn’t only important in the beginning phases of your startup or small business. As your company grows, new challenges will arise, and having a sounding board will be valuable and necessary. If your business is to last, flexibility is key.
Chances are, your business will go through many iterations. There will be times when revaluation and re-invention is a necessity. The stresses that come with building and growing a business can't always be solved with money. An experienced mentor can help you figure out the right path to take at crucial ventures.
Skill development and staying teachable
Perhaps the most obvious thing that a mentor will provide is skill development. You will most likely choose a mentor who is in your field, or a similar field. Mentors can also act as teachers - picking up where your formal education left off.
Successful entrepreneurs must stay teachable, which means being open to learning new things and seeing new perspectives that might challenge your preconceived notions. A good mentor will help you strive for lifelong learning as a valuable tool for business success.
Drawing on the know-how from someone who’s seen it all can serve to improve your chances of entrepreneurial success long-term. That kind of wisdom is irreplaceable, whether you are a village blacksmith or a tech startup.