Everyone knows that the entrepreneurial game is tough and unrelenting. Our state of mind often determines whether we’ll bend or break, and those of us with unlimited amounts of resilience will generally persevere and ultimately prevail. I believe more entrepreneurs could succeed were they to take advantage of the various forms of support that are available to the entrepreneurial community. One such form of support is that of an outside mentor.
Mentoring is somewhat different than coaching. Many entrepreneurs might do well with both. Coaching often tends to be for a shorter duration and can be more focused on certain skills and objectives. A mentor tends to build a long-term relationship with the mentee and takes a more holistic approach to their interactions. I have been mentoring for more than 20-years through both a structured program and informal relationships and have found it to be mutually rewarding.
It’s not necessary to find a mentor from the same industry as the entrepreneur. More important is the chemistry between mentor and mentee. Are the parties compatible and do they feel comfortable together? Is the mentor a good listener? Does the mentor refrain from being judgmental? I have found that one of the best ways I can serve a mentee is to ask a lot of questions and challenge traditional thinking. I remember having a conversation with a mentee many years ago who had a business that provided personal services that were charged by the hour. After a lot of conversation, I asked the entrepreneur when the last time the prices had been raised. She was absolutely certain that there was no way she could bump her hourly rate. I challenged her to test the market with a $.25 per hour increase. When she did, she found there was no resistance and that $.25 dropped straight to her bottom line.
A mentor should be a safe haven for an entrepreneur. All that is discussed should be done so on a confidential basis. The mentee must be able to freely share his or her concerns, anxieties, strategies and secrets without fear of having them repeated to others. Entrepreneurs must be willing to “let their hair down” and reveal all that is happening in their lives that could have an impact on their business. As a mentor, I cannot be completely helpful if I don’t understand the various factors that could be causing stress for an entrepreneur. Is the fact that a mentee is having marital troubles any of my business? Of course not. But . . . by knowing that something like this is present may explain why the entrepreneur is distracted. While I’m not a marriage counselor, I may be able to help the mentee cope with such pressures and be able to minimize the adverse effects on his or her daily life.
Here’s the thing about a mentor. We will offer our observations and provide some level of guidance. We’ll tell war stories and indicate whether we think the entrepreneur is on the right track or not. We’re not going to run the entrepreneur’s business. We’re not going to interfere or intervene. We’ll stay completely in the background and avoid overshadowing our mentees. It’s up to the entrepreneur to decide if he or she wants to listen and take the advice given. It’s up to the entrepreneur to do the heavy lifting. The mentoring process can make a profound difference for an entrepreneur or it can be a meaningless waste of time for both parties. Fortunately, I’ve never worked with a mentee who was a “know-it-all.” Every entrepreneur with whom I’ve had the pleasure to mentor has been open and receptive to the learning process and to having someone with whom they can bounce around ideas – good and bad.
With permission, mentors can hold entrepreneurs accountable. We can evaluate products and business practices and potentially identify blind spots that could be fatal from a customer’s perspective. We can help the entrepreneur set goals and create metrics for determining whether those goals are being met. And we can help an entrepreneur press the re-set button when nothing seems to be working.
A mentor can become a lifelong friend for an entrepreneur and serve as an advisor through thick and thin. I have been blessed to have many such relationships in my life and am so proud of the success realized by each of the wonderful entrepreneurs with whom I’ve been able to help.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.