While the challenges of being an entrepreneur have been well-documented, reports often fail to describe the feelings of self-doubt, loneliness and isolation that tend to plague aspiring entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey.
No amount of angel funding, slick technology or strategic business consulting can really assuage the feelings of doubt that accompany starting a brave new enterprise.
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Yet this is where strong mentorship can play a critical role – and in fact can prove to be far more valuable than landing an investment deal or angel fund backing.
Mentors can keep tired and frustrated entrepreneurs on track, and provide guidance and inspiration when they hit those inevitable speed wobbles.
So how does one find these mentors, and ensure that they are the right fit?
From my experience, every entrepreneur needs to have several mentors – each of whom will play a different role, at different stages, and serve a slightly different purpose.
Some of these mentors will be deliberate choices on your part, while other relationships will evolve and become ‘mentor/mentee’ connections over time.
Different roles mentors play
For example, when making the move from consulting group McKinsey to a new career, I deliberately stayed in touch with certain clients and colleagues from the company, and actively sought out their advice and opinions.
As a result, some of these individuals have become valuable mentors – providing an outside perspective and helping me to interrogate my own business strategy and tactics with regards to new endeavours.
In contrast, my brother, who is also co-founder of the business, has become a valuable mentor to me – even though this was never a deliberate strategy on my part. The relationship simply evolved, and he now provides an invaluable source of outside guidance and perspective.
The nature of the connection with each mentor will also be different. For example, some mentors will provide only business or industry advice and insight, while others may play more of a life coach or ‘counseling’ role.
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In my view, entrepreneurs need to have mentors who can assume these various roles – because each is necessary for the rounded growth and success of an aspiring entrepreneur.
Do you and your mentor have shared values?
It’s important to note that for any ‘mentor/mentee’ relationship to work, there undoubtedly has to be certain shared values, as well as mutual respect.
Having said that, it is beneficial for the mentee if there are differing perspectives and professional/life experience. It helps, for example, if a mentor comes from a completely different industry or background, and can help the mentee to identify the blind spots that often come with being in a certain industry or profession for many years – or being too caught up with a new idea or concept.
Trusted independent perspective
A fresh and honest interrogation from an outsider can prove to be invaluable when looking to solve deeply ingrained problems that are unique to one’s industry or sector.
Good mentors also show humility, and are willing to share the mistakes they have made and how certain failures affected them.
I believe mentors should also be pseudo-independent – and at least one step removed from your enterprise – so that they are always alleviating your stress, rather than compounding it.
These relationships, like any other, need to be nurtured and worked on. I meet with my mentors once a month to discuss any business challenges I might have, and to bounce off any new ideas or developments.
I usually approach these meetings with a few key points in mind so that the discussion will have some direction and serve a definite purpose.
Giving back should be the norm
As an entrepreneur, it’s always important to realise that you have a great deal of valuable experience and expertise to share – so ensure that you are open to giving back and being a mentor to someone else.
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Without doubt, the more wisdom and guidance you receive from your own mentors, the more you will want to give back and support others who are also embarking on this difficult journey.