By John Meyer
Whether entrepreneurs choose to admit it or not, a large part of the startup mentality is predicated on ego — a sense that one can go it alone, without institutional support or the constraints of the standard corporate hierarchy. Such an admission is, in fact, a hallmark of possessing a strong ego, as it acknowledges one’s commitment to being free, without shame or regret.
A powerful entrepreneurial ego is essential towards one’s drive and success, but it should not get in the way of seeking help as necessary. Part of Entrepreneurism 101 should include a unit on The Power of a Business Mentor, and require every startup to have a relationship with a designated mentor or mentors. While many entrepreneurs believe they can go it alone, they can benefit greatly from learning alongside someone who has stood in their shoes before. So, what can a mentor offer? Here are some ideas:
A reliable sounding board with experience. Let’s be honest, the job of “entrepreneur” can be a lonely one. You’re the boss, with the boss’s responsibilities, accountabilities, and worries. The buck stops with you, and no one else. Having a mentor can alleviate some of that sense of isolation and provide a sounding board for ideas, questions, and concerns. At the very least, a mentor can serve as a valuable resource who offers objectivity — something that is often difficult to maintain as a business principal living on the proverbial entrepreneurial island.
The “missing link,” in terms of expertise. Many entrepreneurs are jacks-of-all-trades but masters-of-none, which leaves them vulnerable in areas where their respective expertise is lacking. A business mentor can provide exactly that type of missing expertise, whether it be as a marketing guru, staffing specialist, financial wizard, or business planner extraordinaire. Consider where your skill set is strongest, and where you could use some expert input and support. The latter area is where your business mentor will pay the biggest dividend.
Build your advisory board. Multiple mentors can also serve as a strong advisory board. By pooling mentors’ individual talents into a collective base of business expertise, you will have an enviable resource to defer to on a multitude of issues. Not only will you have a wealth of business experience to tap into, you will also hold yourself accountable to an entity other than yourself.
So, what’s the first step in developing a business mentor relationship? Putting your entrepreneurial ego aside, and not letting pride get in the way of personal improvement. Admit that outside expertise can be a significant benefit toward making you a successful entrepreneur, then take stock of what skill set you would best gain from enhancing. Once you’ve opened the door to having a business mentor, you will enjoy the possibilities of new ideas and input from external sources. Think of the potential that objectivity and business expertise might offer your own entrepreneurial gifts. The next challenge will be to identify a specific mentor for your needs and interests — a topic for another day.
John Meyer is head of Strategic Partnerships/Marketing at The Company Corporation. He is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and connecting them to resources that help them thrive. He is also a political strategist and art collector in his free time. Follow him at @Company_Corp.