Almost any successful business leader will admit to having seriously benefited from the guidance of a mentor at some point in their journey. No matter what your experience or skill set, an advisor is invaluable to any company. Even Steve Jobs relied on so-called ‘adult supervisor’, Mike Markkula, for his sage input into the development and growth of Apple. That said, it’s always hard to introduce someone into the heart of your company, especially if it’s a one-man start-up. There’s a lot of pride, ego, possession and distrust involved. But if you find the right person - someone who understands you and what you’re trying to achieve, it can be an inspirational, exciting and incredibly productive way to do business.
Firstly, if you’re looking to bring someone in for the long-term, it's definitely not something you should rush. Do some research, ask around, use your contacts and don’t be shy. Take the time to find a person whose work and values you personally admire. I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learnt throughout my career, people are nearly always enthusiastic and honoured to be asked to help.
Then when you’ve found your mentor, take it seriously. Schedule meetings, make agendas; don’t just chat about your problems over beer at the pub. It’s probably more fun, I agree, but it’s a waste of your time and theirs. Chances are, you’re both very busy people so make the most of every minute you have to pick their brains. Be the eager pupil at the front of the class, frantically scribbling notes and asking questions. Also, make sure you set aside time to see your mentor regularly. Relationships of any kind, never work if you don’t put in the face time, so make it a priority and make sure your mentor knows they’re a priority too. They’re much more likely to take you seriously if you’re making the effort and showing a real interest in what they can offer.
The best kind of mentor is someone who compliments you and supports your weaknesses. My mentor is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to analysing and scaling up a business. Having someone with expertise on things I know less about is a massive help and together, we make an effective team. In the early days, it’s also just great to have someone to talk to who is actually familiar with the business world – a bit of a sounding board if you will. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely, which is why I recently became a member of the business group the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation. It’s a wonderful organisation for networking and meeting people who are doing similar things all over the world, understand what you’re going through and are happy to share any insight they have.
Don’t underestimate the power of mentorship. There’s no better way to learn than from first hand insight.
By Richard Walton, founder of AVirtual