• Susanne Birgersdotter

Do you have ‘mentor’ in your list of must-haves in starting a business? How far is it down your list? Top 10? 20? 50? Not on the list?

Well, if you don’t consider finding a mentor is essential as much as finding a partner or a supplier, you’re not alone. Most startup entrepreneurs will readily agree to the value-adding significance of having a mentor. They just don’t think it’s crucial enough.

This is not surprising. Entrepreneurs are self-starters. We can do our own research, find the right people, study the market, and put our company together, all by ourselves. We get all the help we can – find complementary business partners, hire experts, and put together an efficient working team.

To most, starting a business means heading an organization, leading the team, and being the boss. We would like to think that we, as the founders, owners and/or leaders of the company, are in control.

So, we find partners to work with us side by side, to help with the funding and work. Then we hire experts who can contribute their knowledge and experience. We give them key positions and responsibilities inside the company.

How will a mentor fit into this setup?

A mentor is someone who is significantly experienced and who is willing to share and impart his or her knowledge, experience, insights, and wisdom to those who are just starting out. A business mentor is a ‘been there, done that’ person with considerable experience in the business, someone looked up to and respected, and has enjoyed notable successes in the business.

Experience – One’s experience is a rich source of knowledge and insights. Only a person with considerable firsthand experience in business would be able to provide wisdom and relate an intimate understanding of the business.

Reputable – A good mentor must be one who is generally respected and looked up to in the business community. An upstanding mentor will not only guide you the right path, he or she will also introduce you to the right people in the business, expanding your network the right way.

Successful – Success is one’s validation of business acumen. It is also an assurance of expertise and skill, which the mentor will be passing down to you. Find a mentor who possesses the right skill set and knowledge you’d like to learn.

When you are the leader of your pack – the CEO, the decision-maker, and the boss, everyone will be looking up to you – for advice, for decisions, and for guidance. The entire organization will consider you the person who knows the most. They will rely on you to know every single detail about the company, the business, and the industry.

When you have doubts, questions, and indecisions, who do you turn to? When you’re looking for firsthand knowledge, experience, and solid business information, who can provide you with that? When you need to validate your plans and opinions or reassurance of a decision, who can you trust to have the wisdom and the knowledge to help you make the right move?

Entrepreneurship is dynamic as it is constant. It is natural to a few, a struggle to many, and daunting to a lot of us. A business degree is not an assurance of success. A good entrepreneurship crash course might give you a good idea on how to start and run a business, but that too can’t assure success.

On the other hand, there is this programmer guy with no business degree, starts a business and ends up one of the richest men of the world. A girl who thrives in social media and loves makeup ends up the youngest billionaire. And a farm boy who likes drawing cartoons started the most successful entertainment brand in history, inspired by a mouse. Steve Jobs mentored Mark Zuckerberg, Kylie Jenner is under the guidance of her mother Kris, and Walt Disney grew the business with his more experienced and very shrewd older brother Roy.

One can never learn business acumen in school alone. To succeed, you will need to know the business industry in its entirety. The books, research, and studies will only introduce you to the façade of the industry. You will still need experience and exposure to get the whole picture. Mentors can also view your business with you included in the picture. Aside from assessing the company, your mentor will also be reviewing you and providing you with honest feedback on your performance as an entrepreneur, your decision-making, leadership, and management skills. No book can match the experience and knowledge of a mentor. A mentor is not only your business guide, decision sounding board, and colleague. Your mentor is also your biggest fan, cheering you on to success. Your confidante, willing to listen to your rants and share your secrets. A friend who will understand your frustrations and celebrate your wins.

So, when you make that must-have list on starting a business, make sure to add ‘finding a mentor’ in the top five. It will boost your chances to succeed, fast track your business launch, and help you stay in business longer.