01 Feb You Don’t Need a Mentor
I started my first business at 22, right out of college. To say I was “green” would have been an understatement. But I was passionate, driven, and believed I could change the world.
I hired my best friend during a peanut butter sandwich interview and we were off to the races. The problem was that our overwhelming passion couldn’t make up for our underwhelming resume of life experiences. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We needed people who had been there and done that to help us navigate the treacherous roads of life and business. We needed mentors; we just didn’t know it.
I’d love to tell you that I figured it out quickly and had a slew of wise sages on call, but it took years of bumps and bruises to finally figure out that I’m just not that smart. I wasn’t really familiar with the idea of mentorship and the need for a mentor, but I was painstakingly learning that I needed help.
So after several years of sleepless nights, weight gain, and hair loss, I found some mentors. My first and still mentor–amazingly, is Chuck. Chuck volunteers his time for a wonderful organization called SCORE. He volunteers. That means his services are FREE. Chuck has been absolutely invaluable to me and the companies I’ve been a part of.
4 Benefits of Having Mentors
1. Mentors tend to be objective observers. They are able to provide counsel without being emotionally attached. This allows them to see things more clearly, which can be tough when you own a business and have so much invested in it.
2. Mentors have experience. Each mentor I have interacted with usually has gray hair and lots of stories. They have been through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and can relate to a business owner’s struggles.
3. Mentors speak truth. Have you ever asked a group of family and friends for feedback and they all said the same thing: You are great, your service or product is incredible, and you’re going to change the world… but it wasn’t entirely true? Mentors aren’t afraid to tell you, as my mentor Bruce says, “Your baby is ugly.” Hah! The truth hurts, but sometimes it’s exactly what we need to hear.
4. Mentors talk you off the ledge. Owning and running a business can be very lonely and there are often days when you want to throw in the towel or just go flip burgers. While a good mentor isn’t afraid to speak the truth, they are simultaneously helpful to remind you that your experiences aren’t unique. The challenges you are facing are common to every business owner and it’s reassuring to know that you aren’t alone.
Okay, so I’ve made a case for why you need mentors. Now, how do you go about getting one?
5 Tips for Getting a Mentor & Making the Relationship Work
1. Look around. Surely you know of an older, wiser businessperson in your neighborhood, church, civic organization, etc. People love to help. Just ask them. You’ll be surprised how eager some folks are to give back to people looking for help.
Here are other options to get a volunteer mentor:
- SCORE: A national organization that has mentors in your local area. https://www.score.org/
- U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA): Another wonderful national organization that has mentors in your local area.
- Knoxville Chamber: Our local Chamber in Knoxville, TN, has a wonderful program that I think is being replicated in other cities.
2. Take heed and listen to your mentor’s counsel. Come to each meeting with a pen and notebook in hand. Ask lots of questions, write down the things they tell you, and save your notes for reference.
3. Meet regularly. In order for a mentor to really get to know you and have maximum impact, you need to meet on a regular basis. You’re developing what might be a long-term relationship. Like any relationship worth having, the more time spent the more valuable it becomes. I recommend meeting at least monthly.
4. Start with one mentor but acquire several over time. I have five mentors. Each one has different experiences and talents, and I meet with each for different reasons. Most are older but one is actually five years my junior and far smarter than me.
5. Make it worth their time. Be humble and don’t act like you know everything. Taking good notes, as suggested in point #2, shows your mentor that you’re listening. Show up to your meetings early and be sure to show gratitude and appreciation.
Okay, so I misled you from my title. I do think you, and I, need mentors. I just don’t want you to think like I did at 22.