The Importance of Having a Good Business Mentor

Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, these are all extremely successful entrepreneurs. But they also have one other thing in common – they all had mentors.

When the Apple founder passed away, Mark Zuckerberg said that he had been an irreplaceable mentor. The Dropbox founders, Arash Ferdowsi and Drew Houston, are mentored by Hadi and Ali Partovi, two very successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

All these people realized the importance of having outside advice and that’s what helped them stand apart from the crowd.

Image credit: tutorbright.com

Why Having a Mentor Matters?

Many young entrepreneurs make the mistake of believing that they can do it all by themselves. But the truth is – nobody has all the answers. There are situations when we question ourselves, hesitate, second-guess, and could really use some help.

If you want to grow, progress, and learn as an entrepreneur, you need to recruit a great mentor. This simple strategy gives you access to insider knowledge and power and increases the odds of success more than almost anything else.

A study conducted by Endeavor confirms the importance of having a mentor. This study included tech companies in New York City and revealed that the “entrepreneurs leading these startups had strong personal connections to the founders of other successful companies.” For instance, Nat Turner from Flatiron Health and Chad Dickerson from Etsy have been mentored by other entrepreneurs such as Brian O’Kelley from AppNexus and Caterina Fake from Flickr.

The result of these relationships is quite powerful – 33% of the founders who had mentors became top performers!

Why Be a Mentor?

The first and most obvious reason for being a mentor is to earn money.

Mentoring is a service that is becoming more and more billable. Paid mentoring can be a great source of extra income. Many mentors work for a 1% to 2% equity share for providing advisement. However, if they’re actually doing stuff, their consulting arrangement can be paid hourly, monthly, or project-based. The average paid mentoring price is between $250 to $500 per hour, depending on what the engagement involves and how long it lasts.

Many successful entrepreneurs decide to mentor companies pro bono, without expectation of financial compensation or reward. For instance, Techstars mentors are ready to share their guidance and knowledge freely, and open their networks when appropriate.

Free mentorship allows you to pay-it-forward by passing your experience and knowledge over to young entrepreneurs, but it can also give you an opportunity to potentially invest in high-potential businesses.

How to Find a Mentor

When looking for a mentor, it’s natural to want only the best. However, reaching out to the top players in your industry is unrealistic, so start with local entrepreneurs who have already succeeded.

If your plan is to reach out to potential mentors via emails, ensure not to come off as too demanding. Try to build a relationship by demonstrating respect and professionalism.

If you’re willing to spend some money, look for accelerators and programs that offer paid mentorship. The advantage of this is that you’re guaranteed a professional mentorship and tangible results. The disadvantage is obviously the cost.

Advice for Mentees: What Makes a Successful Mentorship

The mentor-mentee relationship is a process based on trust and effort invested by both parties. You can’t expect that your mentor will magically remove all the obstacles on your way or remedy all your mistakes. The mentor’s advice will be effective only if you’re willing to listen, learn, and implement.

Be honest about your business’ positive and negative sides, your flaws and capabilities, as well as your fears. In return, keep an open mind and accept your mentor’s honesty, no matter how hurtful it might sound.

Before the first meeting with your mentor, make a list of your expectations. What can your mentor help you achieve? What obstacles are you hoping to overcome? This will help your mentor understand what needs to be done and come up with a plan.

Finally, you’re not restrained to using the services of only one mentor. Maybe you need help in different segments of your business that require different mentoring methods. One mentor can be good at your market segment, while another might help you grow as a leader. You are allowed to seek a range of advice that will help you formulate a well-rounded perspective.

Advice for Mentors: How to Be a Good Mentor

In order to be an efficient and helpful mentor, it’s crucial to build a trustworthy relationship with your mentee. Trust is established during the first several meetings when your mentee opens up about their needs, goals, and weaknesses, while you share your experience and real-life examples. Try to empathize with your mentee, help him look at the bigger picture, and assist him through the trials faced by the startup.

Ask your mentee to be specific about his expectations. For instance, he might write a 5-year plan for his business and life. This will allow you to come up with a clear action plan to tackle the challenges.

Your job as a mentor is not to fix your mentees mistakes or magically solve all his problems.

The most difficult part of mentorship is not telling the mentee what to do, but rather get him to think the problem through and come up with solutions that you can discuss together. Help him find effective solutions for the problems their startup is facing, be it funding, market access, marketing ideas, or technology by bringing forth your experiential knowledge to address similar situations. You should also help your mentee look beyond the daily problems and inspire him to build a grander vision for the future.

Set up a fixed meeting every 3 to 6 weeks, but emphasize the fact that your mentee can reach out outside of this interval if need be.

Finally, set up an evaluation date. Evaluating the mentorship gives both the mentor and mentee an opportunity to end the relationship if things aren’t working out or make certain changes that would increase the sessions’ value.

Final Thoughts

Mentorship is a critical component for building a successful startup. Having a good product or service that fills a void in the marketplace is great, but a good mentor is crucial to help you grow.