The Value of A Mentor For Your Startup

Working with a mentor can help entrepreneurs see the forest AND the trees.

With the buzz and bustle of the startup phase of a business, sometimes it’s difficult for an entrepreneur to see beyond the daily fires, to look at the bigger picture. This is where a mentor can be very useful. Finding a qualified mentor, through incubator/accelerator programs such as those offered by the Innisfil Economic Development team, is the single best decision an up and coming entrepreneur can make.

With experience and a little perspective, a mentor can bring a lot of calm to the chaos. In the short term, they can help you to discover creative solutions to key problems that you’re facing daily, like capital funding, marketing and access to your market. They will also be able to help you with a vision of the long game, including evaluating risk and identifying shifts in your market.

Mentors can provide other invaluable help, beyond perspective:

  • Provide feedback in a safe, non-competitive way. They are also more likely to tell you the truth, even if it’s negative. You might not like to hear it but you probably need to. They can also help you learn from their own mistakes, so you don’t have to commit the same errors.

  • Open doors for you that might otherwise be difficult to get a foot in. Investors, venture capitalists, or even operational support with industry experience are all connections that a mentor can help you with. They can provide the kind of ‘warm touch’ connection that will make your day to day a little easier.

  • Support for you, personally. When you’re starting a business, you’re going to find yourself in the hot seat, making decisions and, as the saying goes, it can be a little lonely at the top. A mentor can provide credible mental support that you might need when it all ends up feeling a little overwhelming because they’ve been there and done that.

“A great mentor is someone who offers objective advice, provides counsel from a fresh perspective, is willing to collaborate, listen and learn, as well as helping you stay focused on your goals, your purpose and what you’re working so hard to achieve,” notes Amy Zimmerman, Head of People Operations at Kabbage.” (Source)

What should you look for in a mentor for your startup?

Ideally, the mentor you’ll work with will have a strong background as an entrepreneur themselves. A career C-suite executive for a major multinational has a lot of business experience too but it might not be quite what you need in the short, and longer term. Even better if they’ve mentored a business in the startup phase before.

While not always required, a mentor who has knowledge of your specific industry can be very helpful in that they have an understanding of the specifics of what your business will encounter—including potential errors and pitfalls—rather than being able to only supply more generic advice and information. 

Finding a mentor who feels that they will also benefit from the relationship is best, as they will be more committed over the long term if there’s something in to for them beyond a feel-good mentality. Like what? Perhaps your business is working with technology that they’re interested in and can learn about through you. Or perhaps you’ve got connections to a subset of an audience that they’re also interested in (can you say Millennials, anyone?)

Finally, you need to click with each other. It’s important to be able to have a good relationship with your mentor, one which feels mutual. If the mentor is simply dictating to you how things should be done, with no discussion, you might find yourself feeling belittled in your own business. A charismatic mentor who gets where you are at and can pull you up when you’re feeling down is the ideal.

How do you find the right mentor for your startup?

If someone is calling themselves a mentor on their business card, you might want to move on. The perfect mentor for your business is not going to just show up at your door. You’ve got to look for them. Networking opportunities can be a good way to find that elusive entrepreneur with industry knowledge that you’re looking for. Start with your own network and all of your past connections: you might be surprised whom you already know!

Incubators and accelerators are great opportunities to meet individuals who can mentor you over the longer term. They are experienced, vetted by the organizations they work through and can help you right away by introducing you to other entrepreneurs and sharing resources that you might not have been aware of.

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