Your friends and family, the Web, periodicals, and even casual acquaintances can provide you with a steady daily flow of information regarding news, industry developments, and opportunities. Industry analysts, consultants, employees, and good networking contacts can share their expert knowledge with you regarding particular situations and needs you may encounter. But only a mentor can truly share wisdom with you on an ongoing basis.
A mentor is someone with more entrepreneurial business experience than you who serves as a trusted confidante over an extended period of time, usually free of charge. Why do they do this? First and foremost as a way of giving back to their community and to society at large. They may do it to develop their skills as a teacher, manager, strategist, or consultant. And a true mentoring relationship also works in both directions—they learn about new ideas from you just as you learn timeless wisdom from them.
But whatever the benefits to the mentor, the benefits to you, the entrepreneur, are even greater:
* Where else are you going to turn?
There’s no boss any more to turn to for advice or direction—maybe not even any employees yet. You’re flying solo. But you don’t have to. Everybody needs a good reliable sounding board, second opinion, and sometimes just emotional support.
* They’ve “been there, done that”.
Learn from others’ mistakes and successes. They don’t have to have experience in your particular industry. They don’t have to be up on the latest trends or technology—you’ve got other sources for that. Their role is to share with you lessons from their experience in the hopes that you can learn them a bit more quickly and easily.
* It’s (usually) free.
If you’re on a tight budget, that’s a major factor. While good coaches and consultants may be able to offer some things that a mentor doesn’t, it comes at a price, usually of several hundred dollars a month. Mentors, though, are readily available free of charge through a number of organizations, such as SCORE (Service Corps Of Retired Executives) and many others. But plan on at least treating them to lunch or coffee!
* Expand your social network.
Your mentor, being an experienced businessperson, is likely to have an extensive network, and can offer you access to far more senior decision-makers than you currently have. And they will be far more willing to open that network up to you than some casual acquaintance from a networking meeting.
* A trusted, long-term relationship.
Your mentor has no ulterior motive—no service or product to sell you. That combined with their experience creates a good foundation for trust. And as the relationship develops over time, that trust can grow even stronger. Also, your time with them becomes more and more efficient as they become more and more familiar with you and your business.