The benefits of having a mentor for your small business
Did you know that the term mentor is derived from the latin word ‘Oraculi’, which is also the basis for the term Oracle. It’s easy to see why the connection stuck. An Oracle was quite a special person back in the day. The famous gods of classical Greek antiquity would come to them for advice or a prophecy. In much the same way, someone would approach a mentor today. A great mentor listens, understands and can relate – excellent human qualities - and then can guide you on the right path forward. Having the right mentor can be critical to the long-term success of your small business, so here are some lessons we have learned at Thriday about how to approach this important relationship.
There is no shortage of self-help, startup and small business content. There are literally hundreds of thousands of books, blogs and podcasts, all dedicated to a variety of topics to help business owners identify ways to get better. Whilst all this literature and theory is great, these mediums are designed for mass market consumption and this can create some limitations. The first limitation is that the findings and lessons may be super valuable but they are not tailored to you, your business, your location and your products. The second limitation is, they are communicated in one direction. There is no ability to question, challenge or debate the recommendations suggested. If you want to probe into a particular topic you can’t - unless you go and listen to the next podcast… A good mentor on the other hand can address these limitations. If you pick the right mentor, their advice can be extremely tailored and relevant, and you also have an opportunity for two-way dialogue to better understand the lessons shared.
Finding and retaining the right mentors is therefore critical when establishing a new relationship. By virtue, most business founders are learning on the job. Whilst hard work and persistence are great virtues, having a quick word with the right person at the right time can not only save time but fast track you through a problem solution. Experience and know how can’t be underestimated and the best answers often come from those who have gone through similar challenges previously. Mentors also provide a great point of comparison. Hearing about their early stage challenges, the difficult moments and the great outcomes brings context to your ‘right here and now’. Knowing that others have gone through what you are going through provides inspiration and clarity.
When thinking about the right mentors for you, it’s similar to what people would recommend about hiring someone – look for people smarter than you. In much the same way, pick mentors who are smarter than you and that can address personal or team shortcomings. It could be that your team lacks experience in marketing, technology or operations. Look for mentors who can help address these knowledge gaps. I would also recommend identifying mentors in similar industries, ideally 1-2 years ahead of your business, so you can hang onto their coat tails where required.
Because the mentors are giving up so much time, it’s important to show respect and appreciation at all times. It’s not because they ask for it, it’s because they deserve it. Being punctual to meetings, going to their office when possible, saying thank you. These all go a long way to building a great relationship. When the time comes, it’s also important to reciprocate and provide support back. With a traditional mentor-founder relationship, the mentor may feel uncomfortable discussing their own challenges for they’re the ‘mighty mentor’, however you should always ask how they’re going and see if you can provide any support back.
Like any relationship or activity, both parties ultimately get out what they put in. If you’re willing to spend the time listening, asking and learning, then the rewards will come. The mentor ultimately sees reward in imparting knowledge and seeing the business use that to their advantage, likewise the mentee sees reward from achieving better and more efficient outcomes. The gods that sought advice from an Oracle might be a legend but guess what, your mentor is likely to be one too.