When you ask accomplished business owners how they achieved success, many will say they had a mentor who helped guide them throughout their business journey.
The mentors I’ve had throughout my career have contributed a great deal to my success. My first mentor gave me the knowledge and confidence to go out and compete on my own, and another mentor even served as a partner where we worked together to bring in business. Both used their own experiences to prepare me for what I needed to know to succeed – something I seek to do with my own protégés.
The beauty of a mentor/protégé relationship is that it offers a regular source of valuable information. While research and trial and error can help you learn, nothing replaces the guidance of someone who has been there before. In addition to providing a support system, mentors serve as a sounding board for ideas and tap their own experiences to provide advice.
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Here are six great values of mentorship:
- There are no restrictions on how many mentors you can have, where you can find them, or the role they can play in your business. For example, you may find a mentor early on that helps you to position your brand in the marketplace. Down the road, you may encounter someone else that offers guidance on how to grow and scale your operation. Different people can provide different value at different times throughout your career.
- Mentor-protégé relationships can be as formal or informal as you want. You can have scheduled meetings with a working agenda and milestones that you want to reach, or you can maintain an unstructured relationship where you simply learn about your mentor’s success and see if you can apply some of the same strategies to your business.
- Mentors become your go-to resource for understanding any unforeseen challenges that you could face along the road to success. Having someone who can provide advice during these times can save you both time and money, in addition to valuable peace of mind.
- A mentoring relationship can help you not only navigate the great challenges of running your own business, but can also help you evaluate and selectively choose which opportunities to pursue and which to pass on. Too many poorly managed opportunities can be just as disastrous as too few opportunities: both can put you out of business.
- Great mentors teach you ‘how to fish’ rather than just providing handouts. I see many small businesses chasing mentors simply in the hopes of gaining more business opportunities through their connections rather than seeking out a mentor that can use real-life experiences to teach them how to succeed on their own.
- Sometimes a great mentor is just someone that helps you think differently. One example of this kind of relationship came about in the American Express OPEN mentorship program, in which I serve as a mentor to small business owners wanting to get involved in government contracting. Peggie Simmons, one of my mentees in the program, had the initiative and vision on where she wanted her business to go. In an article, Simmons explained that she found value in the program because it helped her determine her business’s core competency. She only needed some structured mentoring to come to that realization and make effective plans to grow her business.
When seeking a mentor, always keep in mind that you know your business best. It’s great to have role models and confidants, but don’t look to someone else to make decisions about your business. Seek out people who believe in you, your capabilities and your business in order to truly maximize the value of a mentoring relationship.
About Doña Storey
Doña Storey is the American Express OPEN Advisor on Scale Up, advising entrepreneurs on how to find rapid growth through corporate and government procurement as well as helping large organizations scale their entrepreneurial partners to better meet demand in both the commercial and government marketplaces. She is an entrepreneur herself with extensive experience running and scaling up a business. For more information, visit www.openforum.com/governmentcontracting.