Column: Starting your business? Find yourself a mentor

You are on the verge of probably one of the most exciting moments of your life

Creating a business of your own is the most challenging and future defining decision in a lifetime. While you think you are on top of the situation at some point you might find yourself in the dark about some aspects of your business. An idea is great but how can you develop it in a sustainable business. 

A mentor can help you guide you through your journey as an entrepreneur. 

I’ve been a mentor for several years myself and although I can easily scan for good opportunities I myself, when it comes to taking some steps in my own business, always refer back to some of my longtime mentors for guidance. When it comes to business decisions, seizing opportunities or teaming up and consolidating partnerships a mentor can give you the insight and learn you some valuable lessons. 

Having a mentor can make a significant difference in a career but it comes with great responsabilities. Not only do they give your answers and guidance but they can inspire and motivate the mentee to help unlock a hidden potential. 

What does a mentor do? 

Besides the fact that mentors provide their mentee with information, knowledge, encouragement, stimulate personal & professional growth they can also be great connectors. 

You need expertise, funds etc? Ask your mentor. They can provide access you might need within your industry. Maybe an angel investor, equity or skills that could get you closer to your goals. If you mentor is willingly to share his network with you, you might get the chance to be introduced to the right people or find more opportunities. This probably would have been much harder to find on your own. 

Keep in mind that your mentor isn’t a coach or a trainer, nor is he a therapist. Mentors will help you advice you through tough moment in your professional career. However a therapist (someone who listens to you non-judgementally) is someone we might all need in our lives, this is not the role of your mentor. 

Getting through the difficult days

When you start a business everything can be overwhelming, business plan, daily operations, budgeting. A mentor can provide interesting learnings and accerlerate the learning curve.

They will be brutally honest with you and show you ‘YOU’ a side of our personality we tend to avoid. Showing where you lack can make you improve your shortcomings. When you are having a bad day, a deal didn’t finalize, a mentor can show you the hope that lives inside you. This will make you push harder not minding setbacks.

Pick their brains and use them as a soundboard for new ideas. You will appreciate their candor and it will save you time when you waive some of your not so well thought ideas.

Doing business can be like diving into a sharkpool. Who can you trust? You can trust your mentor since he is a third-party with no stakes in your endeavour. Wouldn’t it be great not to make too many beginners mistakes? They can share their mistakes and avoid you losing resources making those mistakes all over again. Above all mentors are free and their contribution to your venture is often priceless. The bond grows organically and mentors can become your most trusted advisers. 

Where do you find a mentor?

Besides mentorships organisations ( ea. KBC Start-it, Markant, CFA Society Netherlands, Through Flemish universities,…) and networks you can also find mentors in your own professional and personal network , through industry events (tradeshows, conferences, speaker events,…), social media (Linkedin, Twitter,…)  or just volunteer events (retired succesfull entrepreneurs often devote some of their time to charity and helping others). Always remember mentors are people just like you and I. They go to bars and restaurants in the weekends, go to the gym and look like anybody else. You will probably meet them by coïncidence or meet somebody who knows someone who can help you. 

How do you pick the right mentor?

A good mentor can help you identify your goals, enables you to see weaknesses, build strong leadership skills and outline your plans. Find someone who has expertize in your field of interest, someone you admire for his/her achievements. Speak to past mentees. Find someone who will generously let you learn from their past mistakes and experiences. Make sure your mentor is accessible, even if it’s only by email. If you choose to find a mentor through a mentorship program make sure your are familiar with the work methods of the organisation. And then check if they suit your mentee/entrepreneur requirements. 

Not convinced yet? What if I told you you can do things smarter, faster and with more backup than just your accountant to turn to in moments of doubt. Asking advice to a mentor is not a sign of weakness it is a sign of strenght, drive and ambition. Mentoring is not a one way street, nor a cure-all or a passive endeavour. It is a way of sharing valuable information and inspiring eachother.

This article has been written by @VALERIE THYS

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