Mentorship: Your Small Business’ Competitive Advantage

There’s a widely under-used, no cost tool that will see your chances of success increase by over 200% extending out to the five year mark of your businesses life – it’s called mentorship.

Mentorship is a buzzword in entrepreneurial circles but for many entrepreneurs it remains elusive to implement and gain value from in a practical way. Nonetheless, all entrepreneurs can receive incredible benefits from an effective mentorship relationship.

“If you ask any successful businessperson, they will always have had a great mentor at some point along the road.”
– Richard Branson, Founder Virgin Inc.

What Do You Need in a Mentor?

For many entrepreneurs running a business may be the first time they have sought mentorship. Often, they believe they need an expert in their industry or market sector to have a worthwhile mentoring relationship.

This is rarely accurate.  Research repeatedly shows most entrepreneurs need mentoring in overall general and seasoned business advice.

Most potentially lethal business challenges strike entrepreneurs through ineffective sales strategies or inefficient operational issues. What is needed is effective counseling on increasing monthly cash flows and reducing the corresponding cash burn.

To this point, an effective mentoring relationship provides additional benefits such as:

  • Increased focus: To keep the business and its owners focused on it’s key core competency.  It is good to avoid the relentless shiny idea syndrome.
  • Outside accountability: Part of a great mentoring relationship is to set action items you are accountable for, and a respected mentor is a great way to ensure that you perform at a high level.
  • Increased knowledge base: A mentor automatically expands your business’s knowledge base in so many areas. Many of entrepreneurs go into business with a narrow skill set and it is important to fill any skill gaps, and to fill them at the right time.

How Do I Find a Mentor Who’s a Good Fit for My Company?

While ‘what’ you know in business is important, ‘who’ you know is equally (if not more) important.  And to take that point one vital step further, it is not just who you know, but whom you could know.

Founder of the Canadian based AIC Mutual Fund Michael Lee-Chin, whose parents were grocery store bagging clerks, chose Warren Buffet as his target mentor. How did Michael make this happen? Why would Warren Buffet mentor a young poor nobody from another country?

Simply, because Michael proved he was serious to his would be mentor. How did he do this? Michael travelled to Warren’s Oklahoma Head Office from his home in Toronto and camped out all day Monday in Warren’s reception area, without having an appointment. He did not get to see Warren on that day.

Michael then camped out all day in the offices on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and five additional days with the same result. Undeterred, he came back on the following Friday and, just about as the offices were about to close, Warren came out of his office and said, “I just had to meet the man who camped out in my offices 10 days, just to meet me.”

And thus a very valuable and life long mentorship began.  At one point Michael was listed as the 34th richest person in the world.

How to Approach a Potential Mentor

While you probably shouldn’t camp out in a potential mentor’s office to get his or her attention, there are a couple key takeaways here.

First, do not be afraid to approach people to be your mentor. Get out and network, meet others and expand your business social circle. If you see someone you admire and who business skills you respect contact them.

Next, and you need to know this; most business people want to help you, to give back. But at the same time they don’t want to waste their time. It is important that you present yourself and the mentorship opportunity the correct way. Here are a couple of tips:

  • Present yourself in an organized, professional and focused manner.
  • Be clear what time commitments you are looking for. Some would be mentors shy away from committing as they are fearful of the time requirements. If all you are looking for is a bi-weekly phone chat for 20 minutes then share this information.
  • Listen more, talk less. Show that you are coachable and willing to listen and take advice.  Ask questions, take notes and be open to the insights you are being given.

Now it is your turn – go out and get that mentor you want!