Everybody can tell you how to do it, they never did it.
—Jay-Z, recording artist, entrepreneur.
Since I started my business, I have been fortunate to have excellent mentors who have helped me to grow as an entrepreneur. In fact, not only have they been great advisers, but they have also brought me valuable clients. Without their counsel and referrals, I certainly would have made many more mistakes and had fewer clients.
The need for and benefits of mentors are well understood. I won’t belabor the point. However, what’s not so obvious is the type of mentors you should have and how often you should use them.
When you choose a mentor, be sure that the mentor has attained the level of success that you wish to reach. Align yourself with mentors who not only understand where you want to go but who have been there, too. If you don’t have at least one mentor who fits this role, you run the risk of receiving advice that actually stunts your growth or inhibits your vision. Often, a mentor’s advice is limited by that person’s experiences. For example, if you need to raise money via an angel investor or a venture capitalist, having a mentor who has been through this experience increases your chances of a successful capital campaign. Likewise, if your company has the potential to go public, you must have an adviser who understands what it takes to go through an initial public offering. An inexperienced mentor in these areas, even with the best intentions, may advocate that you bootstrap your company and avoid IPO dreams. Assuming that your company has blue-chip potential, this advice would be a disservice to your company.
Also, many entrepreneurs don’t use their mentors enough. Whether entrepreneurs fear being a pest or don’t understand the value of an additional opinion, they only use their mentors once in a while. But if you are working diligently on your business, you should be in constant contact with your mentor. Consult with your mentor on at least a monthly basis. I frequently shoot my mentor an e-mail about an issue or ask him if I can call and get his opinion on something. I promise him that the conversation will take no more than five or ten minutes, and I do my best to stick to that time limit. If I go over, I ask for permission to continue. I want to be respectful of his time and willingness to help me.
Many entrepreneurs have quarterly advisory board meetings. That’s fine, but they should not take the place of a more personal and impromptu relationship. Boards are important, but I recommend that you have at least one mentor who is on call and who can answer your questions on the day that you ask them.
No entrepreneur has succeeded without some type of mentor figure. Mentors are invaluable. Make sure that the one you choose has achieved what you want and that you consult that mentor frequently. If your mentor is not accomplished enough or is inaccessible, find someone else who can really help you move closer to achieving your goals.