When I started out in business I had bravado, a visage of courage and a swagger like I knew what I was doing.
I soon found out that I had virtually no idea what I was doing and that I was either going to stick with the "fake it till you make it" mentality or I would adopt the "know it to grow it" approach.
Well, I went with the second option and I'm thankful every day for having had the courage to check my ego at the door and ask for some help, insight and guidance.
I also needed a mentor to be a cheerleader for me. Although I have always prided myself on not needing external encouragement, I must confess to having in the deep, dark places inside me (hidden by my ready ability to toughen up), a part of me that likes to be told that I'm doing something well and that my project is worthwhile -- and I can accomplish it.
I never knew we called these people mentors. In my case, there were people around me who just helped me out. Of course 10 years ago when I started out as an entrepreneur, formal mentorship networking places did not exist as they do today. The word mentor barely made it into conversations. No one talked about seeking out someone else because back then a true entrepreneur did it all alone.
Thank heavens, this has changed and entrepreneurs have gone from toiling alone to finding value in working together. (And of course collaboration is an ironclad way to build a business at any stage.)
These days I often hear entrepreneurs say, "I need a mentor."
Here are the top five things you need to ask yourself before looking for a mentor:
1. Specifically, what skill or knowledge shortcomings of mine could be supplemented by a mentor's view of my business?
2. In fine detail, what are the top three skills I want the mentor to have from a professional perspective?
3. Generally, what are the top three rules of engagement I want in developing a mentor-mentee relationship. (How much access do I want to have to that person's time weekly by email? Will I speak of things outside of work?)
4. What can I identify about myself that could hinder my ability to absorb the full benefit of an open, honest, skilled mentor?
5. What do I stand to gain from having a mentor?
The next steps involve looking at your answers and figuring out the people you know, have access to or can develop a relationship with that can serve your mentorship wants. You may find that you need three very different people to help you acquire all the things you are seeking. You may need these people for different lengths of time -- some for two months, some for two years.
A parent or friend might satisfy one of the roles even though you never previously considered this person in your mentor matrix and never thought to formalize that part of the relationship.
Finding the right person or people will take time and the quality of the relationship you develop with your mentor(s) will be defined by the quality of the work you put into clarifying what you need to move yourself and the business to the next level -- or just through its current stage.
I would not feel right if I did not give a shout out to my very first mentors, my mom and dad, and my brother as well. Then there's my lawyer Grant who stood by me through the dark times when business was tough. This guy even gave me a hug when I broke down and sobbed in his big corner office: To him I am grateful for being there for me as I began to accept my vulnerability (before I went on to achieve success).
If you have a mentor, take this opportunity to send that person a note. Thank this individual and let him or her know the difference this investment in you means to you, your business, your family -- whatever is being supported and improved by this relationship.
If you do not have a mentor or don't have the right one, start now: Answer those five questions and start the process to find the right match. Get some entrepreneurial superpowers under your belt.
Remember: Mentors are the secret power behind successful entrepreneurs. Sometimes you aren't fully aware that you have them until you're asked, "So how did you do it?"