There is no step-by-step instruction manual to tell you how to build a successful company. There are no set processes in place, no guide that lays out the exact roadmap needed to take or warnings on what obstacles lay ahead. And for many, this is what makes entrepreneurship so attractive: people want to pave their own path. But with this freedom to explore unknown territories, the likelihood of making mistakes -- costly mistakes at that -- is much higher. This is where mentors become an invaluable resource to entrepreneurs. Not only do they listen to struggles and offer advice, but they also provide honest feedback (something people may not get from their friends, colleagues or employees) entrepreneurs need to succeed. And Shark Tank's Lori Greiner couldn't agree more.
At a panel with Alison Corcoran, Staples’s senior vice president of North American stores and online marketing, and Steve Strauss, who writes about small businesses for USA Today, Greiner took time to discuss the importance of finding a mentor. While she never had one herself, she says she’s more than happy to be a mentor to the entrepreneurs she makes deals with on ABC’s reality show.
“I’m about paying it forward,” she said. “I believe in karma. I think it’s important [to mentor others] and I enjoy it. I feel like I’m doing the right thing.”
If you’re not fortunate enough to get a shot in the Shark Tank spotlight, there are other ways to find a willing mentor. Greiner points out most people are more than happy to dish out lessons learned.
“People are flattered by being looked up to and asked for advice,” she said. “People love to give advice.”
To find the perfect mentor for your needs, Grenier suggests thinking about the people you admire and the people who have qualities that you’d like to emulate in business and in life. Then, reach out and try to start a friendship. Pro tip: Flattery will get you everywhere.
Finding a mentor is only part of the equation, however. You also have to be a mentee people enjoy coaching along the way. Garnier said that when someone is pitching her a business idea, she looks not just for a concise pitch and exciting demonstration but also for an entrepreneur who comes across as someone who would make a good partner. To her, this means being willing to listen and learn. It also means being honest, enthusiastic, passionate, driven, dedicated and hardworking.
“You want someone who likes teamwork and collaboration,” Greiner explained. “It’s a give and take.”
At the panel, the owners of Bantam Bagels praised their mentor, Greiner, for being readily available, encouraging (“Nobody roots for us like Lori,” they told the crowd) and helpful. Her other protégés in the audience heartily agreed.
When asked how she’s able to devote time and attention to so many different projects, the business powerhouse became slightly maternal. “I love all of my entrepreneurs equally,” she said. “I give each one attention as they need it.”
When they’re not in need of assistance, Greiner trusts her entrepreneurs to run their endeavors as they see fit.
“I can mentor and coach, but it’s their business at the end of the day,” she said. That means that sometimes entrepreneurs don’t take the advice she offers. When this happens, or when someone is particularly difficult to work with, Greiner says she tries to learn what she can from the experience. “Everything is a step to getting wiser, so I appreciate the experiences I’ve had -- good and bad.”