Why Every Entrepreneur Needs Their Own 'Personal Board' of Advisers - and How to Assemble Yours
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Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of the richest people in the world, often talks about the importance of being mentored by famed investor Warren Buffett. He credits Buffet with helping him learn how to manage difficult situations. Gates is a big proponent of mentorship and once said, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”
Though Gates and other notable entrepreneurs tout the benefits of mentorship, in my own life I somehow believed I could succeed without anyone’s help. Ever since I can remember, I've always been the type of person that has tried to do everything myself. When I was young, I shifted away from team sports such as baseball and soccer into individual sports like tennis and karate. When I started my first company at age 22, I tried to make it work without any mentorship, and it failed to produce a sustainable level of revenue.
In January 2014, I officially launched my adventure travel company, The Explorer’s Passage, at the New York Times Travel Show, the largest travel trade show in North America. Some of the biggest and best companies in the travel industry were exhibiting alongside me. To my surprise, after thousands of consumers in attendance, on the third and final day, I was awarded the Best Small Booth in the show, besting over 400 booths. This is it, I thought to myself. My sales will skyrocket. All my hard work will pay off!
But that Monday, instead of the phone ringing off of the hook and email requests flooding my inbox, there was nothing but silence. How is this possible? I thought. I had what I thought was an extraordinary product, and I'd had the busiest booth at the show. I continued on, trying every marketing tactic and strategy that I could come up with. I kept telling myself that I could "figure it out."
Unfortunately, despite working late nights and weekends, the silence continued for another 18 months. I was almost ready to call it quits when the answer to why things weren't working out as planned finally hit me after a conversation with a friend: Maybe I was the problem. I needed to change.
I've never liked asking for help or advice — for most of my life I was able to get by through sheer hard work and determination — but I realized that this type of thinking wouldn’t work in my life as an entrepreneur. I knew I needed help to make my company successful. So I created my own personal board of advisers: a team of people I could bounce ideas off of, who could help me grow and who were not afraid to provide honest and direct feedback. It wasn’t too long after I began working with my "team" that things started to change and sales began to come in.
It's somewhat ironic: The types of people who become entrepreneurs generally like to do everything themselves. However, this same attribute can be a major hindrance to achieving success. It’s unfortunate that many people view asking for help as a sign of weakness when in reality, it's the opposite. Asking for help is a courageous step and a true strength of an effective leader. Many successful entrepreneurs cite working with mentors or coaches as helpful to their careers, not only early on but even after being established.
Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, is a strong believer in surrounding yourself with a network of mentors. Barra has said, “Some executives credit one or two key people for coaching them to success, but I believe effective mentoring takes a network.” She also has offered advice on how to build said network: "When building your network of mentors, be honest about your mid- and long-term career goals, and how hard you are willing to work to achieve them. Then turn to those who best know you and your work.”
Here's what I’ve learned about leveraging the expertise of others.
Find a mentor who is or was successful in your industry.
Each industry has different challenges and nuances. Working with someone who has spent considerable time in your space can help save you from making years of mistakes. A seasoned industry veteran may have countless contacts and know how the industry operates; that way, they can help guide you through turbulent waters. I have worked and continue to work closely with a number of adventure travel industry veterans whose invaluable mentorship and advice has been critical to my business’s success.
Work with a business coach who has entrepreneurial experience.
While a business coach may add value, in my experience it's critical for a new entrepreneur to work with someone who has gone through the journey themselves. An entrepreneur knows how to build a business from the bottom up; they think differently from professional managers, and they know how to find ways to solve complex problems. Over the past five years, I’ve worked with some extraordinary coaches who are all entrepreneurs, and from the outset of our working together, I was able to see tremendous value and benefits that increased dramatically over time.
Work with someone who strengthens your weaknesses.
When something isn’t working in life or in business, many people want to push blame elsewhere. I used to do that early on in my business, telling myself things like: It's the economy. The customers just don't understand my product. I'm just going through some bad luck. But oftentimes, we are our own problem. In those cases, unless we change, our ventures won’t work.
It is critical to work with someone who can uncover what inside of you may be holding you back. So much of business is about your psychology. In fact, Tony Robbins believes that psychology plays a key role in the success of your business. He believes that success in a business is “80 percent psychology and 20 percent skills." The more I thought about this, the more I threw myself into personal development, which helped me move past my psychological blocks. If someone else has found success in a business similar to yours, then why can’t you make it work? The answer is that they’re doing something you're not. Find out what that something is, and consider making a change.
Nowadays, the more I want my business to grow, the more I work on myself with “my team." Personally, I've seen a direct correlation between taking this approach and the success of my business. Listening to the opinions of smart people you trust can help reveal things that you might miss. This can be key to breaking through to new heights. Be open to ideas, be open to suggestions and, most importantly, be open to critiques. When you put a quality team of advisers together, you and your business could be on track to being unstoppable.