How to Get Far Without a Mentor and Why You Shouldn't

If you want to break the mould, do things differently, but there's no role models around to guide you

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The rise of mentorship has seen a spike recently with the benefits of adhoc mentor relationships and formal corporate structures paying off. The younger generations are finding their feet quicker and avoiding loss of confidence by having ongoing support whilst the executives are getting a close look into the millennial workforce and their needs. In fact, 75 per cent of the millennial deem mentoring essential to their career success.


But, what do you do if you find yourself outside of the formal career ladder, building your own business and unable to find a mentor? It's a reality for some, including myself four years ago when we started our digital agency from our basement. To date my co-founders and I never had a formal mentor and have built a team of ten, a product used by businesses all over the world and created hundreds of brands.

So, if you want to break the mould, do things differently, but there's no role models around to guide you. Here's how you might make it through if you're flying solo.

Find Talented Co-founders and Watch them Work

When it comes to starting a business from scratch having co-founders with diverse skills and mindset can incubate a fantastic business. This unique melting pot of ideas and knowledge is an opportunity to learn much in the same way you would from a mentor. I would, and still to this day, sit and watch my technical Director code apps. Soak in this hands-on knowledge to become an expert, not in your marketplace, but in understanding the skills you are selling. It means that when you do find a way to enter the marketplace and grab that first client, you not only understanding the hours and effort to produce a deliverable, but you can translate this in layman's terms.

Learn from Past Leaders

If you can't find a mentor, it's a good idea to look back on your professional experience so far and retrospectively analyse the effectiveness of the leadership you have been around. Even if you do have a mentor, for young leaders, this exercise is invaluable in order to make sure you're not just emulating what you've experienced yourself. There are often times in our careers where we have come across uncomfortable leadership. Analyse those moments particularly and decide what you would have done differently.

Everything can be Researched

Do you remember those large buildings full of paper? There's nothing quite as purposefully as jumping on a tram to get yourself to the library for the day. IBooks are extremely powerful and there are lots of them. If you can't find an expert to tell you how they built their strategy, read an eclectic bunch of books on the topic - mini MBAs, autobiographies and academic theses. Take lots of well organised notes so you can refer back to any nugget of advice or how-to at a later date.

Let your Imagination Run Wild

While you need to be certain in uncertain times you also need to pre-empt as many disasters as possible. Mentors help you understand your business's roadmap, giving you the advice they wish they had to avoid those potholes in the road. If you don't have a mentor, the best way to do this is to, on occasion, let your imagination run wild. This may sound counterintuitive but daydreaming about all the things that could potentially go wrong has helped our business numerous times. In the corporate world, it's called mitigating risk; in the entrepreneur land it's paranoid daydreaming.

Take your own Advice

There's no pattern to when, after a bad pitch, before a director's meeting, during a team meeting. This advice lives in a large list saved on my iPhone. I cannot count how many times I have referred back to this list for advice in new, unknown situations. Here's some examples of the eighty nuggets of advice I've written myself:

  • Everyone is going to try and take the lead; pick the opportunities worth exploiting yourself for.
  • Never forget everything can and should be researched.
  • You may never understand it but the best ideas need a nap.
  • If someone questions you about money, think before you speak.

Why you Shouldn't

Eventually, you should try and find a mentor. Understanding the value of advice is crucial. Find those who have tread a similar path to you and come out it the other side successful. Figure out the knowledge you can't Google; look for it at the library or give yourself and instead, approach the experts and ask for coffee.