Why Entrepreneurs Need Mentors and How to Find Them

There are three main types of mentors, and one type may be someone you've never even met.

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By Sumi Krishnan


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Entrepreneurs, wouldn't it be nice to maintain the independence you crave while still receiving trustworthy, reliable advice? That's why mentors are so great: They can provide guidance, wisdom and direction so you don't become mired in self-doubt.

Related: 4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Becoming a Mentor

A mentor is a business investment. When business owners are mentored, 70 percent of their businesses live past five years -- double the survival rate of non-mentored small businesses. Eighty-eight percent of those in this same survey called the mentoring experience "invaluable" to their business success.

While mentoring can shower your business with benefits, it's important to choose the right voices to listen to. As an entrepreneur, you may try to use friends, family members and colleagues as mentors. But that won't work. Those people can't empathize with many of your struggles -- the way a mentor in your industry can.

The three types of mentors

Just as no two entrepreneurs are the same, no two mentors have the same expertise. Here are the three types of mentors to consider:

1. The "mentor from afar'

The first type of mentor rarely comes with monetary costs -- you probably already have several of these without even realizing it. A "mentor from afar" is often a stranger who doesn't know you, but is still someone who can have a great impact on how you run your business.

Engage with this kind of mentor by consuming free content (blogs, video trainings, audio clips, etc.) from leaders you admire, or speakers who inspire; think TED Talks.

And don't discount this type of distance mentorship just because it doesn't involve one-on-one time -- you can learn from great, disparate minds on topics ranging from Elon Musk's futuristic innovations to Andrew Solomon's views on unconditional love.

In fact, Elon Musk has attributed his success to this type of mentor himself. Asked once how he learned to invent, Musk wryly answered, "I read books." Musk has said that his "mentors from afar" have included British structural engineer J.E. Gordon, American political thinker Benjamin Franklin and PayPal founder Peter Thiel.

Related: Why It Pays to Identify and Approach Mentors in the Professional 'Cafeteria'

2. The industry-specific mentor

This type of mentor has already walked in your shoes; he or she can help you with industry-dependent challenges like managing finances and choosing suppliers. These individuals rarely mentor full time, but their one-on-one advice can be invaluable, especially in niche fields.

I didn't have to look far to find my own industry-specific mentor -- my father is a business owner himself, so he helped me manage operational necessities like payroll and financial risks when I began my company back in college. If you aren't as lucky as I was, then start searching your social networks. Choose someone you respect; find someone who will help you expand your network and open new doors.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the world's wealthiest man, credits his success partially to his mentor, billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Gates has said he admires Buffet's abilities to teach complicated concepts so people can "get the benefit of all his experience, all his models of how the world works." Think about Microsoft's ground-breaking innovations -- its operating system and software -- and you'll see that it's obvious Buffet inspired Gates to make complexity more accessible.

3. The direct mentor

Direct mentors are usually professionals whom you may be paying in return for their support. They guide you in making desired impacts and in living life on your own terms. They can help you manage your time, reframe problems into opportunities and conquer self-imposed limitations.

Joan Fletcher was my first leadership coach; she opened my eyes to personal development as an entrepreneurial necessity. She taught me to overcome my fears of failure and humiliation when the objective was my company's well-being. Thanks to Joan, today I'm more self-assured and authentic in my interactions. While her guidance boosted my social life, it also helped me post higher sales figures and speak publicly with conviction.

Finding the right fit

Passion, ability and breadth of experience are the most important qualities in a good mentor. Has this person faced challenges similar to yours? Has he or she been where you want to go? Is this person living a life you respect? Do you trust his or her insights?

Choose your mentors wisely; make sure you feel comfortable enough with them to confide your fears and unconventional ideas. A great mentor will help you own your vision and accomplish your greatest dreams.

Related: What No One Tells You About Seeking A Mentor for Your Startup

Sumi Krishnan

CEO of K4 Solutions

Sumi Krishnan is the CEO of Falls Church, Va.-based K4 Solutions, which provides technology and staffing services. She also offers success coaching to aspiring and established female entrepreneurs.

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