Mentors: people who can make a difference

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A good mentor can give you an experience that you won’t find in books, schools or seminars – it comes from real life.

 

Whether you are just starting out or running a large company, it helps to have a mentor to whom you can turn with questions large and small. A mentor can have an enormous impact on startups. Their connections can open doors for you that may otherwise be closed, they can hone your abilities and their experience can help you avoid the startup mistakes that they have already made or have seen others make. They can help you find the right network, suggest ways to you to generate capital, give you some business pointers that take years of experience to learn or simply act as a confidant for your company and increase your accountably in the market. A good mentor you will praise you when you deserve it and give a heads-up when trouble comes- probably long before you as a startup entrepreneur will be able to see it.

 

The Indian family business:

The Indian family business model is a great example of how mentorship works. Consider this small story-

A decade back, Vikas came to town with an ambition to open a restaurant but had no experience of the same. He contacted his uncle Ram for help who was a sweet shop owner who gave him his name and tips on publicity and what he would need to make a successful restaurant. Today he has a very successful chain with many shops around India. Ram’s son did not have an interest in selling sweets at his fathers shop and wanted to make a franchisee of donut shops all over the country. This time it was his uncle Vikas that helped (instead of Ram) him learn the basics of how and where to open the stores and how modern restaurant operations take place as his father may have known a lot about how to sell products but had limited knowledge on how modern restaurant franchisee works. Vikas started up with mentorship from uncle Ram and is now mentoring his son today resulting in the establishment of two successful startups, which may have not worked without help from more experienced people mentoring them.

How to find a mentor:

 

1)   Start with family and friends – These are the people you trust the most and are most reliable as they wish well for you. Many times they may be in a line related to you. You are generally in contact with them and can call them up even for very personal and petty problems.

2)   Consider your indirect competition: like in the case of Ram and Vikas, where one has a sweet shop and one has a fine dining restaurant, both may be considered in an indirect competition yet one was able to guide the other on basics of the food industry. Another option will be to take advise from a bigger company who might be less likely to view you as competition. Know the supply chain of the field you are entering into, research for some business councils or unions that may exist in that field and you should be able to find the right mentor.

3)   Non-traditional mentors: Some mentors may help you without their knowledge through books, seminars, speeches, videos on Ted, TV programs and the internet. We don’t have to meet him in person to appreciate all he provides to entrepreneurs and others all over the world. Knowing the success stories and challenges of people from the field that you want to enter in will also help.

4)   Pay for a mentor- you have a great idea and you wouldn’t want to ruin it by some bad decisions. Hire a consultant, pay him if you cannot find anyone in direct contact or if you feel your problem is too specific and can only be solved by experts.

 

 

One should also keep some points in mind even after he has found a mentor:

 

1)  Listen more, talk less – . Given your youthful enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, it may be hard to stay silent. But to find a mentor, you need to listen — a lot. Tell him your problem and try to extract as much information and solutions you can from him. Don’t talk too much and certainly do not try to make him agree on why he is wrong and you are right. Remember that he is just trying to help.

2)  Avoid too many mentors- one or two mentors may be good as you might get different viewpoints at a subject but most of the times taking too many opinions may tend to be confusing and a person may neglect his own views on the subject.

3)  Do not choose a mentor overnight: the ability of a person too see potential mentors is one of the important keys of success for an entrepreneur. They be found at conferences, business meetings, while finding buyers for your product etc. Keep your vision open for any possible person who you feel may be able to guide you on any challenge you may be facing, but wait to establish a connection with him first before popping the question.

4)  Be “mentor able”: If you come off as someone who knows everything — or thinks you do — many people will back away. If you want to learn, be willing to consider ideas that may not match your expectations or opinions. He will just provide his viewpoint on a problem. You may not like what he has to say to you and many time what he says may be a big jolt to you, but you have to keep calm, think about his viewpoint and do what you think is right.

5)  The leader has to be good mentor- One of the important things to know is that no one can do it alone, it takes a team and in that team the leader has to be a great mentor. It does not matter if he himself gets his mentorship from outside (say from his family) but he should be capable to act as a mentor to his subordinates and be capable of solving their problems.

6)  Thank your mentors: never forget thanking them, showing your appreciation towards them is very important.

 

Mentoring is often underrated but probably the most key success secret in growing a business. Getting a mentor does indeed mean a world of difference, for your business and for you personally.

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