For a little bit, let’s imagine that your business is like whitewater kayaking. You have all your equipment ready to go, and you’re on the river, prepared to set off. Everything’s going great!
Then the inevitable happens. The water gets rough, kind of fast, and you’re like “Oh, fudge!!” while holding on for dear life. There IS a more natural way.
Before you get into rough waters, learn from someone who’s where you want to be. They’ve lived the life and survived. The best time for a coach, mentor, teacher, a guide is way before you even set out on the water. Here’s why.
A Good Mentor Is Objective
Your mentor can undoubtedly be a friend or other person you’re close to, but they must be able to be harsh with you, and you have to agree to take it. In some ways, bringing in someone new is better, since there’s no shared baggage or issues that could lead to feelings of betrayal. (I’ll get to where to find your mentors in a bit).
People who mentor as a business will likely write up – with you – a contract of expectations for both of you. A more informal relationship might merely have a verbal agreement. I think it’s always preferable to get every detail in writing. Not for legal reasons, but as a written reminder for both of you to stay on course. Your mentor shouldn’t be enabling your weaknesses (and we all have them!) by doing specific tasks for you in the name of teaching. They should be gently reminding you of what you’re capable of, especially when you don’t yet believe in your strengths and know your weaknesses. A mentor is a guide, not a partner.
When I felt lost around what direction was best to take before having a mentor – actually there have been a few, as you might find different people serve different needs – I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I was overwhelmed with possibilities but lacked the objectivity to zoom out and see the big picture. Sometimes emotions and fears get in the way, too. An objective mentor will assimilate and organize your passions and talents to point you in the right direction.
One more significant point: a good mentor is objective, and also does not judge. You need someone to feel safe and comfortable enough to admit mistakes and weaknesses and understand that your growth as a business person depends on addressing the characteristics that can hold you back.
A Good Mentor Has Your Back
There’s no way around the fact that you will make mistakes. Some might seem pretty bad (no matter how bad, they’re rarely as tragic as you think they are, though!). Your mentor will ease you through what seems to you like trauma, and set you back upon the path. They’re your cheerleader when you feel discouraged, and remind you of your Big Why. They should inspire you.
Your mentor should share your values. In today’s entrepreneurial climate, the real you is your best asset to attract people who resonate with you. In light of that, your mentor should completely understand where you’re coming from and be able to (almost) read your mind. Without that understanding, your relationship will be more like a sterile, clinical give-and-take.
Your Mentor Should Be Where You Want To Be
Your mentor should be practicing what you want to preach; ideally, with a personality similar to yours. Such a person can relate to being where you are now, starting out with little or no clue what to do next. Somebody who has dealt with similar struggles and overcame them to get to the place you want to be.
Many years ago when I was in direct sales, I struggled mightily with my introversion and low confidence that got in the way of the success I knew was within reach and entitled to just like everyone else. But most of those who were where I wanted to be career-wise were born extroverts, real “people” people. They were enthusiastic go-getters looking for an outlet for their energy. Me? I had a burning desire to be independently self-employed…so I had to make a sea change and fight my way out of my comfort zone. I deliberately sought out other introverted women who had somehow become successful in the company in spite of themselves, and learned from them. Introverts sometimes need an entirely different strategy to be successful in direct sales.
Somebody who defines “success” the same way you do will keep your vision focused and on track. When you see them working towards their goals, it speaks louder than words. She’s your role model and inspiration without even trying – just by being herself!
So what happened to my direct sales career once I found a mentor I could relate to? I ended up being in the top 4% of company sales! I was determined and used a lot of energy to get there. Unfortunately, I felt so drained by it all that I left the company soon after that win. But what stayed with me was far more valuable than money – it was self-confidence and a strategy. Those are the most useful tools I carry in my pocket to this day.
The whole thing about being an entrepreneur is, no one is the boss of you. Why take the hard road when there are people who would love to mentor you? You’re probably familiar with the saying When you want to go fast, go alone. When you want to go far, go together. Nowhere is that truer than as a business owner. No successful entrepreneur makes it there alone, whether by mentors, sharing the burden with assistants or employees, or clients. It takes a village to make every business succeed. Right now, I have two mentors along with their associated “tribe.” I used to have another but moved on when she started to take her business in a different direction that isn’t where I want to be. I stopped relating to her, which is fine. It happens sometimes; you come to realize the relationship just isn’t working for you anymore, so you move on. Always make an effort to end on good terms, however. You never know when your paths will cross again – and they likely will. Try not to lose contact with other members of her tribe, as a network of contacts is a definite asset.
Find a mentor who shares your ideals. First be clear on your goals. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
Photo credit: Pixabay