One of the dumbest things you can do is to go it alone when you start your business.
No, I’m not necessarily talking about business partners (though your life is so much easier if you can find good business partners).
I’m talking about mentors. People that willingly give their time and expertise to help you avoid making a barrage of dumbass mistakes, and help you spend your energy doing only value-added things.
I’ve always included finding mentors in the top list of things you can do now to be an entrepreneur.
You’re not that smart….
…in fact, you’re probably destructively dumb.
Don’t take it the wrong way: I’m not too smart either, and have been destructively dumb way too many times in my ventures…
So what do I mean by destructively dumb?
Mentors: more than just icing on the cake (they’re more like the cake itself)
If you’re trying to start a company in (insert any industry possible: but let’s say developing a research project software like I am), who is going to know more about the educational software industry:
Or some guy who spent the last 15 years dealing with this software day-in, day-out?
If you want to start an income-generating blog, who is going to know more about how to make that happen?
Or some guy that already picks up a cool $50k every year doing it successfully?
Mentors are especially important because you are destructively dumb.
Think of all the resources you have in life to help you accomplish your goals. When you boil it down, you really have 2:
Both of these resources are extremely valuable, and extremely finite.
So what happens if you’re spending your efforts starting your company wasting either one of those 2 things?
Well, you’re destroying your chance of being successful in your business because you’re running out of resources!
So by having mentors, you’re basically getting people that help you not destroy your resources.
To prove the value of mentors, let me tell you a story:
I’m doing some internet marketing freelancing work for an accounting (CPA) firm, and as I did more work, I realized that the work I was doing for this firm is probably work I could package and do for other firms too.
The problem: I don’t know anything about how accounting firms prioritize online marketing (do they think marketing is important, or do they see it as a waste of money? Does it actually get them clients, or is it just “because we should have a website”)…and I had no idea how to pitch them either!
So instead of doing trial-by-error for 3 months of cold-calling CPA firms, I just asked this one. The answer was relieving:
“Every CPA knows they need to be marketing their firm. They just don’t know how to do it”
I got excited: “So I can go in there and do marketing consulting by selling this to other firms!”
CPA: “Well, sorta. These people get pitched all of the time by shady-looking consultants and service providers. You can’t just be one of them!”
Me: *thinking I don’t know if I would have thought of the distinction on my own* “huh, well what do you recommend?”
CPA, with a grin: “It’s easy.”
He went on to explain to me how I could package my service in a way that avoided coming across like a typical slimy consultant, and that would provide real value to a CPA firm. The halleluiah chorus was playing in my ears!
Me: “Ok, that sounds great…how do you know people are going to pay for this?”
CPA: “That’s easy too…if you own your own firm, you’re way too busy with actually making money to want to spend time on this stuff! I bill $250 / hour, I don’t have time to spend figuring out how to use Constant Contact and fill out email newsletters”
And here’s what he said that completely floored it for me:
“I would love to just pay someone to set this all up and tell me what to do.”
Before, I worried that accounting firms would be wary of paying money for this kind of thing.
His guidance helped me come to an interesting revelation: “businesses are willing to pay to make their problems go away”, as opposed to just trying to save a cent at every corner.
It would have taken me a long time to figure that out otherwise.
If I keep this guy around while I continue to expand my freelancing efforts with accountants, I can easily keep cutting down on time wasted making rookie mistakes.
“OK, I know I need mentors, now tell me how to get them you numskull.”
No, odds are you didn’t realize how important getting mentors is, because you would probably have some already if you did, and you would have come up with a way to make this work.
We’re going to go into that next week, when I have an exclusive interview with an up-and-coming blogger who is mentored by 2 of the best bloggers in the industry (how did she cut through all of the other wanna-be’s and get the attention of the best?).
But as far as actually finding kickass mentors, I’ll leave you with 2 things to think about until then:
1. Showing up and asking for mentors already puts you above 80% of the crowd.
A classic story is a guy I knew that went to Harvard, who got a prestigious position as a research assistant as a sophomore, when usually “only juniors and seniors” were eligible to apply.
“How did you get that position as a sophomore?”, someone asked.
“Simple”, he said, “I just asked for it.”
“I went into the professor’s office and told them how interested I was and why, and they offered it to me.”
There’s value in just asking. I wouldn’t advocate taking this to the extreme and mass-mailing your contact list “will you plz be my mntr plz?”. But think about how being proactive is actually a huge step in mentorship success, as opposed to simply a sidenote.
2. Actually care about the people you ask for help.
Dale Carnegie, in his classic How to Win Friends and Influence People (one of the best books ever) points out that a fundamental technique in handling people is simply to “give honest and sincere appreciation” and to “become genuinely interested in other people”.
What can you give to potential mentors that would make them working with you a useful expenditure of their time, as opposed to you just taking their time from them?
Briefly, I would suggest that a focus on building actual relationships with others—as opposed to acting transactional and just asking “hey can you help me with X” makes a night-and-day difference.
What’s your experience with mentors?
Have you gotten any really cool mentors? Have you struggled to get them? Still not convinced they’re essential? Write your thoughts in the comment box below.