Every successful entrepreneur can recall a few key mentors and advisors who have influenced their journey and helped them along the way. If you have raised equity funding, you may benefit from the guidance and mentoring that investors provide (yes, qualified investors don’t just write a check!). After all, it does take a village to raise an entrepreneur!
Both mentors and advisors are an important part of the entrepreneurial journey, and although the terms are being used interchangeably, it is important that you understand the difference, so that you can benefit the most from their guidance.
A mentor is someone who will support you and encourage you to sharpen your critical thinking and self-awareness. They have some entrepreneurial experience and a general business acumen. They can be close friends, professional acquaintances or come from organized groups.
Mentors are most beneficial in the ideation and early stage of a business. Why? Because their main focus is you as your business results are in direct relation to your development and maturity as an entrepreneur. It often takes an outsider’s perspective to help you broaden yours.
A mentor just wants to see you succeed! Like a barrel of monkeys, someone pulls you up and you keep a hand down to pull the next woman up (or guy *smile*).
The first step to find a mentor is to ask. Let the person know that you are interested in learning about them and their experience. Offer a chat over coffee. Listen. Ask a few questions. Like any other relationships, ease into it. After a few informal conversations, you can create together a more organized structure.
What does a great mentor sound like?
- Easy to talk to
- Doesn’t shy away from constructive disagreement
- Doesn’t tell you what you should and shouldn’t do
- Asks questions to challenge your assumptions
- Asks more questions to challenge your thought process
- Provides you with some stepping-stones here and there but let you reach your own conclusions
- Debriefs you on past experiences and results to help you integrate ‘lessons learned’
Advisors can also be friends and professional acquaintances; however, their main focus is your company. You have now matured as a leader and built up entrepreneurial grit. These advisors concentrate their efforts and are experts in their fields.
In some way, shape or form they will augment your management team’s skill set. Some will possess experience and expertise in the areas of business that your team lacks. Some will have a valuable Rolodex that will be helpful to your operation, strategy or marketing efforts. Others will challenge your approach to the market or business model. Relationship with an advisor is somewhat more formal in the sense that they will participate consistently and actively in your company’s life, bridging the gaps between your knowns and unknowns in the areas of business where you have the most needs.
A great advisor will make a long-lasting positive impact on your business. They are vested professionals with terrific experience and insights to help your company grow and avoid the worst pitfalls. They are in high-demand with plenty on their plate already. Why should they give their time and energy to your cause for free? Yes, advisors are paid: in cash, in stock options or any combination thereof.
What does a great advisor sound like?
- Is bullish on your product/service, market and team
- Possesses tremendous depth of expertise on very specific segments
- Enjoys a large network of influence
- Stays away from boilerplate strategies
- Pushes you as much as they push themselves
- A few things to keep in mind
A mentor or an advisor is not a name to collect to look spruce up your pitch deck. They are here to help you move your needle.
A mentor or an advisor is not an employee. Do not diminish their value by giving them assignments or expect them to be your sales person.
Set the expectations of what you need from your mentors or advisors prior to recruiting them. Outline personal and areas of business where you need the most help and the gaps in your management team. Leverage their expertise and influence to develop yourself, self-assess, understand your capacity and recognize your own confusion.
Carine Dieudé is a Partner & Director of Strategy at Altima Business Solutions—On-Demand Executives, On-Demand Solutions for the fundamental of business: Capital, Profit, Critical Path, Sales and Advisor. Board of Directors for Girls in Tech—Phoenix and Chair of the Mentorship Committee.