Why mentorship can make or break your startup [Opinion]

Having a mentor when you start a business can be as important as the actual product or service you’re selling. While the research on the positive impact of mentorship is clear, so many entrepreneurs still don’t have a mentor. 

To have a good business idea is one thing, but taking that idea to market, and building a profitable and reputable brand is no easy feat

The journey is long and challenging. To have a mentor as a guide during these early and crucial stages is essential.

In 2019, a study was done to determine what South African small business owners and entrepreneurs gained from having a mentor. According to their findings, of the 209 South African recipients surveyed the majority of the respondents, 73.7% (154), had one or two mentoring relationships. Only 8.10% (17) had more than five mentoring relationships, while 46.6% (97) had been in a mentoring relationship in the past.

Proving that mentoring is a crucial part of most business strategies. Even some of the world’s most successful business leaders have mentors. For example, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin both received mentoring by Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt respectively at the early stages of their businesses.

Alon Sachs, mentorship Chair of the Entrepreneur’s Organisation (EO) in Cape Town, and co-founder of Mobelli Furniture + Living shares some valuable insights about mentorship and how to go about finding the right one.   

Why a mentor and not an advisor or a coach

Understanding what a mentor is and the value they bring is the first step in finding one. Most people get the three confused. A mentor is often seen as a role-model. Someone you aspire to be like. They have tons of experience and wisdom you can learn from. Advisors offer value by giving specific feedback about specific questions. Their role is more formal and expertise more granular. Coaches on the other hand have trained as a coach and may not have had any experience in starting or running a business.

Mentors are not meant to have all the answers

While a mentor comes with mountains of experience it’s not up to them to advise a mentee on how to overcome the day-to-day challenges of the business. They offer guidance, support, and encouragement regarding long-term goals and challenges as well as career development. Ultimately it’s the business owner’s responsibility to take action. Mentors will be there to champion their efforts as they complete the suggested objectives.

Think long-term

All new businesses should have the future in mind but that is easier said than done when you are the only one making big decisions. Mentors offer an external perspective when it comes to making decisions that can cost you in the long run. They are more easily able to see your pain points as well as new opportunities and areas with room for improvement. You and your team might not always be able to spot the things that a mentor can.

How to find a mentor

Organisations like EO, offer a wide range of networking opportunities where you get to meet other entrepreneurs who may be leaders in their field and who are a potential fit as a mentor. A big bonus is that you won’t have to look far for referrals. Should you not belong to any entrepreneurial communities, look at leaders in your industry that you respect. Then begin by meeting with them to establish if you share a strong connection. If it’s a good fit, start there.

This article was written by Alon Sachs, mentorship Chair of the Entrepreneur’s Organisation (EO) in Cape Town.

Featured image: Alon Sachs, mentorship Chair of the Entrepreneur’s Organisation (EO) in Cape Town (Supplied) 

Ishani Chetty: Editor
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