There is only one way you cross a mine field. Find someone with bigger feet than you who has successfully crossed it in the past and carefully follow in their footsteps. In the minefield that is small business, not enough people take the time to find a mentor. Many of those who do, often pick the wrong one. Your long term odds go way up if you can find someone with the success you are seeking to take a vested interest in your business. So why should you have a mentor, and once you find the right one, what do you do?
“The difference between poverty and prosperity is wisdom. Wisdom comes from two places, mistakes and mentors” – Mike Murdock.
I remember a number of times when I was starting to freelance and Quinn pulled me aside to explain that I need to be clocking my time, tracking my expenses, explaining the basics of taxes. When I was having some trouble dealing with executives, he stepped in and coached me through the conflicts. He helped me write my proposal for my second client. These are such basic things to me now, but they were a complete mystery when I was starting.
We’ve made a healthy share of mistakes in the last few years. Enough that I’m somewhat stupefied at the level of success we have had. Throughout that time, we have been blessed by mentors who have helped us avoid the worst of our possible mistakes. Gentle suggestions pointing us in a better direction. Advice on how to deal with particular scenarios. Our mentors have rarely told us exactly what to do, but have lead with questions and by giving us books to read. The fact is that Peter & I spend most of the day walking across the wasteland wondering if we are headed to the promise land or into quicksand. They say hindsight is 20/20. Well, our future is someone else’s hindsight. That careful advice is worth more than its weight in gold.
Sometimes it’s a big thing, sometimes it’s silly. In the world of silly, I used to struggle with checking my voicemail. I’m kind of weird that way, but I just didn’t think about it and when I had to do it, I felt a huge internal resistance. Well, it’s silly until you run a company. Then it’s detrimental. So Tom set up an accountability system. I had to check my voicemail twice a day and leave him a message. Day after day after day. We had a reward and punishment associated with it. If I succeeded for 30 days straight, I got to take Julie out to a nice dinner. If I missed one day, I didn’t get to surf that week. Meeting with Tom and admitting that I had not done what I had committed to do was unpleasant enough that I got over it.
It worked. It’s not an issue I struggle with anymore. But I did need the help. I remember an acquaintance of mine having to get up on stage at a small conference in a dress and apologize to everyone for not hitting his goal. A lot more extreme that I would tend to set my punishments, but I have to say, I’ve never seen him in a dress since. I’m pretty sure it was effective.
What often makes the greatest difference in the growth of your business is usually the one thing you have been avoiding and REALLY don’t want to do. To be accountable means that you have made a commitment to yourself, your team and your mentor to keep your word and do what you said you would. People make promises to themselves all the time. When life rears its ugly head and things get hectic, it’s easy to let the urgent overwhelm the important. That is one of the key roles of your mentor. To help you stay focused. And that is where accountability comes into play. It is often scarier to tell Tom I didn’t do what I said I would, than to just do it. He doesn’t have to help me & I don’t want to disappoint him. This may not sound pleasant, and frankly, it isn’t. But it is so important to your success, it’s necessary.
It’s one thing to have a friend or a spouse encourage you. That is important and helpful. The depth behind a mentor’s encouragement is alltogether different. The mentor’s encouragement is simply this – I’ve done this and I know you can too or I wouldn’t have picked you. I know where you are at right know. I know how you feel, I felt the same way, because I’ve been right where you are standing. And you can do it. Encouragement from someone who has walked the path ahead. From someone who can truly understand where you are at.
When I was getting started and was trying to gain new clients, Quinn vouched for me. He let me point to his client list and was willing to back me up if I crashed and burned. He lent me his credibility and it was absolutely essential in being able to become stable. It allowed me to bypass what might have been a few years of doing menial projects.
There comes a time where the next step in your business is just bigger than you are. Sometimes, to bridge that gap, you will need to draw on your mentor’s credibility. Perhaps it will help you get a loan, perhaps an introduction you needed. The credibility of your mentorship is a powerful tool. It should be used sparingly and carefully, but it is an amazing asset.
No one is truly self made. Our success comes upon the shoulders of those who love and support us and those who lead the way. The big question I get most often: How do you find the right mentor? Simple answer, but it takes time and patience. Look for someone who is living the life you want, who has concrete success in your specific business industry and is willing to work with you. I often look for a way to have them take a vested interest in our growth. This makes sure that the insights and advice they offer benefit everyone involved.