For a young entrepreneur, a close mentoring relationship is like having a big brother in the office. The big brother knows the ropes, has a large network of friends and is bigger than the bullies. There are countless benefits of having an experienced, fully engaged business mentor on your team. Here are a few of the highlights.
First of all, if you can find an experienced mentor in your field, then you'll gain access to that person's extensive network of contacts. Building an effective professional network is still one of the hardest parts of starting a new enterprise, even with social networking Web sites like LinkedIn. If you're looking for a vendor, supplier or investor, the mentor knows exactly who to call. And unlike you, his call will actually be returned. That's priceless.
If you can establish a trusting and mutually beneficial mentor relationship, your mentor will not only share his or her Rolodex, but also a long and valuable list of "lessons learned." Mistakes are a great way to learn, but some are so costly and time-consuming that it's best to let someone else do the ""learning"" for you. By analyzing your business plan and keeping track of your major upcoming decisions, a good mentor will help you steer clear of the biggest blunders.
A healthy mentor relationship is really an informal education. You can learn a lot in an MBA program, but there are some lessons that can only be gleaned from real-world experience. In an Inc. magazine article from 2000, a small-town businessman named Kent Sutherland described the unique mentoring relationship he shared with billionaire and Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. Sutherland met Walton as a 23-year-old salesman peddling health-care products for a national supplier. Even though Sutherland never worked for Wal-Mart, CEO Walton took the young man under his ample wing. When Sutherland talks about the benefits of the relationship, he cherishes the nuggets of common sense wisdom -- like "always diversify" -- that helped him make a small fortune in unglamorous businesses like insurance, storage units and mortgage brokerages [source: Welles].
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