Gen-Y entrepreneurs are at the forefront of the shift in the way business gets done today. Still, a few critical “rules-of-thumb” still hold true, one of which is the value of experience. It’s crucial that younger entrepreneurs understand how to negotiate this knowledge gap to avoid pitfalls and accelerate their success.
Partnering with one or two close mentors as well as a network of less frequently consulted mentors should a critical part of your business-building journey. Having the advice of someone with years of experience in a similar industry means you’ll be able to accelerate the change you are trying to affect within your business landscape.
Even after launching my idea as an intern and witnessing first-hand its market potential, I did not feel ready to take on the risks involved with starting a company, so I sat my idea on the sidelines for a while. Only after I met my mentor, who has since become my most influential adviser, did I take the leap and start my company. My mentor provided me with the business fundamentals and life lessons that helped me build the confidence to successfully navigate my start-up journey.
A mentor can typically be characterized as a seasoned entrepreneur from a related business background who is genuinely interested in a less experienced entrepreneur’s success. Mentors get involved with up-and-coming entrepreneurs so they can be a part of something exciting, be on the cusp of innovation, and give back to the entrepreneurial community that once helped them.
Though it can be easy for a mentor relationship to develop once you’ve made a connection, meeting someone who shares your ideas and interests can be a challenge. For me the key was sparking an interesting conversation around my entrepreneurial ideas and interests. Attending networking events or simply setting up a coffee meeting were two channels I used to find a good-fit mentor.
If your conversations carry on, a mentorship relationship will naturally be created. This relationship can become an especially powerful one for both parties where the mentor has an interest in the entrepreneur’s personal success, and not just their idea. A great mentor will look for individuals who will evolve with their ideas to create successful companies, understanding that the idea behind the initial business plan is rarely identical to what you ultimately bring to market.
More from Dave Wilkin's series of columns for Your Business
While the relationship you share with your mentor may be based upon common interests, it is important to remember and utilize the key difference between the two of you. Due to their experience, a mentor has valuable insight into certain aspects of business that a young entrepreneur may lack. They will have already undergone many of the challenges of starting up, and will understand that these cannot be solved with enthusiasm alone. For a young, eager Gen-Y, concepts such as patience might only be taught by a mentor, who understands its importance.
After identifying the need for guidance, you may still find it tough to believe that someone with this much expertise would be interested in spending a significant amount of time with an inexperienced entrepreneur. Don’t forget that people generally love to give back to the community that helped them become successful and to continue their own learning by understanding new businesses and markets. The satisfaction of being able to add great value to a new and exciting idea by drawing upon past experience is what typically drives a mentor to dedicate their time to a mentoring relationship.
Regardless of how your mentorship grows, be sure to create a high level of trust, maintain your shared interests, and keep the learning a two way process. These three elements will form the foundation of a sustaining and fulfilling partnership.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Dave Wilkin, a Gen-Y entrepreneur, works in the digital and experiential marketing space. Mr. Wilkin has combined the latest technologies and new marketing approaches to build the “social technology” behind Redwood Strategic, an integrated marketing company. Mr. Wilkin previously started a number of non-profit initiatives, mentored young leaders across the country, and continues to work with emerging entrepreneurs. You can follow him on Twitter @dwilkin. This is the fifth of a 10-part summer series Mr. Wilkin is writing for Your Business. The columns appear every Wednesday.