Commentary by Rob Howard, Head of Claims Shared Services for Farmers Insurance®
Beginning your professional career as an entrepreneur may seem daunting at first, but even if you identify as independent and confident, you can't be reluctant to seek help when needed. We all at some point need a confidant or mentor.
According to SCORE, one of the nation's largest networks of volunteer business mentors, small business owners who received three or more hours of mentoring reported higher revenues and increased growth.
No one can expect to find success operating within an echo chamber of their own design. So, here are several benefits a mentoring relationship can provide.
Expertise and Their Gut Reaction
It's often said that there's no such thing as an original thought. Those credited with the greatest innovations were almost certainly not the first to the gate; it's essential for anyone starting out as an entrepreneur to offer up proactive thoughts and ideas that can set them apart from their peers. Getting that gut reaction from trustworthy people, like a mentor, is critical to help ensure that you are headed in the right direction with your business objectives.
A mentor should not be just a cheerleader, but should challenge the way you think. They should function like a coach, someone whose playbook is built on years of insight gained through trial and error. As an entrepreneur, you are likely working to solve a problem. Much like an athlete, you started playing a certain position and built a service or product offering around that. A great mentor also serves this purpose: they can share an outside, unbiased perspective on where your offering will perform best. They can push you to consider things you never would have thought of and ultimately set you up for victory ahead.
You need to build a support network. You may feel like you have a unique idea and the drive and determination to enact it. But at times you might need someone who knows the ins and outs of your industry who is able to show you what's actually feasible. They can tell you from the get-go if what you're proposing has already been done.
The best mentors go far beyond functioning as sounding boards; they can poke holes in your "best-laid" plans and show areas you hadn't considered. So, where can you find such an adviser?
These industry events bring together leaders, consultants, and peers from all across the country. Be sure to sharpen your networking skills and meet as many as you can. A mentor relationship may develop naturally. There's great variations on how we all think and how we can best achieve it or go about it. Genuine interest in the thoughts of industry peers and superiors is a fairly easy way to start a conversation and initiate the type of relationship I've described. Sharing common problems, commiserating, and offering solutions and considerations is an excellent way to solicit input and perspective.
LinkedIn and other platforms, such as MicroMentor.org, can be used to put you in touch with successful entrepreneurs who may be looking for ways to share their expertise. And recently, Facebook began testing ways to set up mentorships among users.
Peers and peer recommendations
Leverage your existing network and share your needs and questions with industry folks like yourself, ask directly for recommendations. They may even end up proactively offering their advice, expertise and input.
Take the first step, do something, and put yourself out there. If you think you've identified somebody that can be helpful to you, don't wait, initiate the conversation. The worse thing they can say is "no." Sitting on the sidelines is unacceptable in the early stages of your career, so make something happen and don't wait.