Why Every Social Entrepreneur Needs a Mentor & How to Find One
Mentorship is nothing new. Mentoring has been around for centuries as a way of passing on knowledge and skills – Socrates had Plato, Ray Charles had Quincy Jones, Robin had Batman. The explosion of entrepreneurship has seen a resurgence in the mentor-mentee relationship.You would be hard pressed to find a start-up program nowadays that does not offer mentoring and there are an increasing number of platforms whose sole focus is to connect experienced individuals with those who would benefit from extra support and guidance.
Finding the right mentor can be the determining success factor for social entrepreneurs, especially for those starting out. Mentoring can offer insightful advice, accountability, support and encouragement. A good mentor can help social entrepreneurs avoid common mistakes and focus on the highest priorities. In fact, in a survey of 45 CEOs, 84% reported that mentorship relationships helped them avoid expensive mistakes and develop in their career paths more quickly (Harvard Business Review, 2015). Mentors can challenge you to consider different strategies and perspectives while imparting skills, tools and best-practices for tackling problems. A great mentor often has a combination of detailed sector experience and knowledge and is willing, once trust has been established, to facilitate personal introductions to their contacts. For a social entrepreneur selling a product, this may be in the form of manufacturing expertise or distribution contacts.
Mentorship is worth its weight in gold. Unfortunately entrepreneurship is often associated with notions of audaciousness and self-reliance. As a result, many first-time social entrepreneurs try to go it alone, either ignorantly believing that that they know-it-all or afraid that seeking help is a sign of weakness and diminishes their efforts. Going it alone can no doubt provide valuable learning experiences, however it increases risk exponentially and should be avoided if possible. Arguably the overall failure rates of social ventures would decline if more founders obtained appropriate and experienced mentors to guide them.
Before actually looking for a mentor, you first need to identify your goals and the type of person you need. Are you after a sales sage, an impact measurement master or an operations oracle? Do you need someone to guide you in strategic planning? Maybe you need someone to challenge your thinking and play devil’s advocate, or someone to simply provide moral support? Whatever your reason, finding a mentor becomes less difficult once you have decided what you and your social enterprise need.
It is important to strike a balance between consultation and action. Just like too many cooks spoil the broth, too many advisors can undo an enterprise. While a social entrepreneur should always be open to feedback and suggestions, having only a few trusted, vision and value-aligned mentors in your corner is better than 30 people ringside shouting instructions. It is also important to remember that no matter how experienced and accomplished a mentor is, if they are unable to give you the time and commitment you need, then the potential benefits of the mentoring experience will never fully be realised.
Like so many things in life, you can get started by using the Internet to search for your ideal mentor. Social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter are great tools to find those with a proven track record. Once you have compiled a list of suitable individuals, use your existing networks to get an introduction. If you do not have a common connection, try to personally contact them yourself. Whether you do this online or face-to-face always be tactful, patient and professional. As with any relationship, building trust and rapport takes more than a phone call, a coffee, an e-mail, a tweet, or a handful of text messages. Having any experienced, talented and busy individual agree to mentor you will take time – often weeks and months, not days.
To increase your chances of success, consider what you could offer that would be of value. Share their content, create an infographic just for them, ask for an interview for your blog, thoughtfully respond to their questions on social media, or simply propose to help them with logistics and transportation if they are coming to your city. Express your passion and vision but be respectful and allow rapport to develop naturally and over time. Remember, perseverance is key – you only need to persuade one or two people on your list that you are a hardworking, committed social entrepreneur worth their time.
For many social entrepreneurs, establishing a successful business with a social or environmental purpose is the ultimate dream. But it is a grind with numerous trials and tribulations. Luckily, social entrepreneurs do not have to struggle in isolation.