One of the first pieces of advice a budding entrepreneur is sure to hear is "find a mentor."
Counter to what you have been told, mentors don’t guarantee success. In fact, many "established" businesspeople might not be nimble enough to keep up with technology or new industries -- two critical areas that require decision-making guidance. Today more than ever, past success is not an indication of future performance.
So how do you get the mentorship that you need without a business veteran at your side? That’s the million-dollar question for today's entrepreneurs and company leaders (or billion-dollar question if your goal is to build a unicorn). Four steps will help you take control of your own success.
1. Explore reverse mentoring.
Rapid changes and constant learning already are characterizing the 21st Century business landscape, and we're only 16 years in. Traditional mentors from longstanding industries won’t help you adapt to new business models and technologies. Most higher-education institutions are struggling to keep pace in a business world that moves faster than their fixed curricula.
That’s why you need to find a reverse mentor -- someone who is younger, more familiar with emerging trends, and more comfortable with technology. I've discovered my 9-year-old daughter is more adept at teaching niche tech skills than some paid consultants. She learns the latest tools and tricks from her peers and has taught our marketing team new ways of developing video content.
Related: Does Your Startup Need a Mentor?
Many services, software and industries didn’t exist when today’s seasoned mentors made their marks on the world. Take advantage of what young people bring to the table. They can educate you on useful services to streamline your business, such as team-messaging apps, virtual assistants, stylish website builders and inexpensive internet phone services. A reverse mentor can teach you how to leverage these tools and services, saving time and money for your day-to-day operations. Just today, my team taught me what #FOMO means (and if you aren’t up to speed on your current acronyms, you'll want to look that one up on Urban Dictionary).
Make sure you offer a symbiotic relationship to motivate your reverse mentor. Teach him or her about business, sales, team-building, and negotiation. It’s a smart value exchange that builds your network at the same time.
2. Join a peer-mentoring group.
Two heads are better than one, and 10 heads are better still. Young entrepreneurs building companies often don’t have the funds to pay for life coaches, and they probably wouldn't seek one out even if they did have the money. But some circles provide huge value in exchange for our time and insights. Peer-mentoring groups exist to give members an opportunity to grow without breaking the bank.
Everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to offer. That’s how peer mentorship works. You can join groups such as the Entrepreneurs' Organization or Young Presidents Organization, but you also can take a less formal path. Technology and social media bring people together without geographical barriers. Members with different experiences, resources, and outlooks are addressing some of the same challenges that you face. Start looking for them on LinkedIn, where you can find groups of ambitious people dedicated to your industry and skill set.
3. Network your way into new opportunities.
Invest your time opening doors for and sharing your expertise with others. The more you give, the more you'll receive. Networking remains one of the most successful ways to locate new opportunities, even in the digital age. People spend time with, invest in and do business with people they like. Regional organizations, professional associations and small-business resource centers can help you meet new contacts to develop and grow your personal network. Many also host professional seminars and skill-building programs. Attending conventions and industry events will keep you current on more than emerging trends. Making even one or two meaningful connections per event represents a solid return on your time investment.
Involve members of your network as you build it. Let people know you’re pursuing new ventures, switching industries or offering friends-and-family discounts. It's important to make yourself visible and actively engage with others. Passive online contact isn't the same. After all, people can't extend a helping hand if they don't see your call to action.
4. Embrace informal lifelong learning.
It’s never been easier to learn independently. Teach yourself new skills over time to keep up with the curve. You don’t even need to enroll in night courses to stay sharp, although extra certifications certainly will look great on your résumé.
Follow blogs from reputable sources for daily bursts of micro-learning that land right in your inbox each morning. Marketers, for example, might follow Seth Godin, while sales professionals can get a boost from HubSpot’s various blogs. You also can take online courses at a modest price to become certified in your area of choice. MOOCs (massive open online courses) such as Coursera offer entire specializations you can complete in a few months, investing only an hour or two each evening. Some, like the Digital Marketing Specialization from the University of Illinois, cost less than $600. Never underestimate the power of spending 15 minutes of learning per day.
Today’s world moves too quickly for a traditional mentor to give you all the answers. Simply put, you cannot place all your hopes on people who found success amidst outdated marketplace conditions. Learn on the fly, make new connections and pursue new experiences without apology. You don’t need a mentor to grow your business. You just need to reach out and discover new frontiers using alternate channels.