Finding Business Advisors
In the fast-paced business world a trusted advisor and mentor can be invaluable. There are some things that only someone with experience can help you with along the way.
Entrepreneurship support can be described as a 3-legged stool, with the three components being technologies, funds and mentors/volunteers/ business advisors. All three are important ingredients for our eco-system to function, and that’s why people like Amy Cell (www.amycelltalent.com), and others take special interest in making sure good mentors are engaged in a thoughtful way.
Like many people in Michigan’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, I am frequently asked to direct entrepreneurs to mentors and advisors with specific business backgrounds who can help. I tell entrepreneurs to first ask a potential mentor or business advisor two questions: “Did you ever work in a successful tech start-up before?” Success can be defined in many ways: accessing government grants, securing venture capital, commercializing a product, creating significant market demand…and of course, the golden ticket: a successful exit. Pick which best fits your current direction.“What was your role in the start-up?” When did you join, did the company raise funds (sources?), how long were you engaged, etc.
How to engage a mentor
We are very fortunate to have a wealth of smart, experienced entrepreneurs and investors in Michigan who are generous with their advice and time. There are many people who request their time…me included! They serve on MEDC funding review boards, participate in panel discussions, are guest speakers at classes or are willing to meet for coffee. Here are some general guidelines for engaging a mentor, from a perspective of being on both sides of the relationship: Try to learn a little about them first to determine if they are the right fit to help you, otherwise you’ll be wasting your time and theirs. Be considerate of their time. If you say you need five minutes, use 5 or less. If you say you need an hour, use an hour or less. Have your elevator pitch prepared to get a mentor interested in the first place. If you don’t have an elevator pitch, go to NEF or SBDC to learn how to create one, and then practice. Request their help when you really need it and make the small decisions on your own. What constitutes a big decision? Changing a business model significantly, adding a team member, or structuring capital, for example. I’ve found it helpful to have multiple mentors with different backgrounds, depending on the issue I was addressing, or simply to get different points of view. Keep them posted on your progress. If they’ve mentored you, they are likely to feel a little vested in your success. If you consistently don’t take their advice, they’ll stop giving you their time. If it’s an investor, don’t ask for money, at least not for a while. Ask for advice because you need it.