My first lesson in the value of mentors came early – and hard. On July 3rd, 1985, I was enduring the first grueling week (called “Ground Week”) of the U.S. Army Airborne School. My Student ID – printed boldly across my helmet – was 141 (yes, 30 years later I remember my Student Number).
No matter the reason, I was a “NO GO” and did not qualify to advance to the second week (Tower Week) of training. The choice was mine – give up or repeat Ground Week.
Ugh! I wanted to quit, to give up, go back home and drink some beer with my friends and work so I could actually afford my next year of college expenses. Worse yet, if I decided to repeat Ground Week my Student ID label on my helmet would become 141”G” and everyone would know that I was “recycled.”
One of my Airborne Drill Instructors (we called them “Black Hats” ( I’ll leave you to guess why) came over and said to me) “Cadet, I know you are thinking about quitting. Heck I would be thinking it too if I were you.”
The Black Hat paused and stared straight into my eyes. “Son, this is a Life Moment. If you quit now you will regret it for the rest of your life. So bear down and stick with it! Soon you will be Airborne and it will be something you remember the rest of your life.”
Boy, was he right!
The following week I endured my second trip through Ground Week. Friends from my previous class who saw me on post with my new class often yelled words of encouragement in my direction. It helped more than they will ever know.
We all need to build our own team of mentors, coaches, and cheerleaders to help us and hold us accountable for our actions. That was one of the most valuable lessons I learned during Ground Week Part Two. It’s still true today.
So let me ask you: who is your support team that helps you and your business succeed? If you are not sure (or are still building one), here are some tips for creating the right support team:
— Find people that you know and trust who only have one goal in mind – your success.
— Be willing to share your insights and fears openly.
— Be willing to listen and learn from their insights.
— Seek support from people with different experiences, expertise, and points of view than yourself.
Friends and family members are often a great place to start building your support team, provided you can share your thoughts openly and you are willing to listen to their suggestions openly as well (easier said than done with some families).
A carefully chosen support team will help you get through tough issues successfully because you trust and value their insights. Your supporters should not just be cheerleaders who say “yes” to any idea. Too often we hear of a determined entrepreneur with her head down and her ears closed to anyone who disagrees with her, and that almost never ends well.
What value can you get from these various supporters? Mentors and coaches can make strategic introductions for you, challenge your ideas and concepts, support you during tough times and celebrate your wins. That’s powerful stuff for any smart business owner.
As for me, my support team includes a bank president, my boss from the Army, a former business partner and friend, a great web technology expert and yes even an attorney and an accountant. We don’t meet formally but I often call them with a question and they are always willing to provide their perspective.
How many people should be in your support team? One size does not fit all. As you and your business grow you will need to engage different levels or types of groups to help you solve problems and take advantage of opportunities.
Your support team can also be more formal. There are several great organizations dedicated to helping business owners succeed, many are located right here in our reading area:
The Flory Business Center – Linda Decker, the Executive Director at The Flory Business Center has helped thousands of businesses start and grow their enterprises.
SCORE.org provides great mentoring services on a one-to-one basis. From the website you can set up a “meet and greet” with a SCORE mentor. Look for a mentor where you have a good personal connection who has the experience and expertise to challenge you in a positive and productive way.
1 Million Cups by the Kauffman Foundation meets on Wednesday mornings at the Hylton Performing Arts Center the George Mason University campus in Manassas. This is a great forum to listen and learn about opportunities and challenges local business owners face every day. (I have both presented and attended several 1MC meetings and found the insights and connections I made there to be extremely valuable.)
Some other organizations where you can find support for your business include the Prince William Chamber of Commerce Small Business Group, The George Mason University Enterprise Center, and even “peer to peer” coaching groups like The Alternative Board and Vistage.
Mastermind Groups are another great way to form a more formal support team. There are a host of helpful articles online to help you get started. Articles featured in Forbes, Lifehack and Fast Company can help you get started.
What about a Board of Advisors? Establishing your own official Board of Advisors is the logical pinnacle of a support group for you and your business.
While it can be very valuable, most businesses with fewer than 20 employees find that it takes too much time, effort, and money to setup and operate an effective Board. Additionally, in this time crunched world we live in it is hard to keep a board of advisors truly committed to formally meeting enough times in a year to make it worth your time and theirs.
I hope you find the right mix of supporters to help you build your business. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this or any other business related topic.
By the way, I did earn my Airborne Wings three weeks later – thanks to a little help from my friends.