Ever feel like a Jack of all trades and master of none? You’re not alone. Unlike a traditional job where you get to concentrate on specific tasks each day, the skills demanded of entrepreneurs are wide and varied. From liquidity ratios to search engine optimization to employee contracts, entrepreneurs must know a little about a lot.
One of the smartest moves you can make early in your startup career is to recruit talented mentors and advisors. The benefits of working with mentors and advisors are clear: they will fill in gaps of knowledge, lend their expertise, share contacts, add professional and personal support and free you to manage the business.
Defining mentors and advisors
A mentor is someone willing to teach you what they’ve learned from building a successful business or career. An advisor (or consultant) will share specific insights based on past experience or education. (Although we’re not discussing it here, for the record, a business coach is someone who motivates you to reach your expressed goals).
A mentor is typically unpaid. An advisor usually receives compensation.
Recruiting a mentor
With a mentor you’ll benefit from the thoughts and experiences of a seasoned businessperson. Mentoring is very helpful for entrepreneurs who are capable in skills but seek extra assistance in other areas.
Start by writing a job description for the type of mentor you seek. Treat your mentor search like an employee search; your investment in time and energy in this person will be considerable and is therefore valuable. Clearly describe the background, personality and availability of your ideal mentor candidate. List some of the things you want from a mentor, such as:
¢ Minimum 10 years’ management experience in the retail industry;
¢ Holds an MBA;
¢ Launched and grew an e-store operation to annual sales of $5 million;
¢ Expertise on margins, pricing and inventory turnover;
¢ Available for a monthly one-hour call and quarterly meetings;
¢ Willing to introduce me to their professional network.
Defining your mentor profile will make it easier to find one. Share your mentor job description within your business and personal networks. Identify and approach a businessperson whom you respect. Interview mentor candidates as you would an employee applicant to ensure a professional and personal fit. The ideal mentor will supply fresh perspectives yet honour your right to accept or reject advice. Once you find the perfect mentor, draw up a mentoring agreement outlining your commitment to each other, and sign it.
Read: Bridging the Mentoring Gap about why this is so crucial and how to go about finding a mentor.
You’ll likely need a team of professional advisors that includes a lawyer, an accountant and a marketer.
The first step involves the notion of paying for advice. While you can source plenty of business advice for free, I find you get what you pay for: very little commitment between parties. You need these people on your side for years to come. Elevate the status of your venture from hobby to business by establishing a reasonable budget to pay for professional fees.
Again, turn to your professional and personal network to source advisor candidates. Ask for references and check them. Once you find an advisor you’d like to work with, discuss their fee structure, and don’t be afraid to ask for a discount.
My lawyer loves this quip: You can pay a lawyer later to get you out of trouble, or pay one now to prevent trouble. Trust me the latter choice is preferred because it costs less. You’ll want a lawyer onside to:
¢ Create base documents such as sales contracts, non-disclosure agreements, partnership Agreements, Shareholder Agreements or Articles of Incorporation;
¢ Ensure your preferred business name is available legally (in multiple countries);
¢ Register trademarks;
¢ Protect your company’s intellectual property.
While you may hire a bookkeeper to process your day-to-day financial transactions, an accountant is necessary to file your corporate year-end tax return. But don’t stop there use your accountant’s considerable expertise to help you to make sound financial decisions and better manage your business. For instance, an accountant should:
¢ Ensure you take advantage of every allowable expense deduction (I’ve learned how to write off haircuts);
¢ Tell you whether it’s best for your business to lease or purchase assets;
¢ Present and analyze financial reports;
¢ Represent you with Revenue Canada. The last thing you want to do is handle an audit by yourself (and you’ll likely be audited at least once during your business career.)
Be it internet marketer, branding expert, marketing strategist or communications specialist, a lot is riding on your company’s ability to bring in business. It’s nice to have customers! Pay for the kind of marketing help you need to:
¢ Craft a professional and effective brand to resonate with prospects;
¢ Develop cost-effective marketing strategies and tactics;
¢ Thwart competition;
¢ Convert leads into customers;
¢ Generate media coverage.
View the resources spent on mentors and professional advisors as an investment instead of an expense. Last year, my accountant saved me more money in taxes than I paid his firm in fees.
Take public relations, for example. “For roughly the same cost as a handful of advertisements in a major daily newspaper, a well-timed and executed public relations campaign can have the same potential to secure major media coverage across many publications and markets,” says Patrick McCaully, principal at Pointman! Public Relations, a Toronto-based PR firm.
Experts will help you to make smarter decisions. Surrounding yourself with highly qualified people who know more than you do demonstrates a mature approach to building a successful business. There’s a bonus, too: you’ll be free to work on the business rather than in it.
Stay tuned for Roger’s advice on setting up your operation on August 2.
Read other installments of Roger’s series on starting up a business.
Roger Pierce is the founder of NewcomerStartup.com, co-author of the book Thriving Solo: How to Grow a Successful Business and one of Canada’s top experts on starting up. Roger helps others get into business by sharing what he’s learned from launching 11 companies.