We’ve all heard the story of how a Harvard sophomore took an idea (or stole, depending on which side of the debate you are on) and turned it into a social networking megalith. That sophomore was none other than Mark Zuckerberg and the megalith, of course, is Facebook.
As an entrepreneur, you are not the only one who salivates at the notion of becoming a seemingly overnight success story like Zuckerberg and changing the course of history for your industry forever.
But it’s important to note that Zuckerberg did not achieve this success on his own (and, no, this is not another article exploring how he took the idea for Facebook from the Winklevoss twins). While many would like to believe that Zuckerberg was the sole mastermind behind the now multi-national corporation, the truth is that he had some help along the way in the form of advisors and mentors.
But First, Why is Having a Business Advisor or Mentor So Important?
You may be able to argue that your value proposition sets you apart from anyone who is currently in your space or who has ever been there before. While this may be true, business is business and as a business owner you should jump at the opportunity to learn from the experiences of those who have been presented with challenges similar to yours.
One of the easiest ways to give your company a competitive advantage is to leverage the help of those who have been there and done that already. This role can easily be filled by a business advisor or by a mentor.
The words ‘advisor’ and ‘mentor’ are often used interchangeably, but in all actuality, they couldn’t be more different. Understanding the difference between the two is critical in deciding which one makes the most sense for your business.
Advisors Focus on the Business
Given that the definition of the word ‘advisor’ is ‘one who gives advice,’ it’s only natural to assume that if you hire an advisor, whether it be a business advisor, financial advisor or an advisor with a specific expertise in a particular area of practice, their job is literally to give you advice on what you should do.
Let’s go back to our Facebook example. Zuckerberg had a great idea, but as a college sophomore, even at an Ivy League school like Harvard, his business acumen was probably lacking much real-world application. Luckily, Zuckerberg had a friend, Eduardo Saverin, who not only invested $15,000 for the initial servers used to house “TheFacebook.com” (as it was originally called), but he also served as Zuckerberg’s confidant. In exchange, Saverin received 30 percent of the company.
The important distinction here is that Saverin was technically a part of the company as partial owner. Advisors are usually legally associated with your company, and as such, are financially compensated for their services.
Many business owners like to employ well-known advisors that they can showcase on their websites, believing that a high-profile advisor will speak to the credibility of their business. While this certainly may be true, depending on your industry, it’s more important to find an advisor who will add value to your business through his or her knowledge and experience.
Mentors Focus on You
In contrast to advisors, mentors are not typically associated with the company, but rather, are focused on the business owner’s own personal growth and development. Zuckerberg also benefitted from the help of a very well-connected mentor, Sean Parker. Parker, played by Justin Timberlake in the movie The Social Network (completely irrelevant, but I can’t miss an opportunity to mention JT!), was the co-founder of Napster. He first discovered Facebook when he saw the site on his roommate’s girlfriend’s computer (she was, at the time, a student at Stanford) and immediately flew to New York to meet with Zuckerberg.
Many like to speculate that without Parker’s connections (he introduced Zuckerberg to Peter Thiel, PayPal CEO and Facebook’s first major investor) and guidance, Facebook would not have seen success as quickly as it did, or at all for that matter. While Parker was named President of the newly incorporated Facebook company in 2004, he initially was not financially compensated, thus fulfilling the role of Zuckerberg’s mentor.
Perhaps the most important distinction between a mentor and an advisor is that a mentor is not on your payroll. There is not a financial benefit to being someone’s mentor. A mentor has usually been in your position before and can offer advice to lead you in the right direction.
Mentors are much more focused on your personal growth and development as a business leader. Mentors will typically offer advice that is both professional and personal in nature. Generally speaking, mentors tend to be older and usually have achieved career success similar to the mentee’s business aspirations.
Things to Consider
So, now that you know the difference between the two, which one makes the most sense for you and your business? Ultimately, that depends on your end goals.
Before settling on either, there are important things to consider:
Will he or she be available when I need them to be?
In business, things can change or a situation can arise in an instant. If you need advising, are you certain that your advisor or mentor will be available to answer your questions? If you hire an advisor, you may want to write a clause into their contract to address this need if it’s something that you believe will happen quite often.
Can I trust his or her advice?
If you do not confidently believe in an advisor or mentor’s abilities, they aren’t worth your valuable time. It’s important to trust that your mentor or advisor has you and your business’s best interests at heart.
Do we have compatible business styles? Do we have the same ethical values?
These are perhaps two of the most important and often the most overlooked questions to consider. If your advisor or mentor has different values or works completely differently than you do, their advice may not be the best fit for your goals. While you don’t want another version of yourself (after all, the whole point of an advisor or mentor is to get someone else’s perspective), if you don’t have compatible business styles and values, you will spend most of your time arguing or defending your point of view, rather than having productive meetings to steer your business in the right direction.
Do I like him or her?
If the answer is no, find someone else. It’s that easy.
Do you have a business advisor or mentor? How have they helped you get your business to where it is today?
Christina Memorio is an SEO Specialist at Business Financial Services.
Image credit: CC by tedeytan