Beyond Business Basics

Beyond Business Basics

A Mentor Could Help Put Your Business on the Fast Track

Successful business people have a wealth of insider tips and insights that Hillsborough County can help you tap. Each month we ask local business experts to share their experiences and expertise on the entrepreneurship journey. This month we discuss the value of an effective mentor.

Valerie Ellis Lavin
VIP Contributor
U.S. Army, Retired
Director of Operation Startup and CEO of Luminary Global, LLC

Why should someone consider finding a mentor?
One of the greatest advantages of embarking on the entrepreneurship journey is self-discovery. Self-discovery takes you out of your comfort zone, getting you to dig deep to discover what makes you tick. This is a great exercise to help anyone, especially Veterans transitioning from the military mindset - which is rigid, uniform, and of one unit - to the entrepreneurial mindset, which is fluid and innovative.

Finding a mentor is a critical step in your entrepreneurial journey because it allows you to continue down the path of self-discovery and business modeling development. From an entrepreneurial perspective, a business mentor helps with strategy, planning, problem solving, and helping the mentee develop skills and a business savviness that will make them successful beyond the startup phase.

What makes a good mentor?
A mentor is someone who has had experience with success and failure, and a mentee is someone seeking guidance toward a specific path. This relationship creates a fairly structured and safe environment to develop mutual goals and outcomes. Expect your mentor to be your biggest cheerleader, but also a tough coach determined to get results.

A mentor is an experienced, trusted advisor who is essentially a strategic partner invested in the growth of the mentee, both personally and professionally. It is important to understand the mentor will often provide feedback that is hard to hear, but their role as an advisor allows them to see things from a different perspective. Ultimately, you should expect a professional relationship, committed to the development of you and your business.

How does finding the right mentor help business success?
Finding the right mentor, and even the right mentee, is critical to a successful outcome of the relationship. There must be mutual respect, ability to communicate both as the transmitter and receiver of the communication.

According to Amanda Milligan, vetrepreneur and founder of Excel Match, a mentor/mentee matchmaking service, "For an entrepreneur it makes sense to find someone who has created a successful business, ideally in your field. It doesn't necessarily have to be a formalized mentorship with milestones and goal markers, but having access to someone who has seen the depths of entrepreneurial despair, share their lessons learned, and can assure you as long as you keep trucking, you'll make it out alive! Hopefully that same mentor will be able to provide you with industry insight and contacts that can help you succeed even further!"

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Our Expert Contributor

Valerie Ellis Lavin is the director of Operation Startup (OPSU), a startup lab and co-working space for military veterans and social entrepreneurs to develop and launch their businesses in a collaborative, high-impact environment. Beyond veterans, Operation Startup also provides services for military members in transition, reservists, National Guard members, spouses, and civilian business partners. Valerie, a vetrepreneur of a startup herself, is CEO of Luminary Global, LLC allowing her to understand the special needs of veterans, and their family members, as they transition from service to self-employment.