Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you. This is an adage that all Rwandan youth should aspire to live by.
However, the classic mistake many young entrepreneurs make is to blame other people for their failure, making them to hate and abandon business, as well as what are potentially life-changing opportunities. At this point many falsely believe that salvation is in seeking white collar employment. Remember, the thinking that the ‘grass is greener on the other side’ is often just that; an illusion.
As Noam Chomsky once said, there are no magic answers, no miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the familiar ones: honest search for understanding, education, organisation, action ... and the kind of commitment that will persist despite the temptations of disillusionment, despite many failures and only limited successes, inspired by the hope of a brighter future.
These are lessons that first time entrepreneurs never learn because the crash is so hard and painful; they vow never to do business ever again. This points to one omission in the realm or the eco system of entrepreneurship, the need for mentorship or apprenticeship.
Why need mentors
All of us need mentors we can look up to, the role models we can aspire to be like as we grow older, be it in relationships, marriage or most importantly, business. Without a mentor, any entrepreneur will be walking through the journey of business like a traveller at night without a light. Mentors guide us as they have been there, they have made mistakes and they have failed and learnt how to embrace failure for it to be their guiding light to success. As upcoming entrepreneurs, we need to understand the meaning and essence of failure, but when we are on our own, we will fail to grasp it. That is why a mentor is key.
Many of us open businesses without a clue on how to market our products and services. A mentor is key, especially in helping us learn how to appeal to the interests of potential clients and close deals. These are some of the biggest challenges any start up will face. But mentors have been there and seen it all, so they know the ‘tricks’ that could help us learn how to close deals and sustain them. This is where their guidance and advice comes in handy.
We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we will mess up sometimes - understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, but part of success is crucial for business survival. This is a lesson that can only be appreciated with the guidance of a mentor, without which, one’s business is bound to fail.
Without a mentor, an entrepreneur runs the risk of failure within the first six months and even if they succeed, the price paid is too high to make the entrepreneur appreciate the value and essence of entrepreneurship, which is to create value and offer solutions that affect the society that we live in and not just profits. Mentorship helps entrepreneurs to understand that it is never about the price but value.
As Rachel Carson put it, that if a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in. This is true when it comes to entrepreneurship and the need for mentorship.
An entrepreneur needs a mentor to keep the passions and ideals that made one to start a business going. Without these, the entrepreneur will lose focus and derail the business.
The element of networking is essential for any business and a mentor is crucial as they will guide you on how to get and activate the networks and turn them into an eco-system of opportunity. The mentor provides access to their contacts.
As business veterans, these mentors have experience working with many investors, service providers and other important resources. If you establish a close professional relationship with your business mentor, they will certainly make key introductions for you and as an upcoming young entrepreneur; any lead is a good lead.
Many local businesses fail because the country lacks visible mentorship programmes to support entrepreneurs.
The other important element of why a mentor is vital to any business, especially a start up, is because they have been in your situation and succeeded. Business mentors know from experience what will work for companies in your industry. Using lessons learnt throughout their entrepreneurial journey, they can give you honest opinion about your pitch, vision and business plan - for starters. This is crucial, as you will need to make the right decisions early to be able to entrench your business.
For one to see far, they need to stand on the shoulders of giants. This is normally the prayer of many local entrepreneurs as they hope to have mentors who will guide them, but mostly, it’s always that, a prayer.
The biggest reason why mentorship is a must for any entrepreneur, is that we need to learn how they made it. What lessons they learnt, the tears they shed, what pushed them not to give up, the sleepless nights they had, what did they sacrifice, how much was their first deal.
This helps upcoming entrepreneurs to be grounded as one dizzying success can derail the entire business if one does not know how to handle it. This also teaches us to be patient as we move towards success, without giving up, just because we have had plenty of failures. Patience is a powerful weapon if wielded properly.
Choosing a mentor is the tricky and harder part, so one has to be careful and choose those people in their field of operation.
However, all entrepreneurs need to ‘wear’ patience around their neck like a necklace that guides you in the darkest of nights, with the silent words of your mentor. As a new entrepreneur, it is easy to be caught up in the small details as you strive for perfection. Business mentors will keep you moving forward and focused on your main goal: getting the market and revenue. So it’s important to plan on having one before you kick start your business.
Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers and the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it.
Let your mentor be your beacon because entrepreneurship is a difficult word, both in terms of spelling and calling oneself that, hence a mentor will make it easier to understand, embrace it and know how to spell it.