I woke up on this morning with a revelation about my business. It was so simple, I couldn’t believe it had taken me 2 years to figure it out. The interesting thing was that despite the amount of time I spent thinking about this challenge, the answer came to me in a split second. I was reflecting on a discussion I had with a successful business person while at the gym. He didn’t give me the answer but his insight pointed me in the right direction.
I made the mistake of not discussing my challenge with someone else. I felt the problem was something I should have known the answer to, so I didn’t really feel comfortable talking about it to others. Wow, did I learn the value of having a mentor. I probably lost 18 months of productivity on this issue, simply because I didn’t ask for help.
How often have you said to yourself, “I wish I knew then what I know now?” I have a number of mentors, but I have said it a few more times than I would liked to.
It takes a long time to become successful. Along the way there are many pitfalls. Each time we meet one we learn something, regardless of the outcome. This means that if you make a point of getting advice from someone experienced in your area of interest, you can probably avoid most of the common mistakes and often you can find short cuts to success by following the advice you get from the voices of experience.
No matter who you are and where you are in your career, a good mentors is invaluable. I like to have different mentors for different aspects of my life, both business and personal.
There’s lots of research on the value of mentoring relationships. It almost always shows that the person being mentored finds lots of value in it.
I believe that a lot of my success today is due to some important mentors in my past.
In my first real job I was a medical technologist working in the local medical school. Here I learned the value of delegating tasks, letting people run with them and not interfering. Although I was only 18, my boss kept testing me by giving me ever bigger challenges, letting me make my mistakes and helping me learn from them. From my very first managerial position, I have always tried to manage people this way. Managing people like this helps the eagles fly, but the mediocre players flounder.
In another job, I learned that apparently simple tasks are not really simple unless you understand the inside secrets. I was struggling as a novice salesman. My boss was an expert salesman and sold almost effortlessly by asking a series of questions. To the uninitiated, this simply looked like having a nice chat and being inquisitive.
It was only once he started explaining the strategy to me that I discovered he had an overall game plan. His technique utilized four different types of questions that yielded very different results depending on how and when they were used in the conversation. He also showed me how to use questions to build trust, to understand needs, to handle objections and even to close the sale.
To this day I still sell this way. I have literally made hundreds of thousands of dollars with this one technique. I got it free, but in retrospect I would have paid many thousands of dollars to learn it. In fact had I not learned to sell this way, I think I might have had a very different career.
I have never again assumed that what looks simple is really simple.
Most people underestimate the complexity of even simple subjects – assuming that by casually observing, they can see all there is to know.
Take direct mail for example. I often hear people say, “direct mail doesn’t work in my business”. With a little probing, it becomes apparent that even the most basic rules of direct mail were ignored.
The person concerned thought; “I can write a letter, so what can be so difficult about a direct mail piece?” People with this view fail to recognize that experts spend a lifetime studying this one subject; learning how to get letters opened, learning how to get letters read and how to get people to take action on their letters.
Many of us become satisfied with a certain level of performance. We become satisfied and complacent with our level of performance and stop looking for answers. This often cheats us; we miss the opportunities for growth, not realizing that some simple changes can turn a project from a failure or marginal success to a runaway success with no extra cost and often no extra effort.
You may not know what you need to learn to make the next leap in performance and skill. The great thing is; there is no subject you need to learn about that you can’t find out about from someone else who has been there and done it successfully before. One of your goals should be to find people who can help you move forward. It will accelerate your results and make a big difference in your performance.
Tomorrow I will discuss how to find a mentor.
Michael Hepworth is a serial entrepreneur, with a history of successful start-ups and exits. His newest venture is Alternative Fuels Corporation. www.alternativefuelscorp.com