Richard Branson: The difference between a budding entrepreneur and a successful entrepreneur

The Virgin Founder argues that it’s the role of a mentor which can make all the difference in turning potential into a winning formula...

"The difference between a budding entrepreneur who merely shows promise and one who is already enjoying some success often comes down to mentoring. Good advice can be just as crucial as funding in the early stages of an enterprise," argues Richard Branson in a recent entrepreneur.com blog.

"The need for a mentor is obvious, yet seeking one out can be quite difficult and daunting. How do you find the right person?"

Luckily that question is not one which you’ll be left to answer alone, as the Virgin Founder has first-hand experience of locating and effectively working with his own mentor – businessman and airline industry expert Sir Freddie Laker.

"Mentoring has had such a profound impact on my life and Virgin’s success that I feel it’s paramount to any promising businessperson’s journey. As I have written before, I attribute much of the success of Virgin Atlantic to my relationship with my own mentor, Sir Freddie Laker, the founder of Laker Airways. I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in the airline industry without Freddie’s down-to-earth wisdom. He was actually the one who told me to make myself the face of the company - a piece of advice that has influenced my entire approach to business."

So here are Richard’s top three tips for securing the right mentor for you:

Image from Virgin Atlantic

1. Do your research

Often, you have to do some research. Try going to industry events like lunches, seminars, talks and conferences. Join community groups - your local chamber of commerce is a great place to start. Chambers of commerce often host networking events and meetings that bring beginning entrepreneurs and successful businesspeople together. Talk to people, listen to their stories and pursue further meetings with those whom you can learn from.

Another great place to find a potential mentor’s name is online. Look for sector - or industry-specific events and groups on Facebook; subscribe to useful newsletters; follow interesting or relevant individuals from your region on Twitter or LinkedIn; then get in touch and ask questions - just like you can with me.

2. Go with experience

Be sure that you choose someone who has experience and connections within your area and level of business. If you’re a budding entrepreneur in, say, the building and home repair industry, you shouldn’t waste your time trying to court a senior executive at a multinational engineering company. Focus on finding someone who has started a venture that’s similar to yours, and who understands the trials and tribulations of building a business in that area.

Keep in mind that an adviser who offers his time in return for compensation is not the same thing as a mentor. While advisers and consultants can be very helpful, true mentors are effective partly because they are only interested in helping others succeed.

3. Be patient

It is rarely a good idea to make a hard and formal request for mentoring upfront, like “Will you be my mentor?” Such relationships blossom on their own. A mentor-mentee relationship takes time to grow, so start by asking for simple advice on one project or problem, and move on from there.

When you do locate a good mentor, he will serve as an example, a sounding board and, ultimately, a friend. Done well, mentorship is rewarding for both of you. It’s important to nurture the relationship, so find fun ways to meet regularly, even without a business agenda.

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