Starting a Business - STOP - Find a Mentor

by: Adam

Adam Oldfield mentor

When the year was 2003,  I had finally decided to open my business. The only thing, I had no idea what it took to be my own boss. I had no experience, very little money and what little money I did have was on a credit card.

I recall an old employer of mine that I worked for as the MC/DJ at his nightclubs in Hamilton and in Buffalo. During one of our evenings we were chatting and he was sharing with me his experiences in running all his business ventures. I approached him and asked if he would give me some tips and if he’d consider being my business partner.

He was looking to slowdown versus getting ramped up with another business, however he did say he would mentor me through the process of getting my business up and running. If one day you manage to make some money maybe you can share a bit of the profit with me. I’ll never forget his hospitality and offer. It was probably the most valuable thing I’ve ever received since being in business. He didn’t save me hundreds of dollars, thousands of dollars but truly over $1 million in mistakes I would’ve made if I tried to do it without his help.

I teach at Mohawk part-time, sales and marketing, to the 2nd year radio students and to no fault of theirs or the schools and colleges one thing that is consistent is that no one can teach the realities of operating a small business. It’s all in the details that no one can think about until you are actually in it. As an example, no one can prepare you for an audit from any level of government and what it will be like or how you can handle their questions and interrogations. The rules of how taxes are charged and applied are so convoluted that even accountants have difficulty in understanding how they should apply to the small business. The next thing you know you’ve got interpretations as well as penalties, interest on items you didn’t even know existed. There is no remorse when it comes to government audits. It’s their way or no way and don’t feel they will bend for you because of your sad story. This is the kind of stuff you don’t learn before opening a business. Another example is how to deal with an irate customer, or when your staff are all sick and you’re the only one able to show up, when your bank account has no money other than to pay your staff, the government in taxes and you have nothing left to take home yourself. Payday for the owner is when there is money in the bank and everyone else is paid.

Having a plan is critical in almost everything you do. Mapping out your destination when you go on a trip as well as when you drive somewhere is crucial otherwise you will be lost driving aimlessly in circles. Running a business is equal to that. Again, these are all items of which can’t be taught in school but need to be shared from a mentor who has lived through the challenging times of truly running a business.   When you find a mentor that is willing to support you, ask if they have failed in their businesses at any time.   If you don’t hear they did, then I suggest you find another.  The purpose of a mentor is to give you advice in where they went wrong so you don’t make the same mistake as bad as they did.

My journey was no different, however my mentor was aware of the challenges I was facing and was there to listen and give me direction however never did tell me clearly what I needed to do. It was important for me to learn, I had to make my own mistakes, with the fear and understanding that it could crush my company. Running a business is never easy. It always appears running a business will make you wealthy, however the reality is that it is one of the most stressful and challenging positions. A mentor will give you guidance; similar to a coach. He won’t play the game for you, and will let you make your own mistakes but will also give you a clear direction on how to play the game and get to your goal.

Over the past summer months I’ve had the privilege of working with the Waterloo region small business Center with a cluster of 6 very talented students mentoring them every 2 weeks in hearing about their challenges and how to get their business up and running to make money. Some were very successful and some had a lot of issues in running their operation. I will say that I’m proud of all of them based on the fact that they were able to risk their time during summer to try and make money. I believe this is a program that should be instituted in a regular curriculum as the art of a small business is dying. Finding a mentor to be willing to give up their time to assist in being a coach of a small business is not easy. As time of a mentor is very limited as well. If you are considering the start of business then I highly suggest you find a mentor who can guide you in the path to success and learn from their mistakes and take their advice seriously when they give you their thoughts on what you should and shouldn’t do.

Good luck to all the future entrepreneurs out there.