Growing up, I never really had anyone to look up to. Not only that, but when I made up my mind and needed advice about going to nursing school, the high school counselor turned me away, leaving me so discouraged and unsure that I didn’t enroll in college until many years later.
This experience happens every day to people of all ages but is most harmful to our youth. As you start to enter adulthood and gain independence, you look to others for advice, but just one negative experience has the devastating potential to disrupt your hopes and dreams. This is one of the many reasons that mentoring is so vital to our ongoing success and that of the next generation.
When I opened my business in 2007, I thought I knew it all. I had my own business, I was making money, and it was all running smoothly – until it wasn’t. When trying to do too much, one issue naturally leads to another. One year, I made a grave mistake during tax season by submitting the income for my freelancers twice. I started getting phone calls and then went into panic mode. I was franticly running my business on little sleep, wore too many hats and had no employees.
It was when a colleague told me I did not have to do it alone (music to my ears!) that I started outsourcing the things I had no knowledge of and focused on my strengths. It was my colleague who also recommended I find a mentor. Today I ask myself all the time why I did not get a mentor earlier on. I didn’t realize the truth of how beneficial it would later prove to be.
Over the years, I had numerous mentors who taught me about leadership, my business value, negotiation, delegation, finances, even my own personal worth. Fifteen years later, I finally found a mentor who truly aligns with my beliefs, commitment to my family and business growth.
A mentor should not only guide you through your business but also take an interest in who you are. You are your brand, and when you’re having a bad day personally, we all know it reflects in our business. My mentor’s holistic approach to those with whom he works has helped us all grow our businesses, kept our brands afloat during the pandemic and guided us through our personal challenges.
If you haven’t sought out a mentor, I highly encourage you to do so. Being a business owner is at times very lonely, and family members don’t always understand the blood, sweat and tears required. It is essential to have someone there for you, to have someone in your corner who is not only cheering you on, but acting as an advisor, a confidante and a friend when things get tough – and someone to celebrate with when you succeed! It will make a massive difference in how you progress in your business and how quickly and effectively you reach your goals.
Not only should we be seeking mentors, but we should be seeking mentoring opportunities, as well. Throughout history, it’s always the responsibility of the next generation—and then the next—to carry the torch forward, build on what’s already been created or accomplished, and blaze a unique trail of their own.
Just think about NAWBO, which was founded in 1975 by a dozen like-minded women in the D.C. area who wanted to share information and create a community to further and strengthen their entrepreneurial interests. Every generation of NAWBO leaders who have followed has left their mark on this organization. One day, NAWBO will be in the capable hands of my fellow National and chapter leaders and those of the next generation of diverse and talented women business owners.
Many of these young women are already part of our organization as NAWBO NextGen members. NextGen is our growing membership category for recent college graduates and even current high school students with existing businesses. It features special events throughout the year (with topics curated to meet their unique needs) and a NextGen Forum each fall that features more great opportunities.
It’s not just students soon to enter the workforce that make up the new generation. COVID-19 has also changed the employment landscape and thousands of women are leaving the traditional workforce to try something new.
When I think about NAWBO’s NextGen, this quote comes to mind: “There is no better exercise for your heart than reaching down and helping to lift someone up.” If you have an opportunity to encourage, support or mentor a young or emerging woman business owner, don’t hesitate. There are plenty in need of mentoring, but only you can fill this ever-important role in their lives. Extend your hand to help lift her up. We truly are stronger together.