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Strong mentors are a business's best friend

Published: Monday, April 30 2012 5:55 p.m. MDT

Expert advisors are a business builder’s best friends and resources. We might also call them coaches, teachers or mentors. They are people with specific expertise, knowledge and/or business relationships. They have, over their careers, learned the key principles and best practices of their trade. They think abundantly and are willing to share what they know with those who ask for assistance. They have been taught themselves by other luminaries and are delighted to “pay it forward.”

Smart and highly successful entrepreneurs continue to enlist advisors themselves on a regular basis for guidance, instruction and wise counsel. They recognize that, fairly well, no one has all the right answers to start and run a great business entirely on their own.

A mentor might be an attorney, a CPA, a supervisor from the past, a kind competitor, an angel investor, a banker or a successful entrepreneur. Most are happy to give assistance pro bono. They are generous with their advice, but cautious with their time. Savvy entrepreneurs respect this special gift and carefully manage the relationship.

Finding mentors to advise is not difficult. They are plentiful and eager to help. As a particular and unfamiliar business matter surfaces, I recommend a business owner ask friends and associates for the names of individuals with the needed expertise. Take courage and contact potential advisors and ask for guidance. Clearly describe the situation and ask how to proceed. Learn the pros and cons of various solution options. A mentor may also recommend others who might be helpful, a class to attend, or valuable publications you might study for answers.

Today, even after having been in business for more than 40 years, I continue to call upon trusted advisors for guidance. There will always be questions for which I don’t have an answer. I am grateful to those fine friends who will respond when I need their counsel.

Throughout my life, there have been many gracious mentors who have illuminated my path and shown me the way. As I followed their advice, I have grown professionally and enjoyed success. I am indebted to them forever.

Ray Noorda, of Novell fame, was one such mentor. I learned from him that cash in a business is critical to success. “Cash is king,” he would say. “Make sure you have plenty and don’t waste it.”

Dr. Stephen R. Covey was also a terrific teacher. Most of my business philosophy is centered on his "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." I live and practice his time-tested principles every day. To use his terms, I have learned to sharpen my saw on a regular basis. It is never dull nor worn. I still have a figurine of a golden goose and an egg he gave me nearly 40 years ago for being a good student.

Dr. David Norton, renowned entrepreneur and co-founder of Iomega, has been a mentor of mine for nearly 30 years. He is, perhaps, one of the most gifted businessmen I know. In addition to his business acumen, he is also honest, trustworthy, dependable and thoughtful. Trained as an engineer, he is analytical and process focused. He has the unique ability to not only a start a business, but to grow it successfully.

Years ago, when I launched MarketStar, I would reach out to Norton for advice on various business topics. We both knew I had never personally built a fast-growing company, and that there were many things for me to learn. One day I mentioned to him that I was planning to diversify our business and enter new and untested markets.

“Why would you do that?” he asked. “Have you maximized the potential opportunity of your existing market? Is there no more room to expand?”

Although we employed around 100 workers and enjoyed profitability, I was worried we might not grow further.

“Alan,” he proclaimed, “I'm sure MarketStar can be much larger. Stay the course and avoid diversifying. You will be successful if you do.”

He was, of course, correct. Thankfully, we followed his counsel and stayed the course. Today there are thousands of MarketStar employees worldwide.

At the present time, Norton and several others continue to guide me as I pursue new and exciting ventures. Their advice and support are invaluable. I will never be able to properly compensate them for their inspired wisdom. In return for their generosity, I will continue to be a mentor to others.

I recommend without hesitation that all business builders find and engage experienced and knowledgeable mentors to guide them. Success will follow those who agree.

How has a mentor or advisor helped guide you to success? I welcome your stories or questions about securing a mentor. You can reach me at www.AlanEHall.com or connect with me on Twitter at @AskAlanEHall.

Alan E. Hall is a co-founding managing director of Mercato Partners, a regionally focused growth capital investment firm. He founded Grow Utah Ventures, is the founder of MarketStar Corp. and is the Chairman of the Utah Technology Council.

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