Why experts and seasoned entrepreneurs still seek mentors

Think you've learned it all? Even veteran leaders can benefit from mentorship, thanks to fresh ideas or a different perspective.

Penelope Larry dreamed of opening a men’s clothing store for 20 years before she got her chance to actually do it. By the time the opportunity came to buy her Sacramento shop, Distinguished Gentleman, she had a family, a successful teaching career and advanced degrees. But she’d earned a strategic leadership degree in 2008, long before social media had become the influence juggernaut it is today. So when it came time to build her new business, she felt ill-equipped. “I’m just a one-man band; just one girl in a shop,” she says. “Marketing now is altogether different, and I’m finding myself having to pivot to social media and online marketing. When you don’t grow up with it, it’s much more challenging to figure out.”

Entrepreneurs at any stage need guidance, says Rita Kakati Shah, a MicroMentor mentor and the founder of Uma. “Anybody can benefit from mentorship, no matter how experienced you are,” she says. “There is always someone out there who can give you feedback and comment on the work you’re doing.”

Even the best established authors still work with editors, Kakati Shah notes. And at all levels of a career there will always be moments where an entrepreneur is doing something for the first time. “Running your idea by someone else always helps,” Kakati Shah says. “Be flexible to change.”

Larry drained her life’s savings to buy Distinguished Gentleman, and she’s determined to grow her business. “I had no idea how to do retail,” she says, so she started researching YouTube videos, anything she could find online, about how to set up a store. “I took the first year just to figure out retail,” she said. “Then it was ‘OK, let me figure out how to buy clothes.’”

Larry is humble enough to know that even with two decades of experience and education, she can still benefit from mentorship. One of her earliest clients mentored her on how best to present herself; how to dress appropriately so she could attract the highly influential clients she wants to serve: judges, lawyers, state officials. “Those were my customers,” she said. Her mentor “taught me how to speak their language.”

Mentor Sacramento is an innovative and inclusive partnership between the City of Sacramento and MicroMentor, the online business mentoring platform that connects diverse small business owners to volunteer business mentors. Learn more.