Research in entrepreneurial finance proves out that regardless of your business model, it’s key that you cultivate early on those influential and powerful people who can champion you – not just assist, mentor or advise you. The traditional corporate world calls such individuals “sponsors.”
In fact, research by the women’s leadership nonprofit organization, Catalyst, indicates that one of the key differences between how men and women advance is that men tend to seek out, cultivate and benefit from sponsors.
Sponsors are different from mentors in that a sponsor will advocate for you, get you invited to meetings that you ordinarily would not have access to, or let you in on crucial information they have access to through their inner circles. It’s important to network, yes, but manage your time well and make sure you cultivate, secure and exchange your talents with persons of power and influence – i.e., sponsors – who will actively champion your mission and vision. This also means you have to learn about your sponsor’s priorities as well, and where there is mutual benefit. Working with a sponsor is an exchange. It works best when there are complementary skills and talents are at work.