Middle aged woman mentoring young woman (Adobe stock image)

Everyone loves a winner. 

But who is with you in the slog of the “overnight success” that was years in the making? Successful entrepreneurs know they didn’t arrive alone. They generously acknowledge the ones that were there when the chips were down, that encouraged them to keep going when they couldn’t see beyond next week.

There are 3 relationships that are key to an entrepreneur’s success. New or aspiring entrepreneurs can enhance their chances of success by making sure they prioritize these 3 relationships while launching or scaling their business.


While most entrepreneurs are notoriously independent, the wise ones know that some outside perspective can save them valuable time, energy, and money. A recent survey by the Kauffman Foundation looked at challenges commonly faced by aspiring entrepreneurs. Right behind “funds to start and grow the business”, 69% noted “self-doubt and fear” as one of their bigger challenges. 

Finding a mentor who is willing to share their experience may be one of the most important differentiators between a business that flounders and one that takes off. Ideally, a mentor is someone farther down the road who has experienced failure and lived to tell about it. (Yes, failure is important, but that’s another article.) They will look at the whole person, not just your business. When considering a mentor, look for someone who: 

  • Can meet on a regular basis, ideally at least quarterly
  • Will ask great questions to clarify focus, goals, resources, needs
  • Listen more than talk sometimes.
  • Is willing to be vulnerable with their personal and professional life

There are also peer boards that provide some of these benefits, but many require a certain level of revenue before joining. The need for peers along the way is not reserved for the aspiring entrepreneur. It actually becomes even more important as challenges with hiring team members/key players, scaling, investors, and partner issues evolve. Depending on where you are in your revenue, groups like EO, C12, or Vistage may be an option.

Spouse/Life partner

If you’re single, please don’t skip over this section, as the CHOICE of a life partner that gets your wiring and vision is so important. This may be THE most crucial partner in your journey. I have counseled couples where the spouse is not supportive of the entrepreneur, sometimes squashing their dream before it ever launches. 

When successful entrepreneurs are interviewed about their success, they often cite their partner for giving them courage and keeping priorities straight. Richard Branson (founder of multiple Virgin businesses) said, “Having spent 40 years with Joan by my side I have had the courage to do so many things others would deem impossible. I have been able to take risks–that have been fundamental to my success in business–which I probably wouldn’t have dared to make without Joan’s love.” (Inc dot com)

Take care of your marriage

Home should be a respite from the stresses of the world. Investing in your marriage will ensure that even if the business fails, you still have each other. This is not a one-sided relationship. No matter how supportive your spouse is of the business, many an entrepreneur spouse has referred to the start-up as “the mistress”. Make sure to prioritize this relationship and regularly check in together. Make it a practice, just as you would your business, to regularly review personal and business goals and needs. 

Consider hiring a marriage coach or counselor for your marriage. This doesn’t mean there’s a dire problem. Establishing a relationship with a trustworthy relationship advisor might mean you only check in once or twice a year, but they are also available when the waters get choppy. Preventative maintenance is easier than a blown-out engine.

Best friend

This is a relationship I don’t usually see on success lists, so let me explain. According to the beloved Esther Perel, the famed relationship therapist, we have come to expect EVERYTHING from our spouse. Needs that were fulfilled by an entire community are now unrealistically expected to come from our spouse. Even the best marriages benefit from both partners having friends outside the marriage.

For an entrepreneur, having someone to listen when things are rough provides an additional source of support and affirmation. This is a friendship with some history, so it has a different trust level than a mentor.  A best friend is someone with whom you do different activities than with your spouse to blow off steam or just do something that doesn’t look anything like work. My husband would often go with his best friend to the gun range, followed by a trip to their favorite BBQ place. It was a relationship that I knew provided an important outlet, especially when business challenges mounted.

How do you manage all these relationships?

This may seem like a big time investment, but if you make these a priority and schedule on your calendar, it is manageable. In his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey listed “sharpen the saw” as the first habit. Investing in life-giving relationships is the secret sauce of truly successful entrepreneurs.

Originally published at cobizmag.com