How to find the right business mentor for you

 

Ask successful business owners what helped them most and many will answer with two words: “My mentor.”

When you’re starting out in business, you’re going to make mistakes.

Having a mentor – someone further down the road, who can give you advice on everything from business expansion to managing your own work-life balance – is invaluable. As businessman Zig Ziglar famously said, “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”

Virgin founder Richard Branson attributes his success in the airline industry in large part to his mentor, Sir Freddie Laker. He recommends finding a mentor to all entrepreneurs and business owners.

But how, exactly, do you find the ideal mentor for you? Here are characteristics to look for – and ways to tap into your network to find that person:

Personality plus experience

You don’t need to find someone in exactly the same industry. But you do need to make sure the advice they can give is relevant to your business. Ideally, your mentor would have experience across several industries – or be specialised in your area.

It’s also crucial to find someone whose personality is suited to mentoring. If you respond well to tough love and plain talk, seek out a mentor who can deliver that. But if you want a good listener who takes a softer approach, seek out those attributes.

Regardless of personality type, you should make sure your mentor is willing to tell you what you need to hear – not what you want to hear.

When you’re sounding someone out with a view to a mentoring relationship, look for the spark. An ideal mentor will quickly become invested in you, your business and your success. Having someone who believes in what you’re doing will be valuable when you hit turbulent waters. 

How to find a mentor

There are informal and formal ways to seek out your ideal mentor.

You can try formal networks like the Small Business Mentoring Service and HerBusiness, or any of these small business mentor services.

But you can also seek a mentor informally.

Friends, acquaintances and family can be a great network to tap to find mentors when you’re starting out.

You can also use a networking site such as LinkedIn to find acquaintances or connections who might be a good fit.

Going to conferences, business breakfasts or informal events in your industry are excellent ways to make first contact.

Small business owner and mentor at brunch

How to ask the right way

Once you’ve found someone you think is a good fit and whose advice you could benefit from, you need to build a relationship.

It’s important to make your first request clear and specific. You need to show why you’re worth their time.

Briefly cover your business and its progress, and why you feel a mentor’s perspective could help.

Make it clear why you thought of him or her as a possible mentor and what you would ideally like from the relationship.

Make the time commitment clear as well – as well as asking what the mentor would like in return, if anything.

A good starting point might be a meeting over coffee or lunch where you can sound each other out.

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