You are passionate about what you do. You know your products and services. You know what your customers need. You know what you need to succeed.
So why would you need a mentor?
Benefits of Having a Mentor
Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for a while, research and experience demonstrates that businesses who have a mentor are more likely to survive and thrive. Here’s why.
- You do not always know what you don’t know. Perhaps an obvious statement, but when you are completely immersed in your business, you may be too narrowly focused to recognize what you are missing. Mentors have the experience to help you ask the right questions and find the best answers for your business. They have done this before and can help you avoid obstacles you don’t even know are there.
- Mentors use their experience and knowledge to educate and provide the tools you need to overcome the hurdles you will inevitably face.
- Mentors provide a critical sounding board to help you objectively analyze and assess the merits of your ideas. This is not like your family or friends saying “great idea” or “are you crazy?” but someone who can filter your ideas through their experience and knowledge to help you evaluate and refine them.
- Mentors help accelerate the development and growth of your business.
- Finally, one of the greatest advantages of having a mentor is having someone besides yourself, who will hold you accountable. I don’t know about you, but I have a to-do list a mile long. Some items have been there for months. On your own, it can be hard to prioritize—everything can seem to be critical—and this can lead you to misspend your time—or even worse—simply freeze and stall. With no one to answer to, things slip. A mentor will help you prioritize and will hold you accountable.
What Makes a Good Mentor
There really is no “one size fits all” when it comes to choosing a mentor. The most important thing is to find a mentor who is a good match for you and your business. But here are some general guidelines:
- Are you a startup or have only been in business a few years? Then you will benefit by finding a mentor who has faced those challenges. Someone who has been an entrepreneur and who understands personally the problems you are and will be facing.
- Be sure you pick someone you respect. If you don’t respect your mentor, you aren’t going to listen to her advice.
- It is helpful to have someone from—or at least familiar with—your industry. This is particularly true if you are facing any highly specialized problems.
- Mentors may be retired but they do not have to be. Many great mentors are still working full time but they want to give back. Don’t assume a working mentor won’t have time for you. Often the busiest people are the most willing and able to take on an additional task.
- You want a mentor who is direct and doesn’t pull punches. That means you shouldn’t be offended if your mentor provides you with honest criticism—rather than glowing accolades (one reason that family and friends often do NOT make the best mentors). Your mentor is NOT there to provide you with emotional support but with useful, practical business advice.
Be sure to differentiate between mentors and coaches. Mentors typically work with you for free. Coaches are someone you pay to advise you on your business.
How You Find a Mentor
There are a number of ways to find a mentor for your business:
- You may already know someone in your locality or industry that you admire. Or you may have recently met someone at a networking event. Chambers of commerce events present great opportunities to meet potential mentors. Don’t jump right in and immediately ask someone to be a mentor. First get to know them—have coffee, talk about your business and decide if you think the person would be a good mentor. If so, then ask.
- Talk to family, friends, and business colleagues to find out if they have any recommendations.
- Use the mentoring services provided by SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives). SCORE is a nonprofit association whose mission is to help entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed. They provide an array of resources for startups, including expert mentors who are working or retired executives and business owners. You can get free advice online, by email, or in person. They can help you strategize and manage all aspects of your business, including finance, marketing and sales. Get more information about their mentoring program here.
- Search online for mentoring resources. One organization you will find that has received positive reviews is Micro Mentor. According to its website, MicroMentor is a free, easy-to-use social network that allows entrepreneurs and volunteer business mentors to connect so they can solve problems and build businesses together. Check out their website.
- For some great advice on how to make that first contact with a potential mentor, check out these helpful articles in Entrepreneur:
- Richard Branson’s Guide to Finding a Mentor by Richard Branson.
- How to Successfully Turn (Almost) Anyone into Your Mentor by Phil Drolet.
Although there is no magic formula for success, these articles will give you practical steps to take to find and approach possible mentors.
- For articles on the value of mentors, go to:
- Why A Mentor is Key to Small Business Growth and Survival by Caron Beesley.
- Micro Mentors’ discussion of impact of mentoring.
- Looking for other support besides a mentor? Remember, the role of mentor does not include providing emotional or social support. There are resources that provide support or business advice to help you with a specific area of your business. If this is what you need, look into these types of resources:
- Business incubators give startups a physical place to work, a supportive environment and access to many shared services. For more information, click here.
- Small Business Development Centers provide both classes and free individual business counseling in such areas as marketing and finances to qualified businesses. Click here for more information:
- MasterMind Groups offer opportunities for brainstorming, peer accountability and support. Meetups have a specific category for MasterMind Groups and there are many online resources to help you create your own.
Being an entrepreneur includes overcoming numerous obstacles but you do not have to do it all yourself. A mentor can help your business move forward more quickly and more confidently.
What experiences have you had with mentors? What qualities would you want in your mentor?