How to Find a Mentor For Your Small Business
Professionals typically only think of a mentor within the context of climbing the career ladder. But entrepreneurs need mentors just as much — if not more — as those in the corporate world. The right mentor can offer advice that will help you and your business thrive as you aim for the next level. In fact, several years ago one study found that mentored businesses increased their revenue by 83%, while non-mentored businesses only saw a revenue increase of 16%.1
Although mentoring relationships are crucial for small business leaders, they can be more challenging to initiate, since there's not a formal mentoring program as you might find in a larger company. Here's how to identify a mentor and nurture the relationship.
Finding the “one"
As you conducted due diligence on your business idea, you likely noticed a name or two that bubbled up — maybe a “go-to" person that everyone in your field admires or a speaker who impressed you with their presentation at an industry conference. Those can be great resources, but it's important to remember that your mentor doesn't necessarily need to be at the top of your field. In some cases, you might get more traction — and more practical advice — from someone who's only slightly ahead of you. Such people possess useful knowledge about how to conquer the struggles you're facing in the current environment, rather than experience from many years ago.
Whoever you choose, remember that it's not just industry knowledge that's important. Personality is key too. You don't want your mentor to hesitate to give constructive feedback, but you don't want someone who will crush you. Sometimes it can take a little trial and error to find the right person, much like in the dating scene.
The right mentor can offer advice that will help you and your business thrive.
Making the pitch
Once you've identified a potential mentor, it's time to approach them. Often a soft sell might be best, rather than coming right out and saying “Will you be my mentor?" — which can feel a little awkward.
Start by nurturing the relationship. If you met a promising prospect at an industry function, follow up and let them know you appreciated their insights at a specific session or that you are still reflecting on your lively conversation at a pre-event luncheon. Follow them on social networks, and comment on and share their posts.
Then when you feel the time is right, make your ask. Try something like, “I sat in on your presentation at the [such and such trade show] last month and since then have really learned a lot from your posts on LinkedIn. I have just started a business and wondered if we could chat sometime … maybe a half hour on the phone or over coffee?" Note that committing to 30 minutes probably sounds more doable to your potential mentor than if you proposed a regular meeting time or even a lengthy lunch.
Prior to the meeting, prepare some talking points about your career trajectory that will help your contact get to know you better — and convince them that you are worthy of their time. In addition, have some insightful questions for them about both their own experience and the industry in general.
After that first meeting, thank them graciously for their time and insight, and mention something specific about your conversation that you intend to put into practice.
Building the relationship
If the meeting went well, consider proposing a more regular time. But remember that while the cliché mentor relationship is a weekly coffee meeting, that may be as outdated as the three-martini lunch in today's on-the-go work world. Your meetings might take place on the phone, via video chat, or even on a hike, if you're so inclined.
Your mentor is undoubtedly busy so be respectful of their time, which includes meeting on their terms, even if it's a place or time that is less convenient for you. And of course, always be gracious if they need to cancel or reschedule.
While you may have many questions, your meetings will be more productive if you focus on one or two specific things each time. Be sure to let your mentor know in advance what you want to discuss so they can come prepared and then report back how you put their advice into practice.
Finally, make sure you treat the relationship as a two-way street. Forward an article that pertains to a personal or professional interest they mentioned, or invite them to see a relevant speaker. More importantly, find out what their needs are and then offer referrals as appropriate.
As with any relationship, finding the right mentor can take time. But as with most things in life, the more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it.
Important Disclosure Information
This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.
- MicroMentor, "Impact", accessed September 18, 2019. Back
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