Whether you’re a start-up or you have been in business for a while, chances are issues will arise that you have not encountered before. You may be looking to hire a strategic partner for the first time; you may be interested in launching a social networking campaign; or you may be seeking to expand your business by tapping into a new market.
Instead of taking extensive time to research these issues on your own (or opting to plow ahead and hope for the best), you might want to consider forming a relationship with a business mentor. Sometimes the process of finding a mentor happens naturally, (i.e. someone you know socially turns out to be an expert on the business issue you’re facing). Most of the time, however, it takes a concerted effort.
The following are seven tips small business owners should remember when looking for a business mentor.
1. Narrow down the list of issues with which you need help. Prioritize your most pressing challenges so you can get the most out of a mentor relationship. You may even determine you need more than one mentor. Asking for too much information at once can overwhelm even the most generous person.
2. Pinpoint the personal qualities you think you’d respond to in a mentor. Before refining your list of potential mentors, do some soul searching and see if you can answer questions like these:
- Are you interested in someone who is a good listener and doesn’t offer feedback until he or she mulls over your question?
- Do you prefer people who tell you everything they know on a subject?
- Is responsiveness important to you - do you want hands-on guidance in real time?
- Would you prefer verbal feedback on your planned courses of action?
3. Define the parameters of the relationship. The ideal mentor relationship for you might involve someone with whom you can speak briefly every time you have questions. Or perhaps a monthly dinner meeting would be a more productive forum for addressing ongoing issues. Over time, you might discover that your mentor is interested in joining your company as a senior executive or even a CEO if you reach a certain point of growth.
4. Spread the word as far as you can. Reach out to your email list; contacts on LinkedIn and other social networks; friends and colleagues and attendees at networking events, conferences and trade shows. Don’t rule out total strangers. If you read an interview with a like-minded business owner in a trade or business magazine, feel free to send him or her a follow-up note. As long as there is no direct issue of competition, most small business owners are happy to help a fellow entrepreneur, and might even see potential for collaborating in other ways in the future.
5. Do not overlook larger resources. The Small Business Administration, SCORE, local chambers of commerce and private mentoring businesses have wide-ranging mentoring programs that offer long-term mentoring and assistance with advisory board formation. These resources may prove to be a valuable way to connect with potential mentors.
6. Formalize the selection process. Similar to personal relationships, it’s probably best not to rush things. Start out getting to know the potential mentor, get a sense of whether they’d be open to the idea and simply ask to pick their brain on a few issues. Discuss where and how often you will meet, what you can offer to the relationship, and long- and short-term goals.
7. Remember that mentoring is a two-way street. Don’t forget to thank your mentor regularly for advice that led to good results for your business. Further, periodic feedback is a good way to keep your mentor invested in your businesses success.
Since mentors can be from different industries, or even different geographical locations, it should be relatively easy to find someone. It’s certainly less risky and time consuming than using trial and error or relying solely on your own perspective and experience. And, once you experience a positive mentoring relationship, you might look forward to the day when you can become a mentor yourself. Have you found a mentor that has helped make a difference in your business? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community in the comments section.