The Perfect Mentor: 5 Steps to Finding Your Guide
Posted on June 4, 2013
Every successful entrepreneur, no matter how self-sufficient and determined, seeks advice from a mentor, coach, or confidant along the way. This beneficial relationship allows you to bounce ideas off an experienced and reliable individual who might have the keys to your increased success. Mentors are willing to share their knowledge of what’s worked on their own journeys. Perhaps even more importantly, they can share what strategies or plans failed and the lessons learned from those mistakes.
If you are a first-time entrepreneur, you may want to find someone who can offer general guidance. If you’ve already found modest success in business, you might be looking for specific advice and practical examples that can help you take your business to the next level. In either case, you can use these strategies to find the perfect mentor.
1. Establish Your Needs
As the complexity of business changes, the need for mentors with specific skills or knowledge becomes more important. Take the time to list your needs and expectations from a mentor or coach. Are you seeking a professional within your field? Are you seeking multiple mentors for the various aspects of your business? Do you need to gain technical expertise?
As you begin asking yourself these crucial questions, place a premium on finding relationships that promise mutual value to both you and your mentor. Compatible personalities are a must. To really gain knowledge and value from each other, genuine respect and curiosity are necessary. These qualities are based on your self-reflection and understanding of what personality or skillset matches your needs.
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2. Consult Your Network
Just as you would seek feedback about a local contractor or mechanic, you should consult your personal network about possible mentors. Family members or close friends might even be possible mentors if they have professional experience in the field you are pursuing. Many young entrepreneurs turn to family members as an early funding source, but they could also provide valuable guidance.
Talk to colleagues and entrepreneurs within your community about possible resources and leads on positive mentors or coaches. Ask for introductions if you feel a colleague knows a potential mentor with the qualities that could benefit your vision. When consulting your personal and professional networks, make sure you clearly communicate your need for a reliable and experienced person who not only possesses practical knowledge, but also has a high degree of integrity.
3. Consider Local Resources
Research local resources and organizations, as these provide great opportunities to build your professional network, raise awareness of your business, and find potential guides who know your market. Many successful business leaders share their experiences as a way to give back to their communities. This rich source of information can be found at local meetings, training programs, chamber of commerce events, or through a regional economic development office. Ask for an opportunity to meet with the staffs of these organizations and explain your objectives. Most likely, they will be able to introduce you to a group or individual that provides mentoring for local entrepreneurs.
National programs, like SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) and SBDCs (Small Business Development Centers), provide free counseling to businesses. Take advantage of these local resources — community outreach is an important component of building your business.
4. Communicate Candidly
For your needs and goals to reach fruition during the mentoring process, you must discuss them with your potential mentor honestly and directly. This process should begin with your first session. Discuss the motivational strategies, time commitments, and long-term goals you envision. Will this be a short-term project similar to a training seminar, or are you more interested in an ongoing relationship? Can your mentor dedicate the time you need? Will there be compensation?
These initial questions can clear the path for a much more productive and practical approach. Remember that, no matter how successful your mentor is as an entrepreneur, he or she still needs to find out about you and what you find helpful. Open communication is essential to the process.
5. Plan for Your Future
The purpose of the mentoring process is to improve your future opportunities. A mutual relationship based on clear communication and overt goals will help you gain new insights and techniques that can propel your business. Your perfect mentor should be willing to challenge and inspire you with his or her examples of leadership. Your mentor should reflect your own values. Researching the background of your mentor to verify genuine experience, character, and motivations is reasonable and encouraged. You’re planning for your future, so you don’t want to follow in the footsteps of someone who can’t lead with confidence and integrity.
A knowledgeable and generous mentor can supply new perspectives for you and your business. Your own personal network of family, friends, and colleagues can be a great place to begin your search. With a detailed list of goals and expectations for the process and a mentor who is willing to listen and offer practical and ambitious solutions, your expertise can grow in line with your business.