How to find a business mentor


Business Mentors can be a great way to fast track those aspects of your business where you find yourself stuck or just not sure on what to do.

Working with industry leaders or an experienced mentor can be a great way to accelerate your growth and avoid the same mistakes as others.

Be clear – know what you want

Ever had that friend who was a bit “wishy-washy”? You know, you’d try to make plans to go out, but they can never seem to make up their mind? They aren’t a “bad” person. It’s not wrong, just really annoying.

Same goes for you and your perfect mentor. What do you want? How do you think a person might be able to help you? As a good starting point, do some business planning and jot down 5 – 7 things that you’re looking for. It could be:

  • How to grow your online sales
  • What is the best way to position your product / service for your potential corporate clients.
  • Advice on how to get in front of a certain type of customer or prospect
  • Or perhaps just a sounding board to bounce your ideas from someone who has been there before?

Generally the list is not your business goals. Your business plan is important, but are traditionally higher level. For example, your goal might be to increase your sales to $200k per month. Where-as you might be looking for the right mentor who can show you how to sell at networking events.

What’s in it for them?

Why should they help you? The answer more often is easier than you think. Rarely is it money – any successful small business owners or successful entrepreneurs are already financially independent.

Are you fun / enjoyable to be around? Will you take their advice and implement it – immediately? What are some of your own success?

The quickest way to destroy a valuable mentorship relationship is to waste their time. So don’t. Take their feedback on board, implement it. They will be as invested in your success as you are.

What to look for in a mentoring relationship?

One thing a mentor will not do for you – is your job. They will not do the work for you – otherwise they would be your employee. Are you looking for an employee?

Once you’re clear with what you want, search for someone who has done it before. Personally, I do not use someone from the same industry. The primary reason is that you don’t want to be in competition with them. Also, generally skills transfer across industry. The techniques from growing a business say from $2m per year to $20m would be the similar regardless of industry. Reducing customer complaints by 35% or capital raising – skills that can be applied across most industries.

Have a personal conversation. Ask them about their professional goals. What is their expertise? You might be surprised at their answers.

What are their values? What is important to them? What is going on in their personal life?

Some leading questions to ask:

  • What is the biggest (professional) mistake / regret you have?
  • What (or how) has a mentor or trusted advisor influenced you?
  • How do you think a mentor helps entrepreneurs?

The mentor mentee relationship

Mentors or coaches act as a guide to their mentees. They do this by offering constructive criticism, right advice and experience, as well as providing guidance on how to develop new skills.

The format of this will vary and is really up to you. How do you best work? A mentor session goes for about an hour or so, and can be once a week to once every couple of months.

Go to industry events / professional network

You’ll often read that you should go to industry, networking events or meet up groups and hang around other entrepreneurs. Personally, this is a waste of time. What is the purpose of these events? Why is everyone else at these events?

Often you’ll see those entrepreneurs who are all talk. They’ll talk the talk, sound impressive and use all the latest buzz words. What they aren’t doing is growing their business.

Mentorship Programs

Another contraversal opinion – I am not a big fan of these. The primary reason is – why run a Mentor Program? What is in it for them?

Their focus is not aligned with yours. Apart from the high price (thousands of dollars + % of your company) their success is not your success.

Good mentors already have a job – their own businesses.

If you are going to pursue a program, some good questions to ask are:

  • What is their own situation? (For example, you don’t want a mentor who is bankrupt!!)
  • Can you see their mentor profiles / business experience?
  • How often has their specific advice been at odds with the program? (If the answer is never, then that’s a red flag!!!)

Where can I find mentors for free?

I am always a bit weary when a mentee asks for “free”. Lets just unpack this for a moment:

How much is their valuable advice worth?

Assuming they are experienced entrepreneurs, who have been there before and done that, what if you got the cheat sheet, the short list, the absolulte minimal steps required for success?

Is that really worth $0?

Why shouldn’t you pay?

Of couse money is tight, of course you don’t have a lot of cash to splash around. So? This describes everyone.

What do you want them to help you with?

Do you want them to share with you the best proven business tools? Share their own network with you? Give you their best business development tips? Introduce you to their alumni network or networking events?

And you want that for free???

What is on the line?

Will you cherry pick their advice? Sit back and say “yeah, that’s not going to work for me?” Or will you drop what you’re doing and take immediate action?

The moment you start to pay is the moment you want to see results. The worse thing you can do to a good mentor is to waste their time.

If you’re still determined for free, check out social media. Pro tip: Great mentors aren’t hanging out in meetup groups or facebook groups.

Check your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC)

These organization provides business and government assistance in the areas of business planning, development, and marketing for the business and community in which the business operates. The center is generally run by universities, its funding came through a collaboration with the SBA and is funded by Congress. For the best results, contact your local SB DC. If you qualify, another great resource is the Minority Business Development Agency. See www.mbda.gov

Be prepared for bad news

Do you want a friend or do you want to improve your business? A great mentor will tell you what you need to hear at the right time. Even if its bad news – especially if its bad news!

Hopefully you’re working with someone who has a few battlescars. Take it on the chin. Of course it sucks. Of course it hurts when someone pulls your baby apart. We have the metaphore of “ripping the bandaid off” – why? Because it works.

There’s a reason you’re stuck. It takes bravery to stare into the fire and see where you can improve.

Accountability

Any healthy mentor relationship will have a level of accountability. (I go into more detail on how to have an accountability conversation here.)

How will you react when your caught out? Will you freak out? Get angry? React? For most people, it can be a real reality check. Having a healthy level of accountability takes real leadership skills. It’s not fun, but I can guarantee you will grow from the experience.

Finding and engaging with a mentor can be a great way to accelerate your business. Just be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

Christian

Christian Payne is a technologist and entrepreneur with a passion for innovation. He has over 20 years of experience in engineering and product development across enterprise and consumer sectors. He has experience at both small start-ups and enterprise level generating +$2M per month. When he's not hard at work on his latest project, he spends his time involved in Men’s Support Groups, Leadership training and Mentoring.

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