Starting a business can be overwhelming. Particularly for first-time entrepreneurs, taking the first few steps in launching a venture feels like walking into daunting, unknown territory. That’s why every entrepreneur can benefit from having a mentor who has been there and done it many times before.
There are countless benefits to finding the right business mentor — and trust us, it’s not as tricky as it sounds.
Why You Need Support
It’s not just you that needs support. Most successful people have benefited from mentorship at some point in their careers. Mark Zuckerberg was mentored by Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was mentored by Mike Markkula. The list goes on and on.
In fact, research and studies have highlighted the fact that mentorship is key to success. According to a report in Entrepreneur, “In a 2013 executive coaching survey, 80 percent of CEOs said they received some form of mentorship. In another research by Sage, 93 percent of startups admit that mentorship is instrumental to success.”
Almost everyone agrees that mentorship is integral, but what exactly is a business mentor? And how can having one actually help?
A business mentor is someone who offers guidance, wisdom, and advice to a mentee over an extended period of time, typically free of charge. In entrepreneurship, this person usually has entrepreneurial business experience; preferably in the same industry as you.
While every person can benefit from the support of someone with knowledge and experience, mentors are most useful for entrepreneurs that are just starting out in business, making a big change, or trying to take their company to the next level. If you feel stuck about a certain decision or general vision, finding a mentor may help drive past the plateau.
Outside of the benefit of consulting with someone who has real-world experience, having a business mentor can be useful for facilitating networking opportunities. Mentors usually have connections in the business world who may be able to help you and your business.
Additionally, mentorship facilitates stronger emotional intelligence and confidence. It’s no wonder that 70 percent of mentored businesses survive longer than five years, according to the SBA, versus 50 percent without mentors.
How to Find a Business Mentor
Now that you’re aware of how a mentor could help your business grow, let’s talk about where you can find one. Whether you already have a lot of connections in your industry or don't know anybody, there are plenty of ways you can find someone who would be willing to help.
Clarify Your Own Goals
Before starting the search for your mentor, make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for. Define your goals and figure out the type of help you need for your company. This will allow you to develop a list of specific qualities you’re looking for in a mentor.
Consider Who You Know
The first place to look when trying to find a mentor is your own network. “Consider your own network of connections,” said Susan Bender Phelps, owner of Odyssey Mentoring & Leadership to Bplans. “Look at the top 20 to 30 people you currently do business with, who are not your customers. You are looking to see if one of them would be a match or if they can introduce you to someone who would be a match.”
Don’t jump the gun and ask someone to be your mentor right away. It is something that will happen somewhat naturally, so focus more on cultivating a meaningful, reciprocal relationship than trying to find “the one.”
You can also use your alumni network, internship connections, or professors as potential resources for finding a mentor. Your university may have a strong alumni network, entrepreneurship center, or business program willing to help you with your company.
Alternatively, if you made any connections with professors or bosses during internships, it may be worth reaching out for a coffee.
Go to Networking Events
Maybe you don’t yet have a network you can turn to for help. If this is the case, fear not as there are plenty of online and in-person resources that help with networking and community-building.
One great way to meet other entrepreneurs is through events. There are numerous events held across the country where you can meet like-minded entrepreneurs, build meaningful connections, and potentially meet your mentor.
It may take a little effort but it’s worth it, and if you don’t like events specifically there are other types of networking sessions you can consider. “I recommend going to happy hour events, networking events, and speaking panels that are within your scope,” said CJ Johnson, the head of creative and marketing for Buddytruk.
Join a Professional Association
Professional associations are non-profit groups dedicated to a certain industry or profession. As they are specialized, they are generally a great place for finding a mentor.
You can find relevant professional associations in your industry by visiting CareerOneStop, a service sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. Attend the association’s events and engage with other like-minded professionals.
Don’t Be Afraid to Cold call
Though it may seem like a long shot, sometimes reaching out to your dream mentor may actually work. Make sure to reach out in a polite way, expressing why you would love to have this person as a mentor. You may be surprised at the results this technique will yield.
Jillian Darlington, the creator of the MomCo App, told Bplans about her success reaching out to a mentor: “Never be afraid to reach out to your hero, because they might turn into an incredible friend as well … My experience has been a total dream come true.”
Look at Online Resources
Finally, there are a number of free or low-cost online resources that shouldn’t be overlooked. As partner of the Small Business Association, SCORE, for example, has a mentorship program which can be used either via email or in-person. Micromentor is another website that connects mentors with mentees for free.
The Small Business Development Center and Women’s Business Center are also great resources for business advice, though they may not fulfil the same role as a long-term mentor-mentee relationship.
Making the Most of Mentorship
Once you’ve found your mentor, you have to invest in the relationship in order to get the best results. The best way of doing this is by making sure that the relationship isn’t just working in one person’s favor. Make sure your mentor is benefiting from the dynamic and doesn’t just feel used without appreciation. You can ensure this is the case by avoiding the word “mentor” altogether. Focus on establishing a meaningful relationship. This may take time and patience, but ultimately it will yield better results than something you’ve tried to start overnight.
Another good tip is to express genuine interest in your mentor’s work. If you show that you are genuinely interested in what someone else has done, they will be happier to talk about it with you and even show you how they did so. If you find yourself disinterested in the work of your mentor, then it probably isn’t a good fit.
Finally, to make sure you’re making the most of mentorship, it is helpful to set clear boundaries and expectations of what the mentoring will look like from both ends. What goal are you working toward? Will you update them on progress? How often will you meet? When you do communicate with your mentor, make sure to have specific questions in mind as it can be difficult for even those with the most expertise to answer directionless questions.