With January being National Mentorship Month, we are inspired to provide some tips and advice for entrepreneurs looking for some guidance. So let’s get to it!
Finding a mentor as an entrepreneur is a vital step in your journey to success. Every entrepreneur should be seeking advice from as many channels as possible, and ideally, maintaining several close mentorships. But how does one ask someone to be their mentor, and where should you even begin to look for one?
It’s important to select a mentor you can build a personal relationship with, and also one that can guide you in areas relevant to your industry. With the help of your mentor, you should grow both as a professional and as an individual. Here are some ways to find a mentor and build a meaningful relationship with them.
While nobody wants to send or receive a cold call, email, or message, sometimes you have to stick your neck out a bit if you want to find the best mentor. Messaging someone you’ve never met on LinkedIn with mentorship requests off the bat is a bit too bold, but initiating a friendly conversation with a 2nd- or 3rd-degree connection is a good approach to building a relationship.
Here are some general guidelines to help you out when reaching out to a potential mentor:
Reaching out to a mentor is not unlike reaching out to an influencer. It’s important to be respectful of their time and circumstances.
When it comes to setting up a time to meet, understand that not everyone has the same idea of what is comfortable for a first encounter. Some professionals may prefer to meet over lunch, some a meeting during the workday, and others a drink in a more casual environment. Some people may even be too busy to meet in person at all, but instead, offer a Skype call or FaceTime.
Everyone is a person behind their 9 to 5, with different expectations and obligations, and may not be able to accommodate your first choice. Instead, once you have reached a comfortable point in the conversation, suggest several options for your potential mentor to choose from.
When the time comes to finally meet your mentor over a coffee or lunch, be sure to arrive fully prepared. Think about conversation starters ahead of time—ask about their struggles, accomplishments, and experience. Be willing to answer any questions your potential mentor may have about you, even if they seem like difficult questions to answer.
First encounters like this require you to be acutely aware of mistakes you’ve made and your shortcomings, so you know the best questions to ask to benefit the conversation and set you up for success. Allow the chat to drift comfortably, but professionally, and be sure to learn from the advice they share with you.
Although when we consider the traditional mentor, we typically imagine someone older, wiser, and more experienced, co-mentorship is gaining popularity. Seeking guidance from someone at your level, or even slightly more junior than yourself, can actually be of great value.
With a peer co-mentorship, you are able to gain different perspectives from within the same industry, hold each other accountable for the goals you set, and share a wealth of information and knowledge. Author Sara DiVello shares her wisdom regarding herself and co-mentor with the following quote:
“In my experience—and contrary to the traditional mentoring model—I’ve found job, field, and industry are actually irrelevant. Our co-mentoring collaboration still works–and works well. The key? Using our unique experiences, perspectives, and skillsets.”
Not every potential mentor will be a great fit, but commit to the ones that encourage your growth, even if they push you outside your comfort zone. Much like other situations in life, mentorship is only effective if both parties are dedicated to forming a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship. Keep up a regular cadence with your mentor—this doesn’t have to be weekly, or even monthly, but keeping the lines of communication open and touching base as often as possible is a great way to allow your relationship to blossom.
There are plenty of resources available to help small business owners find the right kind of help.
SCORE is a nonprofit organization partnered with the SBA that connects volunteer mentors with small business owners. Head here to find a SCORE mentor.
The nearly 1,000 SBDCs across the US provide free business consulting and low-cost training for small business owners. Find an SBDC near you.
The SBA also has a tool on their website where you can find local help. You can also filter for specific circumstances such as being a woman- or veteran-owned business. Here’s the SBA’s local help search.
This post was published in 2018 and updated in January of 2020.