Climbing the business ladder and navigating the treacherous market can be dicey without a trusted advisor you can call on.
When you’re an entrepreneur, there’s no boss you can turn to and say, “What do I do now?” A mentor with entrepreneurial experience can give you invaluable direction and advice. Maybe you just need a sounding board. Maybe you need a pep talk. Maybe you just need a swift kick in the backside. A good mentor can provide all of these things and more. A mentoring relationship also gives you exposure to a broader network of business contacts.
What Makes a Good Mentor?
There is no hard and fast rule about who should be a mentor. Every mentoring relationship is unique. A mentor can be in your same trade or a totally different one. When looking for a mentor, consider the qualities and skills you would like to enhance in yourself. Seek out mentors who embody those qualities and skills.
Choose a mentor who will have the time to work with you. Busy entrepreneurs who are immersed in the day-to-day duties of their business may not be able to commit to meeting with you or taking your calls as much as you need. Ideally, a mentor/mentee relationship should be a two-way street. A mentor has a chance to develop his or her managing, teaching and strategy skills while providing valuable guidance. You want a mentor who is as eager to work with you as you are with him or her.
How to Find a Mentor
The first place to look for a mentor is in your existing network. Think about the people who may have been informal mentors in your career like past supervisors, relatives and professors. Perhaps you can formalize one of these relationships. If you can’t find someone in your own network, ask others about their networks. Many mentor/mentee relationships are created from referrals.
Alternatively, you can use SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, to find a mentor. This nonprofit partners with the Small Business Administration to provide entrepreneurs with free and confidential business advice from retired professionals. This service is available nationwide, and some mentoring relationships can function through email.
Professional associations are another great mentoring resource. Some associations have their own mentoring programs to match members with experienced mentors. For example, the National Association of Women Business Owners has a pilot mentor program for its members. Many universities, particularly those that offer business and entrepreneurial degrees, also offer mentoring programs. You can usually find these programs through the university’s alumni association.
Additionally, there are some organizations that are dedicated exclusively to creating and helping to maintain mentoring relationships. MicroMentor is a nonprofit mentoring project designed specifically for small business entrepreneurs.
Another resource to consider: The Entrepreneurs’ Organization sponsors a mentor program in collaboration with the World Presidents’ Organization.