Mentors are a vital asset to entrepreneurs. By hitching your wagon to someone who’s “been there and done that,” their hindsight becomes your foresight. You get to avoid the school boy errors of being a first time entrepreneur and forego the lost time and money attached to those mistakes. So how can you find such a mentor—and then keep them? Here are 5 things to keep in mind:
It’s not about a mentor, it’s about the right mentor.
Finding the right mentor can be as critical as hiring the right employee. Take your time to identify what your needs and challenges are, and seek a mentor (or mentors) who you think can help you fill the gaps. Tools such as LinkedIn are game changers both in sales prospecting and in seeking advisors. If you find your ideal target, use your network to connect; a warm intro is always best. (LinkedIn draws a dotted line right to them.) Don’t be shy about reaching out; if your business is going to stand any chance, it’s because of your ability to go outside of your comfort zone. Plus, you’ll be surprised at how receptive people are to the idea of being a mentor; it’s flattering to be approached by someone who values your opinion. If they don’t see themselves being of value, they’ll let you know. They might even make an intro to someone else who can.
Define your expectations.
Everyone’s schedule varies, of course, but to get the most value out of a mentoring relationship, you probably want someone who’s available for regular contact. And so when you seek a mentor, make it clear that you want someone who’s willing to make a time commitment to you—whether that’s someone you can email questions to or someone who’ll call you back when you need to vet ideas. While it’s ideal if your mentor lives in the same region as you do—that in-person connection fosters a strong and trusting relationship—it’s not necessarily a prerequisite. Above all, be open and honest about what you are looking to gain from your relationship; this will help your mentor calibrate their support.
On a side note, don’t pretend to be seeking advice if your true goal is to gain access to someone’s connections or capital. These can certainly be side benefits of a great mentoring relationship, but it’s offensive to a mentor (and the key to a short relationship) if that’s your sole purpose of connecting.
Look for common ground.
In my mind, a great mentor is like that great teacher we all had in school, the one willing to make the time to understand you, explain things to you and help you learn. Make sure to seek out a mentor who is enthusiastic not just for your business, but also for you and your personal development. Look for chemistry and a complimentary sense of humor. If you like your mentor—and the feeling is mutual—you’ll have a great foundation to build on and you’ll find they’ll be willing to go the extra distance for you.
Check your ego at the door.
Once you’ve found your mentor, say “thank you” often and in many ways. Tell them how much you appreciate their counsel and their generous time commitment. Ask a lot of questions. No one expects you to be an expert, so take the opportunity to soak it all up now. Be communicative; share your successes with your mentor, particularly if it’s their guidance that played a contributing role. Give them an open invitation to tell you if you’re being overbearing or asking too much.
Don’t be afraid to reach out beyond the confines of your relationship. Many mentors enjoy the vicariousness of the relationship, and so give them the opportunity to participate in your company. Introduce them to your team and invite them to join you at events. Ask if there’s anything you can do for them; you might be surprised at how you can return the favor.
When you find the right advisor, you’ll be more successful if you keep in mind that a mentor’s role isn’t to tell you what to do at every turn; it’s to guide you through the big decisions. Ultimately, a great mentoring relationship is a virtuous cycle: You’ll want to start slowly and respectfully as you both build trust and comfort. As time goes by and the relationship builds on itself, you’ll find you’ll be able to ask—and your mentor will be willing to give—more and more.
Click here to learn about JumpStart’s Burton D. Morgan Mentoring Program.