You’ve decided to take the plunge into mentoring. Perhaps a trusted business advisor helped you early in your career and you’d like to “pay it forward.” Or, maybe you just wish you’d had someone there for you when you needed a little guidance. Whatever the reason, your experience and lessons learned certainly could be very valuable to an entrepreneur just starting out. But how do you go about becoming a business mentor? How do you know when there’s a good match? And how can you be an effective business guide?
Finding Someone to Mentor
Now that you’ve decided to reveal your secrets to business success, don’t be afraid to actively seek an entrepreneur to mentor. The best way to start your search is to reach out to your personal network. This still can be done the “old-fashioned” way – by picking up the phone and/or sending emails to the people in your inner circle. You could also join a local business networking group, such as Meetup, or inquire with your local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club. Also, many regions are creating programs that will manually match seasoned business people with mentoring opportunities.
Social media also can be a valuable networking tool for finding a mentee. State your interest through an update to your LinkedIn profile and look out for opportunities posted in your interest groups. It can’t hurt to put out a call on Facebook or Twitter, as long as you do so sparingly, so as not to alienate your non-business connections.
The First Meeting
Regardless of how you connect with a mentee, the first meeting is all about making sure it’s going to be a good fit. Get a clear sense of the entrepreneur’s business goals, review her business plan, and assess any strengths and weaknesses. Ask what she is doing in order to reach her goals. Find out what roadblocks she has faced already, what she has learned from those challenges, and she approaches situations differently as a result. Most importantly, determine the areas in which the entrepreneur needs the most guidance and what she hopes to learn from you.
While this may feel like a lot to ask right off the bat, these questions are important because they not only give you a sense of the entrepreneur’s expectations and goals, but help you evaluate whether or not you are the right mentor for them. If, for whatever reason, you feel it wouldn’t be a mutually beneficial relationship, you are not obligated to help, but you should try to recommend someone else who may be a better fit.
Your Role as a Mentor
Let the entrepreneur make mistakes. Remember that being a mentor means you are there to give advice and guidance, not to keep the entrepreneur from making mistakes. Mistakes are often the best way to learn – they come with the entrepreneurial territory. Sometimes mistakes can be looked at as risks that just didn’t pay off. The important thing is that the entrepreneur learns from those mistakes and use them to inform future decisions.
Speak up when necessary. Some mistakes may not be so easy to ignore. If you feel like the entrepreneur is about to make a big decision that could set the business back, say so. Voice your concern and give solid reasons as to why you feel that way. But, at the end of the day, you have to remember that you are there to give guidance and advice, and once you’ve done that, it’s time to sit back and let the entrepreneur make her own choices.
Offer encouragement. Many times, especially when we are working for something we really want, we tend to focus on the negative over the positive. Being a mentor isn’t just about guidance. The job of mentor can, and often should, take on the role of champion and cheerleader. Mentors should motivate and positively reinforce an entrepreneur’s successes.
Make connections. One of the largest points of value a mentor brings to the relationship is the ability to assess the entrepreneur’s needs and provide recommendations and referrals to other resources. If some of the skills needed are not in your repertoire, seek out others in your network that can provide insights and make referrals.
Build long-term relationships. Becoming a business mentor can be a very rewarding experience. It gives you a chance to reflect on your success and help business newcomers avoid some of the pitfalls you encountered starting out. But you may also find a new confidante along the way. You could end up getting to know each other not only as entrepreneur and mentor, but as individual people who have common interests beyond business. It’s not unusual to become a friend to the person you mentor.
Did you have someone who advised you during your business ventures? Or are you advising someone now? Share your experiences with us!
Click here to learn more about JumpStart’s Burton D. Morgan Mentoring Program.