Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or looking for professional guidance to help navigate your career, a business mentor is what you need. When you choose the right person, you’re privvy to invaluable insight that can help you succeed.
Generally speaking, a mentor is someone who works in the same or similar industry with the business skills and career knowledge to help you follow in their footsteps. While you admire this person, you should also be willing to listen to him or her and take their advice:
“The best mentors shouldn’t tell you exactly what you do,” advises David Cohen, CEO of TechStars. “They understand their role as an advisor and that it’s your company to run, not theirs. Those who tell entrepreneurs what to do, and become upset when their instructions aren’t followed, often cause more damage than good.”
The question is, how do you find the best mentor for you and how can you develop the ideal mentor-mentee relationship? While it’s not always a one-size-fits-all approach, these guidelines will help you find the right business mentor.
Define Your Goals
There are a lot of goals you need to ask yourself to define your ultimate goal for bringing in a business mentor:
- What do you want out of your current job?
- What is your ultimate “why” for your business?
- What do you want from your career?
- What’s your personal definition of success?
- What do you hope to gain from your business mentor?
These are all questions you must explore before and as you can see, they’ll differ based on where you are in your career—whether you’re an entrepreneur or expert in your field looking to move up the ranks. Turn the answers into expectations for the person who will fill this role.
“Before seeking out mentors, write down your specific expectations and the role you want mentors to play in your career,” says Lisa Quast from Forbes. “Do you want someone who can help your stalled networking attempts, assist you in learning more about a certain industry or provide guidance on how to be a successful entrepreneur?”
For example, if you want to run your own company, you should find a business owner or CEO. If you want a career in digital marketing, find someone who has experienced success in that field.
Look for Networking Opportunities
Now that you understand why you need a mentor and have identified the qualities this person should possess, how do you go about finding him or her? Networking opportunities are the most obvious and accessible.
The key is choosing the right event: be on the lookout for business and industry meet-ups where you’ll have an opportunity to meet high-level professionals. To do so, peruse the guest list and speaker panels, if there are any, prior to the event; this will help you determine if someone that fits your criteria will be in attendance.
You may want to ask someone to be your mentor right away—but hold off. Instead, exchange contact info and continue connecting with others in attendance. You may find a few different people you’d like to work with, all of which can be helpful.
“Focus on meeting with and building a diverse group of individuals and surround yourself with the people that can help you reach specific business goals,” says Ted Rollins, ecopreneur and founder of Valeo Groupe.
He continues, “Commit to your purpose and as these relationships grow, consider how they fit into that burgeoning ‘why.’”
Interview Your Candidates
Setup some informal “interviews”—more like, grabbing coffee or dinner. This is your chance to get to know one another better and learn about how you can make this relationship mutually beneficial. Use this time to learn more about their experience, definition of success and business values. Share your professional goals and what you’re looking for in a mentor.
When scheduling, be as flexible as possible, says David Simnick, of SoapBox: “When you are reaching out to someone with experience and knowledge, who can save you years of mistake and heartache, the most insulting thing you can do is care about your own calendar. Please don’t reply ‘none of those times work.’ You are reaching out to me and, as a courtesy, should demonstrate an effort to work around my schedule.”
Remember: This Isn’t All About You
Don’t make the relationship all about you. “Right from the beginning, make your relationship reciprocal,” advises Lolly Daskal, a Leadership Development and CEO coach. “Make it a point to create opportunities and provide help to your mentor, regardless of their success.” Sometimes simply connecting them with a like-minded individual is helpful.
When your mentor does give you advice or action items, make sure you follow through. No one wants to work with someone who doesn’t listen or has his or her own agenda.
If you don’t find the ideal person to work with right away, don’t worry. Besides networking events, there are a number of ways to find a professional mentor. You can tap into your existing network and ask your family, peers and co workers if they can recommend someone for you to work with. In addition to Linkedin, you can use online tools to connect with potential mentors. Ultimately, your mentor may even find you—so be open to all possibilities.