Entrepreneurship can be an exciting and fulfilling path, but it also comes with plenty of hurdles and challenges along the way. Fortunately, you do not have to handle every difficulty on your own. By finding a mentor to turn to for support and guidance, you can gain valuable expertise and avoid the common pitfalls entrepreneurs often face.
Whether you need to solve specific business challenges or gain useful insights to advance your career, a mentor can be an invaluable resource—but for most young professionals, that comes as no surprise. With an entrepreneurial spirit and ambition to spare, Millennials place great value on having a mentor.
Securing a mentor is imperative for entrepreneurs and young professionals alike, but finding a mentor is easier said than done. Below are five tips to help you find a mentor with the experience and connections you need to succeed.
1. Do Some Serious Self-Evaluation
Before you seek out a mentor, take some time to reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the questions that confront you in life. Is there a specific set of skills you would like to improve? For example, do you need advice about operations management, marketing strategy or leadership techniques? If you do, a suitable mentor should be able to help advise in these areas. Based on your short-term and long-term goals for professional development, decide what characteristics you need most in a mentor.
Think about how you would use a mentor and what time commitment makes the most sense given your schedule. Consider whether you would prefer a consultant or someone who takes more of an active role. As you clarify your own expectations, remember to stay somewhat flexible and open-minded, as your mentoring relationship will also depend on your mentor’s availability and personal preferences.
2. Never Eat Lunch Alone
This piece of advice is adapted from author Keith Ferrazzi’s book “Never Eat Alone.” While the idea is incredibly simple, eating with someone else (or a group) has the potential to help grow your career in more ways than one. First, it forces you to step out of your comfort zone and talk with people in other departments. Second, by exposing yourself to a new person each day or week, your chance of meeting someone you “click” with increases tremendously. As you network with other professionals and entrepreneurs over lunch or coffee, be genuine, share your enthusiasm and pay attention to who might be a good prospective mentor for you in the future.
3. Look Outside Your Company
This is essential for solo entrepreneurs and freelancers. For others who work within companies, it’s important to not limit yourself to the people you work with on a daily basis. Build relationships with people outside of your company as well. Make an effort to connect with other entrepreneurs and professionals who understand the challenges you face and can offer relevant wisdom and experience. Keep in mind that you do not need to work in the same industry or be the same age as your mentor. Instead, focus on finding someone with the right qualities and experience.
4. Think Through Your Approach
Although there is a time and place to be bold and assertive, don’t ask a stranger to be your mentor. This does not mean that it has to take a long time to get to know someone, but there needs to be a level of understanding and rapport between the mentor and the mentee.
When looking for a mentor, become familiar with his or her work. Promote their work on social media, refer clients to them and give back in any way that you can. Once you’ve established positive rapport, ask them to meet for coffee so you can learn more about their career path. When you meet with your prospective mentor, explain what you admire about them and ask if it would be okay to turn to them for advice periodically in the future.
Jason Nazar, the Founder Co-founder of Docstoc, was able to acquire dozens of mentors by courting mentors while in graduate school. His advice is to research prospective mentors, and then set up a short in-person meeting with them. At the meeting, let the mentor talk about himself or herself by asking open-ended questions. At the end of the meeting, be sure to communicate why that person would be a good mentor to you and then simply ask them to be your mentor. This process will very rarely lead to someone telling you “no.” After all, what is more flattering to a person than knowing someone wants and cares about their advice?
If your prospective mentor does say “no,” remember not to take the rejection personally. Most successful people have obligations and routines that they may not be able to distance themselves from at the moment, if at all. In this case, persevere, and find someone else who may have the wisdom you’re looking for.
5. Using an Organization to Get Connected
Ideally, a mentoring relationship will grow organically with someone you already know and had positive experiences with in the past. However, there are organizations available that are designed to set up mentees with mentors. To find these mentoring resources, look into government-sponsored mentor organizations such as SCORE Mentors, Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers and the Minority Business Development Agency. You can find information about these organizations on the U.S. Small Business Administration website.
Finding a mentor can take time and effort, but the payoff can be huge, especially if you enlist an influential, well-connected mentor early on in your career. The reality is that not everyone may be interested in mentoring you, and that’s okay. Believe in yourself, have confidence and continue to fine-tune your approach as you search for a mentor. Once you have found a mentor, be sure to follow these tips in order to leverage their expertise and experience.