Dozens of people have a common question, “How can I find a mentor to help me with my business?” This is a common request because not everyone has a sister who’s a legal eagle or a father who works as an international advertising executive. As entrepreneurs, we want someone we can call on to ask a quick question but also someone to sit down with to discuss the longer, more arduous details of a deal or overall business strategy. And we don’t want to pay for any of it.
Many people who think they need a partner or vendor would actually be better served by a mentor. A mentor is seasoned in the business you’re in; they have wisdom and experience in your particular area and a vested interest (not monetary) in helping you achieve your goals. But mentorship is a two-way street. There are people who love to give advice and support to those who need it, but there are limits to how you can use a mentor relationship.
Here are some tips:
1. Finding a mentor
A mentor is generally someone who has a personal investment or interest in you. You can find a mentor through various platforms but the best kind of mentor is going to be someone who already knows you (or loves you!) and wants you to come out on top. Seek someone near and dear; if you don’t have anyone (even a friend of a friend) in your wider Rolodex, then pursue a formal relationship through a mentoring program.
2. Set reasonable expectations
A mentor is not going to solve all of your business woes. They should be used for periodic counsel, but they are not there to offer in-depth business advice (unless they offer that). Set your expectations accordingly.
3. Choose your battles
Know what to bring to your mentor. Don’t rely on them too heavily for day-to-day advice. A mentor is meant to be a bigger-picture thinker and strategist for you. They help you keep your head above water, and give you perspective and a sense of longevity with your business. If they’re open to more granular questions and discussions, great. But you can’t assume that their time for you is infinite. Choose your questions accordingly.
4. Set the agenda
Make a list of what you want to discuss and what problems you hope to solve in each session with your mentor. Bring something for taking notes and be conscious of their time. No one wants to spend three hours with you at Starbucks talking about something that could have taken 20 minutes.
5. Experience counts
Choose a mentor who has a history in your specific business. If they don’t have knowledge of how your world works, you’ll both be frustrated because you won’t be taking the advice the mentor is giving (annoying to the mentor), and the advice won’t really apply to what you’re doing (bummer for you.) Make sure that they can be useful to you (just because someone has a fancy title or made a lot of money does not necessarily mean they’re going to be the best mentor for you) before you drag them through the drama of your business woes.
6. Respect boundaries
Your mentor may make an introduction or give you contact. It’s your job to make them look good and to treat that relationship with the utmost respect. You need to be prompt with your follow-up, responsible in all communications, and understand that you are now part of this person’s reputation. Take it seriously.
7. Say thanks
Mentors need to be appreciated for their time, assistance, guidance, and support. They are doing this for free, as a favor, or as a way to give back. Make sure you acknowledge this by taking them to lunch, sending thank you notes, baking them brownies—anything to show your gratitude.
This is a key relationship. Treat it with care and it will serve you well for years to come. Hopefully, you’ll be in a position to mentor someone someday—returning the favor will feel twice as good as getting it.