You’ve probably heard that finding a mentor is one of the biggest steps you can take to help you in your career. According to one study, consultants who participated in a five-year company-sponsored mentoring program were promoted five times more often, and five times more likely to see a pay raise.
But like going to the dentist, it’s something that most entrepreneurs know is a valuable step, yet it’s often postponed indefinitely. After all, how do you even find a mentor? Here are some tips for finding a worthwhile mentor for your business.
where to find mentors
The most important thing to know about mentorship is that it is a relationship. Done right, it’s really more of a friendship than anything. And not everyone is ready for friendship yet. This means that you have to be prepared to reach out to many people in hopes of finding the right mentor.
formal counseling program
There are also two general types of counseling. The first – and easy to use – is a formal mentoring program. You may find formal counseling programs at the following locations:
- an alumnus union
- your place of employment
- an industry or trade organization
- A non-profit dedicated to education and career support
It can be especially easy to find a mentor through these programs because people are already pre-tested and willing to serve as mentors. The downside is that there is no guarantee that you will be paired with someone who can best help you reach your goals.
informal counseling opportunities
Some of the best consultations are generated “organically” – that is, without any outside interference. It is an agreement – formal or not – between you and someone else who has agreed to help you over the long term.
This type of counseling can be most valuable because you can find the best person to assist you with your specific goals (assuming they are willing to help, that is). They can also be some great relationships. If your master is up for it, they can last a very long time.
But since they aren’t part of a formal event, they can also be some of the toughest mentoring relationships out there. Here are some places you can look for informal mentors:
- Alumni Network
- trade groups or nonprofits
- local business organization
In short, you can find informal consultants in most places as formal consultants. You will just need skills to approach people personally and see if they are willing to help you.
how to start a mentoring relationship
It can be nerve-wracking to approach someone and ask them to be a business mentor. After all, it can be a huge time commitment, and not everyone has that kind of free time. But there are several things you can do to boost your confidence in approaching a potential mentor.
be clear about what you want
One of the biggest things you can do is to be really clear about your goals. You need to know what general direction you want to go in your career, whether it’s leading a wildlife research team, covering international news, or making computer software more secure at a large tech firm . It’s okay and even healthy if it develops over time, but you’ll need to start somewhere.
It’s also a good idea to know what specifically you’re looking for help for.
- Do you want someone you can meet regularly?
- Are you looking for someone you can come up with questions when you come across it?
- Do you need help learning a new technology, feedback about a product idea, or advice on an unfamiliar new business venture?
If you’re clear about what you’re looking for, it can help give you the confidence to move forward.
It is also important to note that a mentor is No Essentially a coach. You have to commit to doing the things in which your mentor helps you. But they are not the people who will give you homework and then put it on hold.
Mentors give you the tools to help yourself, and you are the one who needs to take the initiative to do it yourself. Mentors are more likely to help you if they can see that you are serious and self-motivated.
start meeting people
Once you know where you’re going, you can look for potential mentors who can be best placed to help you get there. Reach out to one or two people at a time and ask for an informational meeting.
Tell them you’re thinking of an idea or starting an X, Y, Z business, and would appreciate some of their time if they could drop it. A good place to meet (in normal times) is a cafe for “coffee chat” and it’s nice to pay for their coffee.
Nowadays, Zoom calls are acceptable, but it’s still kind of a gesture to send $5 through Venmo. Here is a sample quick email template that you can modify:
My name is ___ and I want to make a quick note to say hello to you. I have a business in _____, and I already have _____.
I see you’ve been in this industry for a while, and you do _____, which I’m also interested in.
Would you ever be interested to meet for a coffee chat? I’m happy to pay Venmo $5 to pay for your “virtual coffee” for your time. I will greatly value your time and expertise.
Tell me. Thank you and have a wonderful day!
Once you’re in the meeting, it’s good to take this time to get to know them. Don’t be awkward and immediately bring up the “M” word. This is a great question, especially if they don’t know you.
Bring up one or two business problems you’re having, and ask for advice. At this point, it’s networking more than anything else. Even if this person may never be your mentor, it’s still a win because you now have someone else to add to your network.
At the end of your meeting, ask the person if you can come back to them for business advice again in the future. If you’re looking for someone you meet regularly and that person seems open to it, you can ask him or her now.
Often, you’ll just be looking for a mentor you can come to with questions in the future instead of sitting down for regularly scheduled meetings, and that’s okay too. Either way, now is a great time to open the door for future meetings.
Pay attention to what you bring to the table
Starting a counseling relationship is often awkward. There is a strange power dynamic between you and someone holding the key to your future business. It’s okay to admit it, but don’t let it stop you from reaching out to mentors.
After all, mentorship is not a one-way street. Your guru also gets something from this. This could be a free coffee once a month, or even a reward for helping someone with interesting ideas. In any case, treat it as a business friendship first, because that’s exactly what it is.