In business, having a mentor is one of the best ways to get ahead. A business mentor can open doors, teach skills, and give valuable feedback. No doubt that is a good deal for you. But it is often equally, if not more, satisfying for the mentor as he or she can watch his or her experience make a difference. It is a chance to give back.
So how do you actually go about finding a mentor when you want one? Here are a few ways:
Ask: Finding a mentor is sometimes the result of simply having the chutzpah to ask someone whom you admire if she would be willing to mentor and work with you. Or just ask around. Tell people that you are looking for a mentor; you may be surprised at how willing people are to help. Speak with business associates, friends and relatives, other entrepreneurs, your place of worship, or even with online communities.
Look: These days, there are all sorts of organizations out there who will help you hook up with a mentor. Many of these are government sponsored. Here are your best bets:
- SCORE: SCORE is an organization whose basic purpose is to connect business people with experienced mentors. SCORE provides free, confidential counseling and the mentor relationship can be as short as one session or can last for years. Go to www.SCORE.org to learn more.
- SBDCs: Small Business Development Centers provide all sorts of personal counseling and assistance to small business owners.
- Women Centers: Women’s Business Centers provide female mentorship via the SBA, and the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) is another smart place to look.
- Minority Business Development Agencies are part of the Department of Commerce and have centers nationwide. A similar resource is the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City.
- If you are looking for government contracting opportunities, the GSA has a good mentor/protégé program you should check out.
Call: Your trade organization may have am mentor-mentee program that you can tap into.
Pay: If you know someone who knows what you want to learn but who probably would be disinclined to be your mentor, for whatever reason, consider buying their time. Is it ideal? No, but it may still work. For instance, what about approaching that person and offering a fee for a few days of consultation and six months of telephone follow up? Explain that you think she could help you get your business of the ground, that you respect her time and are therefore willing to pay for it. You may be surprised at how willing people are to help. Especially if you are not in a competing business, you may suddenly find yourself with the best mentor that money can buy.
And just what are you looking for in a mentor? Here are a few things to consider:
You want someone who shares your vision for your business: It would be a frustrating experience to be mentored by someone who is not on the same page as you.
You want someone who has time: Landing that big fish mentor is worthless if the mentor does not really have the time to help you.
You want someone whom you respect: This means that they have values similar to yours and a track record of success.
You want someone who has connections: A mentor can provide many things, and one of them should be the ability to open some new doors.