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Five Steps for Finding an Ideal Mentor

Here's how to nab the right mentor and get the most out of the relationship. Plus, five resources to help you start your search.
June 7, 2011
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/219733

Looking for a business mentor?

Leslie Rapp feels your pain--and she's in the business of solving it. She's director of training and development at Menttium, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based provider of corporate mentoring services and research metrics on business mentoring. That's right. People pay her to mentor them … on being mentors. We asked for a crash course.

  1. First, think about you, Rapp says. Exactly why do you need a mentor? What do you hope to learn? Then figure out the kind of person who can best inspire you. For example, if you're starting from scratch, look for a mentor who did, too.
     
  2. Do you actually need a mentor? If you have a specific problem to solve, you may want a consultant. If you're stuck in a rut, a professional coach may be a better choice.
     
  3. Start with small talk. You meet potential mentors every day (not that they go around introducing themselves that way). Ask about their work and their life, and see where it leads. Rapp likes to ask how someone came to do the work they do. "I never get a straight-line answer," she says, "and the story tells me a lot."
     
  4. Spell out what you want. Asking "Will you be my mentor?" is a pretty sure way to make potential mentors flee. Instead, say you want to learn more about what they do and that they would be a great resource. Suggest meeting every quarter, or having coffee once a month. Be specific.
     
  5. The answer may be no, and that's OK. Keep searching, and know that you're a good judge of character. Great mentors don't say yes to things they can't commit to.

Find a Mentor
Sites to help you find a guru

SCORE.org: A nonprofit association of more than 13,000 volunteer counselors who individually mentor aspiring entrepreneurs and small-business owners. It also offers training, advice, workshops and resources dedicated to entrepreneur education.

MicroMentor.org: An initiative of nonprofit humanitarian agency Mercy Corps that offers free online guidance to entrepreneurs, particularly those with low incomes and limited access to business resources, and connects them with a business mentor.

EMSociety.org: Los Angeles-based nonprofit Entrepreneur Mentor Society selects 40 to 45 aspiring entrepreneur applicants each semester from the greater L.A. area to educate, develop and promote them through one-on-one mentorship, networking events, internship opportunities and sessions with successful business owners.

SBA.gov: Ever the small-business resource, the Small Business Administration's Mentor-Protégé program serves firms eligible for its 8(a) Business Development program, an initiative to help socially and economically disadvantaged Americans gain access to economic opportunity.

VA.gov/osdbu: Late last year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched its Mentor-Protégé Program to pair mentoring firms with small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans and other veteran-owned small businesses to create long-term relationships and provide business assistance. --Michelle Juergen