8 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Find and Get Value From a Great Mentor
A Note From The Editor
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Do you have a mentor yet? For many young professionals, the first step to giving their careers a much-needed boost is admitting that they could use one. This isn’t always an easy step; after all, a mentor relationship may seem soft and mushy compared to hard-job skills.
However, the data speaks for itself. Micromentor, a UK-based organization which connects entrepreneurs with experts in their field, found that where leaders were mentored, revenues increased by a staggering 83 percent.
In fact, most successful business people have had a mentor. Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are just some of the ultra-successful entrepreneurs who reaped and now espouse the benefits of having wise counsel.
So, what makes a great mentor? Ideally, he or she has achieved the things that you're trying to achieve. Personality fit is important, too, as your mentor has to be someone with whom you can go out for a beer. Established trust is a must here; at some point, you will be asking tricky (and fairly presumptuous) questions, and you'll need a mentor who can dish out tough love when it’s needed.
Let's take a look at some of the ways you can connect with the perfect mentor and take your career to the next level.
1. Start with whom you know.
I get it: Networking is tough. However, 10 minutes a day is all it takes to make your professional network that much more useful. Start by evaluating the people you know: LinkedIn, phone contacts, Facebook friends, former bosses, Twitter. Dig deep, do some research, and see if your existing contacts fit the mentoring bill.
If you don't know any would-be mentors, start forging new connections through local business associations, platforms and your local chamber of commerce. Identify speakers at local networking events and introduce yourself.
2. Pay (if you have to).
A second option is to pay for consulting. I once spent money on business advisors that actually wound up being long-term friends. Today, they are happy to dish out mentoring advice for free.
3. Get involved with an incubator.
One service you don't pay for, at least not directly, is the business incubator. Incubators are organizations geared toward jump-starting the growth of startups. Some, like 500 and Y Combinator are backed by venture capital with potential funding to invest. Others, like CTNext, are backed by local government or local businesses. Either way, you'll get access to a buffet of mentorship, coaching and networking connections, as well as access to seed money and professional services. The National Business Incubation Association website lets you search for incubators by country and state.
4. Check out online "dating" (for business)
Matching agencies will connect you with a well-suited mentor, sometimes for free, other times in exchange for a monthly fee. The result is not unlike online dating; most paid-for services promise to personally match mentor and mentee based on specific criteria. Theoretically, you'll get a mentor with the credentials and bandwidth you need.
On the downside, you won't be able to hand-pick your mentor, and all that time you're buying may be buried in the terms and conditions. Before you buy, shop around and know what you're signing up for
5. Check out these criteria for your perfect "match."
Your short-list will help you choose the right mentor for your business. But how do you sort the wheat from the chaff? Five key points that worked for me:
Experience: your mentor should possess a great track record and the specific skills you seek.
Communication: Just because someone is successful doesn't mean he or she has the skills necessary to reflect on the journey and share valuable insights. You need a mentor who will truly listen to and understand the issues you face, all while acknowledging his or her own personal mistakes and vulnerabilities.
Rapport: You don't have to like each other, but you do have to respect each other enough to get along. Don't be afraid of gray hairs. Mentors in the twilight of their careers understand the blood, sweat and tears they themselves invested to succeed; and they usually have the appetite for more, via their support of the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Tough love: The last thing you need is to be spoon fed. A great mentor will give you the straight talk you need to fly.
Connections: While you shouldn't expect your mentor to hand over contacts, the chance that your mentor relationship will help you tap into a respected network may well open doors as you move your business forward.
6. Make a business case for being mentored.
Mentoring isn't about "me, me, me." It's important that your would-be mentor also receive something positive from the experience. Make a case for why he or she should help you, and sell that proposition -- whether your pitch rests on the possibility of raising the mentor's own profile, building his or her network or helping him or her feel gratified about "paying it forward."
7. Make sure you're a great mentee.
Nothing breaks a great mentoring relationship faster than a mentee who wastes a mentor's precious time. Here is my advice on how to become someone your mentor wants to counsel:
Be eager to learn, and committed to modifying your approach. Resist the knee-jerk urge to defend your decisions.
Get stuff done. If your mentor advises you to do something, do it and update your mentor on your progress. If you don't follow the advice, explain why.
Make regular calls, send well-crafted emails and follow up on action plans. The ball is always in your court, so be an active participant in the process. Don't expect a mentor to do all the work.
Give and then give some more. Share your mentor's updates, comment on blog posts and refer new business. Do whatever you can to express gratitude for his or her counsel.
8. Know when to say goodbye.
At some point, your mentorship, will, as mine did, come to an end. This is a healthy and natural part of the process. Don't fear it or extend the mentor relationship for longer than necessary. Saying goodbye will bring closure and signal that the relationship is no longer professional, but now a personal friendship
With the right mentor, the world can be your oyster. Be proactive about what you want from the relationship, keep an open mind and accept criticism. You'll be thankful you did.