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A Good Mentor Will Tell It Like It Is For many new businesses, finding the right advisor can make all the difference. Here are five qualities to seek in an ideal mentor.

By Martin Zwilling

Entrepreneurs -- especially young ones -- tend to tap their friends for business advice. But that can be a mistake. The reason is, friends tell you what you want to hear. For what you need to hear, rather, a mentor is often a better bet.

A mentor could be a professional who advises entrepreneurs for a living or someone working in a related industry who is willing to help you. And unlike your friends, mentors are typically more removed from you and your business. So they tend to be more comfortable delivering bad or critical news and advice. And since many of them have either started up businesses in the past or have worked in industries that you're trying to shake up, mentors can also fill experience gaps, as well as impart their wisdom on how to handle specific business challenges.

So how do you find this fabled do-gooder? You could luck into landing a suitable mentor. But most often, you'll need to spend time networking among friends and colleagues. Be sure to set your sights on someone who could be a good role model, someone who has the skills and personality that match your chemistry.

Here are five qualities that are a must in an ideal mentor:

  1. Pragmatism. Most entrepreneurs have lots of ideas. Some can be put into practice easily, but others will be off-the-wall and need refinement to implement. A good mentor will have some knowledge and some perspective on almost every business subject, which compounds their effectiveness.
  2. Fortitude. Entrepreneurs tend to be driven by the crisis of the moment. As such, it is easy to neglect the real priorities of growing the business. Sharing of your goals with your mentor means that if you don't complete them, you have a credible voice to remind you and help get you back on the right track.
  3. Stamina. A successful business never stands still. You need a constant stream of ideas for scaling and expanding, with a realistic understanding of the costs and resources required. Then there's the exit strategy, which needs planning, connections and forethought.
  4. Connections. When you need to find investors, equipment and legal or accounting advice, your mentor has the contacts and knows where to find the must-have information. More importantly, a mentor tells you what you need to do to build and maintain your own list of contacts.
  5. Perspective. A mentor knows what to look for, and sees what your customers see. It's natural to become so immersed in your business that you forget to step back and look in from the outside. It's like living next to the railroad tracks — after a while, you don't hear the trains.

What other qualities should an entrepreneur look for in a mentor? Leave a comment and let us know.

Martin Zwilling

Veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and Angel investor.

Martin Zwilling is the founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners. The author of Do You Have What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur? and Attracting an Angel, he writes a daily blog for entrepreneurs and dispenses advice on the subject of startups.

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