How to Find a Mentor (and Avoid Coaching Scams) Understand the importance of learning from successful mentors and coaches in entrepreneurship, as well as tips on choosing the right one.
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The importance of learning from those who have come before you and found success, especially as an entrepreneur, is invaluable. Navigating the choppy waters of entrepreneurship without a coach is like trying to assemble a complex puzzle in the dark; you might stumble upon a few fitting pieces, but a guiding light would make the whole process a lot smoother and far more enjoyable.
It's why finding the right mentor or coach is even more important when you work for yourself.
Unfortunately, today, anyone can call themself an expert at pretty much anything. My 12-year-old can label himself as a football coach, but do you want him running out of the locker room with your favorite team?
So how do you know who to trust and who is right for you?
Related: 7 Reasons Why Every Serious Entrepreneur Needs a Business Coach
Mentor vs. Coach
While the words 'mentor' and 'coach' are often used to define one another, each can be vastly different in how they help you evolve, approach challenges and ultimately become a better leader.
I think of a mentor as that person you seek to understand on a deeper level. How do they approach business and life to find growth? How do they think through a competitive business threat? How do they act when the circumstances are positive or negative? Mentors are the ones you say, "What would he/she do?"
A coach is typically more task-orientated — more like a trainer to help you reach a specific goal. Think of a hitting or pitching coach in baseball versus the team manager. In theater, actors will use a voice coach to help them learn a specific dialect. Recently, a friend of mine engaged a dietician to lay out a meal plan to regulate blood sugars and maintain energy levels throughout the day.
Red flags to look out for
You'd never buy a car or house without doing research, right? Well, finding a mentor isn't something you should do on a whim and without asking a few key questions.
First, does the person you are looking to hire have a lifestyle you aspire to emulate? If the guy teaching you how to acquire generational wealth is driving a beat-up Chevy and living with his Mom, it may be best to find another option.
Secondly, check their references. Most employers won't hire someone without doing a background search and talking to someone who can vouch for their experience and character.
The coaching sector has expanded massively while not always providing much value. Figure out what Return on Investment (if any) they have brought to past clients to help you determine if they're worth the physical and emotional cash. A simple "Would you hire them again?" The answer to this question may tell you everything you need to know.
Related: 4 Reasons Why Every Entrepreneur Should Have a Business Coach
Think outside the box for inspiration
Learning doesn't have to happen in a classroom or even formally. Some of my best thinking comes on a hike with people I consider role models in all aspects of life, including business. Listening to their stories of struggle inspires me to keep going on my own path.
While entrepreneurs often forge ahead in emerging sectors and careers, it doesn't mean we can't learn from the past or the future. Mentors and coaches don't always have to be in-person or even alive.
Dale Carnegie revolutionized leadership thinking and taught people how to overcome social anxiety. Sports Psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella works with top athletes facing mental blocks to overcome slumps and achieve success. Reading their autobiography or how-to book can be a valuable shot in the arm.
A newer option that I've been using recently is ChatGPT. I'll prompt, "In the first person, as XX mentor, answer the following question" I've queried this with many of my role models from the past, including Andrew Carnegie, Viktor Frankl, and even Mr. Rogers. I get great responses on business, mental health, and parenting from the best minds in history. Absolutely amazing!
One final point worth stating: Don't be afraid to pay. I find incredible joy in watching people succeed, and I love being a part of that journey. While I've mentored many entrepreneurs on my own time, I've found that when I have buy-in from the mentee, the results are just better — both for them and me. Skin-the-game matters.
How to find a (good) mentor
So you've decided you're ready for a mentor. But how do you find the right one?
A great place to start is your personal network. Ask those you trust for recommendations and even a warm introduction. This approach can greatly reduce the clutter of finding someone you trust by eliminating the initial credibility screening process.
Industry events such as conferences, networking lunches and professional associations are also practical ways to get in front of potential mentors. These one-on-one settings often give you a firsthand look at if your communication styles and personalities match.
Also, don't discount social media and online platforms for connecting with the right mentor. Linkedin is highly valuable for validating someone's experience, professional testimonies and published content. It can also widen the pool of who you choose well beyond geography or business-specific connections.
Lastly, don't forget about local educational institutions and your alma mater. Connecting with a thought leader may be easier if you have a common connection, like a university. The relationship could also be symbiotic for recruiting future employees in a field or space specific to your business.
Related: Five Reasons Why Every Entrepreneur Needs A Great Mentor
Timing is everything
While choosing the right mentor or coach is vital, timing is also key.
Do you have the bandwidth in your life to take on this growth? What will you have to give up to focus on the changes needed? Can you afford to wait?
Hiring a coach won't instantaneously solve your problems, and spending money on a coach without an absolute commitment to change and follow through will leave you disappointed (and probably broke). No one will do the work for you. They can't make the changes for you. That's both your challenge and greatest asset. Not everyone is willing to do what it takes to shudder the status quo.
It's been said the five people you spend the most time with are the people who most directly shape the person you become.
Make sure to choose the people you let into your inner circle carefully.
Your future self is counting on it.