Finding a mentor - a complete guide
The benefits of having a business mentor, what to expect from your mentor relationship and how to find the best mentor to help you and your business flourish
LAST UPDATED: 10 JANUARY 2019
As the old saying goes – "you don’t know what you don’t know", and in business, what you don’t know could be crucial to your success.
Whether you’re embarking on your first business idea or you run an established business, there are always gaps in your knowledge and experience that could be holding you back.
Many entrepreneurs try to fill these gaps with business books and courses but, while these can help and point you in the right direction, they are no substitute to face-to-face advice and guidance from someone who has been in your position and has hard-won, hands-on experience of how to succeed in your market.
Below we have listed the top benefits a mentor can bring to you and your business.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of having a dedicated business mentor is that you have someone you can regularly turn to for advice.
As a new business owner, it’s natural that you will have a lot of questions that can’t always be answered by a Google search or a business advice book, as whatever problem you are facing is particular to you, your business, your location, your market etc.
Talking through your issue with an experienced mentor is often the only way you can feel confident that the advice you get is best suited to you.
Looking at situations and problems from different perspectives is a key skill involved in running a successful business, but gaining perspective is only possible with experience.
For example, if you have limited experience in dealing with investors or shareholders then it can be difficult to see your business from their perspective. A business mentor who has the relevant experience can help you understand how you and your business look from different perspectives.
Along with a wealth of business experience, a good mentor will also have a lot of contacts in the industry that can directly impact the success of your business.
Networking is an important part of running a business, as building long-standing and mutually beneficial relationships with other business owners and suppliers can make a massive difference to your prospects of success.
Your mentor could recommend you to suppliers he has found useful in the past, for example, or introduce you to local business leaders for you to begin fostering your own relationships.
Making big business decisions can feel like a daunting responsibility, especially when you are just starting out.
If all you have to go on is your own opinion and gut instinct, then it’s only natural that you could question and doubt yourself.
The knowledge that you have a credible mentor with a good track record in business to bounce ideas off and ask for advice and input can be a big boost to your confidence when faced with big decisions.
A good mentor will also provide feedback and praise you when you make good decisions, further reinforcing your confidence in your own ability to succeed.
A mentor will offer you the benefit of their experience and judgement and can provide help and advice over a flexible period of time as you build your business.
However, mentoring requires clear boundaries between the mentor and mentee, and the relationship should be based on trust, confidentiality and mutual respect.
In order to get the most out of a mentor relationship, we have outlined below what you can expect from your mentor – and what you should not expect from them – as well as some tips on how to get the most out of your mentor.
You can expect your mentor to:
- Provide a valuable ‘outside’ perspective on your business
- Listen to your concerns about your business
- Help you by sharing their experience in business
- Offer friendly, unbiased support and advice
- Give you honest and constructive feedback
- Be your ‘sounding board’ for ideas, and encourage you to work through ideas and problems effectively
- Provide valuable contacts to further your personal development as well as your business
- Offer ongoing encouragement, support and advice
- Encourage you to identify goals and challenges, and to set priorities
You should not expect your mentor to:
- Provide you with an ongoing counselling service
- Give specific technical business advice
- Provide you with a free training service
- Provide you with a free business coaching service
- Take responsibility for either the success or failure of your business away from you
Getting the most out of your mentor
Having a successful and constructive relationship with your mentor will require a significant investment of time and energy on your behalf.
Below we have provided some tips to make sure you get the most out of your mentor.
You get out what you put in
Just like you can’t expect a good mentor to just come and find you, you can’t expect their best advice and guidance to be forthcoming if you don’t seek it out.
Your role as a ‘mentee’ is not a passive one, and your mentor will be looking to you to lead the relationship i.e. set your goals, identify what you want from them etc.
Look for a mentor who offers you something different
It’s best to seek out a mentor who can fill a gap in your knowledge, rather than one who will simply reinforce what you already know. Perhaps you come from a marketing background but are not as confident in dealing with supply chain issues, or vice versa
Looking for a mentor who is an expert in the areas you are least sure about is the best way to build your knowledge.
Don’t be afraid to challenge your mentor’s advice
In many areas of business, there are no right and wrong answers, just different opinions based on prevailing trends, experience etc. Therefore you shouldn’t simply take your mentor’s advice as gospel.
Listen to their advice, evaluate it and challenge anything you don’t agree with. Mentors are not there to create clones of themselves but to bring out your strengths in business and help you gain your own experience.
There are many different ways you can go about finding a mentor - and some may be more suited to you than others. It all depends on your individual circumstances, your individual needs, what type of business you run and so on.
It's also important to state that finding a good mentor is not easy, and you should prepare yourself for a fair amount of 'trial and error' before you settle on a mentor that offers you what you need.
Below we have outlined the three most common approaches to finding a business mentor...
The University/business association route
Perhaps the most popular way of finding a mentor is via your University.
Many Uni's in the UK and US run 'business incubator' programmes which offer coaching and resources for entrepreneurial graduates. If you are lucky enough to get accepted into one of these schemes then you can take advantage of the mentors already associated with the University.
If this isn't applicable to you, then you can find similar help from your local, government-backed small business associations and Chambers of Commerce.
As well as putting you in touch with potential mentors, these also run regular local networking events and conferences to help you spread your wings in the local business community.
Online services to find a business mentor
There are a lot of new services online that help connect you to business mentors.
These services allow you to search by business category and location to filter potential mentors suited to you and your needs.
See below for the top online mentoring services:
The UK's first free online gateway for businesses looking for mentors, MentorsMe.co.uk has a number of features to help you find the right mentor.
Find out more: http://www.mentorsme.co.uk/
MicroMentor aims to match entrepreneurs and business professionals in mentoring relationships.
Since launching in 2009, MicroMentor has served over 30,000 entrepreneurs with access to mentoring in more than 190 countries across the globe.
Find out more: https://www.micromentor.org/
The Coaching and Mentoring Network
The Coaching and Mentoring Network connects you with providers of personal, professional and organisational development services as well as free information resources about coaching and mentoring.
Find out more: https://new.coachingnetwork.org.uk/
The 'do-it-yourself' approach
For many entrepreneurs, the option of taking control and finding your own mentor is the most favoured.
This is naturally more labour intensive, but if you don't mind putting the effort in - and facing a few setbacks - then this approach can lead to the most fruitful mentor/mentee relationships.
The 'do-it-yourself' approach can be summed up as: find a potential mentor, reach out to them, and then cultivate the relationship if they are receptive to the idea of being your mentor. It's likely that you may receive some rejection with this approach, so below we have outlined a few tips to help you...
Find someone you look up to
It's easy to find someone who may be successful in your area, but it's often more valuable to look for people who you aspire to be like.
It's well worth spending some time drawing up a shortlist of potential mentors, rather than taking a scattergun approach and asking anyone.
Once you have a shortlist, study them. If they have a blog, read it and subscribe to get their latest posts. Follow them on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook etc... Start 'liking' and commenting on their posts, and join in any discussions they may prompt.
As well as you getting to know them better, and working out whether they would be a suitable mentor, this also helps to get you 'noticed' - making the next step easier...
Don't ask them if they would like to be your mentor straight away, but reach out and start a conversation with them.
If you have done the previous step well enough then an email from you shouldn't be a complete surprise to them. In the initial contact explain what you do, tell them you're a big fan and ask them if they are available to meet up for a quick coffee sometime.
This is the point where you are likely to face rejection - you can't expect all successful business people to be available and open to the idea of meeting up, so be patient and understanding.
If/when you do meet, make sure you have a set of questions ready about them and your business - you want to make a good impression so be prepared.
Just because you managed to score a meeting, it doesn't mean you should jump straight into a mentor relationship with them.
This is the point where you should evaluate the person and what expertise, knowledge and guidance they may be able to bring.
After the meeting, follow-up and thank them for their time and ask if they would like to do it again sometime.
You could even introduce the idea of them becoming a mentor to you on an ongoing basis.
However, it is important to let the relationship develop naturally - so don't force it into an official 'mentor' relationship too early.
Need a bit more convincing about the benefits of a business mentor? Take a look at the stats below...
Research has shown that 70% of small businesses that receive mentoring survive for five years or more, which is double the rate compared with non-mentored entrepreneurs.
Of the business-people with a mentor 97% say they are valuable, 55% believe mentoring can help them succeed, 60% look for experience in a mentor above anything else, but 85% of business-people currently do not have a mentor.
67% of businesses reported an increase in productivity due to mentoring.
A recent survey by the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that 94% of SMEs using external support have seen benefits. These firms are more ambitious and have higher relative turnovers.
Source: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
93% of small and medium sized businesses acknowledge that mentoring can help them to succeed.
Mentored businesses increased their revenue by an average of 83% compared to 16% for non-mentored businesses.