Everything you need to know about how to find a business mentor (and take your business to the next level in the process).
As a business owner, you’re the one in charge. You decide the direction you want your business to go, the people you want to bring on board and how you want to get there.
That freedom and autonomy to run your business your way is one of the biggest perks of being a business owner. But when you hit a point where you’re not sure how to move forward—for example, when you’re ready to scale your business and take things to the next level—it can be challenging to navigate next steps on your own.
That’s where business mentors come in. Having a business mentor (or business mentors!) who’s a few steps ahead of you in business can be an invaluable resource when you’re growing and scaling your company. Because they’ve been where you are (and have successfully made it where you’d like to go), they can give you insights on everything from what to do, what not to do and the most effective path to hitting your business goals.
But the question is: How, exactly, do you find those mentors?
Let’s take a dive into the step-by-step process for finding a business mentor.
Define What You Want in a Mentor
Before you go looking for a business mentor, it’s important to take the time to define what it is you’re looking for. Knowing what your ideal business mentor and mentorship relationship looks like before you try to identify a mentor will help you narrow down your search—and make sure the people you engage are going to be the right fit for you and your business.
Some key mentorship elements you’ll want to get define before you start looking for a mentor include:
- What is the most important characteristic I’m looking for in a business mentor?
- How much experience do I want my business mentor to have?
- What kind of experience do I want my business mentor to have? (For example, do you want a mentor who owns a business in your specific industry? Or would you rather work with a mentor who is an expert in e-commerce, since the majority of your business takes place online?)
- How often do you want to work with your mentor?
- In what ways do you want to work with your mentor? (For example, are you just looking for occasional email conversations? Or do you want to schedule regular Zoom or in-person meetings to get advice?)
- What benchmarks are important to you when choosing a mentor? (For example, do you need their business to have a certain annual revenue?)
Getting clear on what you’re looking for in a business mentor will make your search easier—and ultimately, make it easier to find the right person to mentor you in your business.
Identify Potential Mentors
Once you know what you’re looking for in a mentor, it’s time to start identifying potential mentors.
When vetting potential mentors, you want them to bring qualities to the table that can add real value to your business. Some things to look for when identifying potential business mentors include:
- Relevant experience in your industry, niche or business model: While business owners have definite overlap in experience regardless of the type of business they manage, working with a business mentor with more directly transferable experience (whether that’s experience in your industry, niche or the type of business you run, like a brick and mortar retail business or an e-commerce operation) can be significantly more helpful.
- An admirable business or career trajectory: A mentor is going to be sharing advice and guidance on how they got where they are—so when choosing a business mentor, it’s important to choose someone who has a business or career that you admire (and ideally, would like to recreate for yourself).
- A background, experience or skill that could help you scale and grow your business: If you’re looking to take your business to the next level, you want to work with a mentor who can help you make that happen—so look for mentors with a background, skills and/or experience in scaling companies.
- A good reputation: You want to grow and scale your business—but you want to do it in the right way. When vetting a potential business mentor, it’s important to do your research, make sure they have a good reputation, and that their success is the result of the kind of honest, ethical business practices and standards you hold yourself to.
Knowing what to look for in a potential business mentor is one part of the equation—but it’s also important to know where to look.
There are a variety of resources you can tap to find a business mentor, including:
- Networking events
- Professional associations
- Your own network
- Personal or professional referrals
- Thought leaders in your industry
Approach Potential Business Mentors the Right Way
Once you’ve identified a mentor you want to work with, the next step in the process? Approaching them in a way that makes them want to work with you.
When approaching a potential business mentor, there are a few different things to keep in mind that can dramatically increase the chance that they’ll take you on as a mentee, including:
- Be respectful … You might be really excited about working with a potential mentor. But that doesn’t give you the right to bombard them with calls, emails and LinkedIn messages until they respond and agree to meet with you. Be respectful in your communication. Reach out—and if they don’t respond in two weeks, send a follow-up message. Then, continue to touch base once a month or so until you get a response. That way, you can stay on their radar without overwhelming them—and show that you respect their time and won’t be a hassle if they do decide to mentor you.
- … and be clear. When reaching out to potential business mentors, be clear about what, exactly, it is you’re asking for. For example, instead of a vague “can I pick your brain?,” try “I’d like to schedule a quick 15-minute call to discuss X, Y, Z.” Being clear and concise with what you need will show your potential mentor that you have a clear objective—and can help them better determine whether they can help you meet that objective.
- Build value for them. There’s no denying that a mentor can add serious value to your business. But if you really want to up your chances of landing a mentor, focus on how you can build value for them. Showing your potential mentor that you also have value to offer them—not just the other way around—can be a great way to get the conversation started. (And if you’re not sure how to add value? Just ask! Asking a potential mentor “how can I add value or make this process worthwhile for you?” is a great way to show that you’re just as invested in them as you hope they will be in you.)
- Make everything as convenient as possible. You’re asking a potential mentor to spend their time, energy and resources to help you. And if they agree, you should plan to make the experience as convenient for them as possible. For example, if they suggest a time to connect, do everything in your power to make that time work—instead of saying “that time won’t work for me” and making them adjust their schedule to suit you.
- Come prepared. If a mentor agrees to meet with you, you need to show them that you’re taking this seriously—and that means being prepared. Do your research on your mentor and their company. Come to the meeting with a list of questions to ask and talking points to discuss. Make sure those questions and talking points are a good use of their time (e.g., asking a question like “what’s the most effective daily habit you have?” or “how have you been able to effectively connect with people in your company and get your team on board with your corporate mission?” are great questions; “how do you set up Google Analytics on your website?” or “how do you sign up for a Facebook business advertising account?” are not).
Bottom line? How you approach your potential business mentor will play a huge role in whether they decide to work with you—so make sure you’re approaching them in a way that’s going to encourage them to take you on as a mentee.
Once you have a business mentor that’s agreed to mentor you (yay!), you’re almost ready to start working together. But you want to lay the foundation for a successful mentorship from the very beginning—and that boils down to setting clear expectations upfront.
For example, if you’re expecting your mentor to be available for a 30-minute call every week to discuss your progress—but they were only planning to answer occasional questions via email—it’s quickly going to lead to frustration on both sides, and the mentorship isn’t going to work in the long-term.
But if you set communication expectations up front, both you and your mentor will know how often you’re going to connect, which can help you avoid any potential misunderstandings down the road.
Some expectations you want to get clear on from the very beginning of your mentorship include:
- How—and how often—will you work together?
- What communication methods does your mentor prefer?
- What does your mentor expect from you?
- What do you expect from your mentor?
- How will you navigate the situation if your mentor needs to take a step back—or vice versa?
Setting expectations and getting on the same page with your mentor from the get-go will lay the foundation for a successful mentorship—and ensure that the relationship is a constructive and beneficial one for both you and your business mentor.
Maintain the Relationship
Finding a business mentor is great. But in order to see results from your mentorship, you need to continually work with them as you grow and change your business—and that means maintaining a relationship and keeping the mentorship going long-term.
There are a few different ways to keep your mentor-mentee relationship moving forward for the long haul, including:
- Respect the parameters of your relationship. Remember those expectations you set at the beginning of your mentorship? If you want to keep your mentorship moving forward, it’s important to respect those expectations—and abide by any of the parameters or boundaries you set around your relationship from the beginning. For example, did your mentor let you know they prefer email communication? Don’t bombard them with calls or texts. Did you agree to meet once per month? Don’t try to set up a new meeting every week. The more you respect your mentorship, the easier it will be to keep it going—and the more benefits you and your business will reap as a result.
- Take action on their suggestions. You asked your mentor to work with you because you respect their expertise and insights. If your mentor is giving you actionable advice to improve your business—and you’re not actually following through on that advice—eventually, they’re going to feel like they’re wasting their time. So, while you don’t have to take every piece of advice your mentor gives you, it is important to show them you’re taking your relationship (and their time and effort) seriously by following through on their suggestions.
- Try to give as much as you take. Your mentor will probably give a lot during the mentorship (e.g., sharing insights on how they built their business or giving you tips on how to grow your team effectively). But on your end, the mentorship shouldn’t be all “take” and no “give.” While your mentor may be a few steps ahead of you in the business world, there are plenty of ways you can add value to the relationship. Look for ways to make your mentorship more of a two-way street; the more value your mentor gets from the relationship, the more likely they’ll be to stay engaged in the long run.
Get Out There and Find Your Ideal Business Mentor
Working with a business mentor can add huge value to your business—and be exactly the push your company needs to grow, scale and take things to the next level. And now that you know exactly how to find a business mentor, all that’s left to do? Get out there and start searching!
This post was updated in September, 2020.