By Fergus Cleaver
Ask 10 small-business owners to name the hardest thing they’ve ever done, and you’ll get nine identical responses: “Why, starting my own business—duh.”
Striking out on your own is no easy feat. It’s even harder to do without a strong network of people who know what it’s like to live in abject fear of failure, to hustle relentlessly, to fake it till you make it. Very few self-made businesspeople are truly self-made, in the sense that they succeeded with absolutely no help from anyone.
But not every budding entrepreneur can just call up a successful peer and mainline his or her expertise. Many new business owners don’t know anyone with the right mix of hard-won experience and natural business smarts. These network-poor entrepreneurs need to hustle just to find the right people to look up to—let alone turn their insights into action.
Still, no matter what type of business you hope to found, you can surely find a local mentor with relevant experience. Ask these five questions to find your ideal mentor match.
1. Cast a Wide Net
Don’t limit your mentor search to your professional network. Turn to an authoritative source of mentorship information, such as the Small Business Administration or SCORE’s business mentor database, to find mentors who best fit your need. Think of these resources as mentors for finding your mentor.
2. Look for Someone Who Complements Your Strengths
The ideal mentor isn’t an older version of yourself. It’s a seasoned business owner whose personal strengths complement your own—maybe someone who gets bogged down in details when all you can do is focus on the big picture.
3. Find People You Identify With
Your business mentor doesn’t need to be (and probably shouldn’t be) your best friend. But he or she should be someone you’re perfectly happy sitting across a table with for hours—as long as it takes to cover the requisite ground. Loose, after-hours networking events and entrepreneur meetups are ideal places to find such people.
4. Canvass Relevant Trade Associations
Does your nascent company belong to a trade association yet? Should it? If you’re in the market for a business mentor, joining a trade association could dramatically broaden your universe of potential mentors. Most trade associations are happy to support new members by connecting them with experienced peers. You just have to know how to ask.
5. Treat Working With Your Mentor Like a Job
Not a full-time job, of course, but a job nonetheless. Your mentor is going out on a limb for you, and you need to respect that commitment. Follow these tips to get the most out of your mentor-mentee relationship:
- Set regular meetings, perhaps every other week or every month
- Be on time for those meetings
- Prepare for those meetings with themes and firm agendas
- Review progress toward discussed goals over time
- Accept constructive criticism from your mentor
- Know what your mentor can and cannot do—for instance, don’t expect your mentor to take any sort of day-to-day role running your business.
So, what do you look for in a business mentor?