5 Steps to Finding and Keeping Good Business Mentors

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By Jennifer Pitts – Guest post from GIST

Who’s got your back when it comes to providing the expert guidance and instruction needed to make it in today’s hyper-competitive business atmosphere? If you haven’t worked with a mentor before, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity to drive your business’s growth and development faster than you’ll be able to on your own. Check out the following five steps on how to find and keep good business mentors in order to increase your odds of success:

Step #1 – Consider your unique needs

When it comes to finding and keeping a good business mentor, the absolute best thing you can do is to spend some time brainstorming your unique business challenges, as well as how exactly you envision a mentor assisting you with these issues. Simply starting out “willy nilly” and taking the first potential mentor that crosses your path does a disservice to you both – not only will you miss out on valuable growth opportunities, your mentor won’t be as committed to your success.

On the GIST blog, we talk about the three specific types of business mentors you’ll need throughout your company’s growth:

  • The Business Role Model, who has achieved the specific type of business success you want and can provide you with tactical and strategic advice.
  • The Elder Guide, whose years of industry experience allow him to provide broad oversight and recommendations based on general business theory.
  • The Accountability Partner, who can help to keep you on track with your stated goals and deadlines.

Each of these mentor types is important, but it’s up to you to determine which kind of advisor will suit your needs best, based on your unique personality and business challenges.

Step #2 – Set specific mentorship goals

Now that you have an idea of the role you want your business mentor to play in your organization, it’s time to set some specific goals. Doing so will ensure you get the most out of your partnership by framing out certain milestones and deliverables that let you know you’re receiving tangible value from your mentor.

For example, consider any of the following potential mentor goals:

  • Meet once every two weeks to discuss business strategy
  • Receive detailed feedback on your business plan, product offerings or marketing strategy
  • Obtain three key connections within your industry

This might seem like an excessive amount of planning, but the reality is that narrowing down your expectations and goals at this point will go a long way towards helping to approach and select the best possible mentor for your organization.

Step #3 – Pursue ideal mentor candidates

Once you have a clear vision about what you expect to receive from your business mentor, it’s time to go out and find this person!

Mentors can come from a wide variety of situations, so don’t limit your search at this point! Consider any of the following sources when identifying potential mentors:

  • Local business networking groups
  • Local SCORE offices
  • Local government or university-oriented small business resources
  • Nation-wide, industry-specific networking groups
  • Established mentorship programs (like TechStars)
  • “Rock stars” within your industry

The key to approaching these people is to be clear about your intentions. Obviously, be polite and professional in your interactions – especially in the crucial “getting to know you” period – but don’t be afraid to be upfront about your desire to find a suitable mentor. Doing so will ensure that any mentorship relationships you do enter into get off on the right foot, with a mutual understanding and respect.

Step #4 – Demonstrate your value

If you decide to go the SCORE route or participate in mentorship-driven programs, you won’t need to worry about convincing a potential mentor to fill this role for you.

However, if you’re taking any other approach to finding business advisors, you may need to do some “wooing.” Keep in mind that asking someone to fill a mentorship role for your team requires a certain amount of investment on his part. As a part of your relationship, your mentor will be giving up his time and his industry expertise – and you’ve got to prove that you’re worthy of receiving these benefits!

To do this, try to uncover exactly how the mentor will benefit from your relationship. Will he benefit from an in-depth look into a growing market or industry? Will you offer recognition once your company “hits it big”? Are you thinking of giving up an equity stake to secure the best possible mentors?

As with any good sales process, know what your customer (in this case, your potential mentor) wants from the arrangement, as well as how your offer provides these benefits, to increase your chances of landing a valuable partnership.

Step #5 – “Manage” your mentor appropriately

The final piece in the mentorship puzzle is learning to “manage” your mentors appropriately. While it’s true that these professionals are doing you a favor by dedicating their time and wisdom to you, it’s also true that you’re both wasting time if the partnership winds up not being a good fit!

For this reason, it’s important to put the following procedures into place early on in your relationship to ensure that your mentor is appropriately managed:

  • Set and stick to a schedule of meetings and deliverables. Holding each other accountable to a set schedule will ensure that both parties continue to benefit from the mentorship arrangement.
  • Provide feedback about what’s working and what isn’t. Don’t waste your mentor’s time by letting problems go unaddressed. Instead, provide feedback in a positive, encouraging manner to keep things on track.
  • Terminate relationships when appropriate. Not every mentorship arrangement will work out perfectly. If you find yourself in this situation, politely thank your mentor for all of his efforts and suggest terminating the arrangement so that you can both focus on other priorities.

Have you ever worked with a business mentor before? If so, share your tips on finding, partnering with and ultimately managing your advisors in the comments section below!

About Luke Reimer

@Luke_Reimer is an Enterprise Marketing Manager at BlackBerry helping to design, launch, and manage enterprise marketing programs - particularly concerning content across digital mediums. Beyond spreading BlackBerry goodness in enterprise communities, you can find Luke cooking up a storm, out on his motorcycle (when Canadian weather allows), or digging into a good science fiction book.

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